Psychotherapy for Cancer Patients: Does It Help?

Psychotherapy for Cancer Patients: Does It Help?

August 31, 2015 Psychotherapy 0

Researchers have been studying the effects of psychotherapy on cancer patients for the last few years. Mostly because once terminally ill patients are told there is no hope, their health seems to deteriorate at a faster rate compared to before they were given the word about their fate.

Never Let Them GoMost of the literature seeks to understand if psychotherapy does the following:

  • Prolongs life


  • Reduces pain and discomfort



  • Improve quality of life in the remaining days, weeks, or months of a patient’s life



  • Decreases side effects of cancer treatment

The good news is that in most cases, psycho-oncology (the psychotherapy of cancer patients) does benefit those with the terminal illness.

Meaning-Centered Psychotherapy

According to psychiatrist William S. Breitbart, cancer patients in their late stages may benefit from meaning-centered psychotherapy. “Finding a sense of meaning is always possible – even during the final months, weeks, and days of our lives.” With talk sessions and cognitive exercises, terminally ill patients can find purpose and peace as they approach death. This relieves anxiety and depression, which helps them live life to its fullest potential up until the end.

Effects on Treatment, Immune System and Longevity

Conquer CancerThe Journal of the National Cancer Institute reports on a study in which cancer patients expressed how they felt about psychotherapy. Many of them reported that they were moderately to very satisfied with the results. In the analysis, psychological therapies helped cancer patients in many ways such as reducing the side effects of treatments, improving the immune system and increasing longevity.

Effective Coping for Increased Activity

Not only are cancer patients finding that they are not suffering as much when they have included psychotherapy in their treatment, some find they can be more active.

In a case study by Drs. Schuyler and Brescia from the Medical University of South Carolina, a client reported that her activity increased. She also continued to have no symptoms that were related to her cancer despite growth of the cancer.

Since starting psychotherapy, she was able to drive to see her family, have guests in her home, and spend quality time with her husband. The client reported that she would assess how she felt every morning and then make a plan for the day.

Negative thoughts are what plague many cancer patients, and through psychotherapy, she was able to dispute the value of those thoughts to continue with her day. Due to this new way of thinking, she rated her psychotherapy as “extremely useful” and that she experienced “much less often anxious” and felt she was better “armed to deal with negative thoughts.”

In the doctor’s final analysis, he states: “It seemed to me that, although there is little a person can do to escape dying from terminal cancer, there is much one can do to avoid “premature death” and to live more fully the days afforded to him or her.”

Surviving the Last Days of Cancer

Life doesn’t end until a person takes his or her last breath. Up until that moment, psychotherapy offers cancer patients the hope for a better ending to their life. Talking, learning new ways to handle thoughts and emotions, and coping with the pain and discomfort that comes along with cancer can lead to a peaceful, comfortable and happy exit from this world.


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