What is it?
Through discussions with a counsellor or psychologist, you can identify goals you would like to achieve, develop ways to deal with difficult situations or relationships in your life, and look at how to manage your feelings. Counselling allows you to explore ways of resolving negative thoughts and feelings that impact on your health and day-to-day life. It is a non-judgemental and confidential process.
Why use it
Counselling sessions allow you to express your emotions in a safe and supportive environment and learn new coping skills. Counselling can strengthen your ability to deal with challenges and help you gain a new way of looking at your life choices and behaviours. It can also provide an opportunity to talk about thoughts and feelings that you might not feel comfortable sharing with family and friends. Counselling may provide strategies to help manage fear of the cancer coming back.
What to expect
Counselling appointments may be face-to-face, over the phone or online. There are different forms including cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), grief therapy, life coaching, acceptance and commitment therapy, and person-centred therapy. Talk to the counsellor about the approach they take and whether it is suited to you. Counselling can be for you, or for family or friends affected by cancer.
What is the evidence?
There is long-established evidence of the benefits of counselling. It can help reduce distress, anxiety and depression, and improve quality of life. CBT can help manage cancer-related fatigue.
If you are thinking about attending a group counselling session, it is important to check that it is being led by a trained counsellor. They can guide the group and offer strategies to deal with specific issues that arise during the session.
Getting help with your emotions
If you’re interested in counselling, meditation and relaxation, you can seek help from a variety of health professionals and services. However, it is important that you find a suitably qualified counsellor you feel comfortable talking with.
Let your therapist know if you have a history of anxiety, depression or any other mental health condition, as you may be feeling more vulnerable now.
Counsellor – Counsellors can help clients come up with strategies for managing their concerns. They do not need to have any qualifications to practise, though many are qualified with a background in counselling, nursing, social work and psychology. It’s a good idea to check the counsellor’s qualifications before making an appointment. Counselling may also be available through your local Cancer Council – call 13 11 20 to find out.
Psychologist – Psychologists use evidence-based strategies to guide people through issues with how they think, feel and learn. They cannot prescribe medicines. A registered psychologist must complete 4 years of psychology at undergraduate level, followed by either postgraduate study or supervised clinical practice.
Psychiatrist – Psychiatrists are trained medical doctors who specialise in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental illness. They can prescribe medicines to help a range of mental and emotional conditions.
How to find help
Some counsellors specialise in treating people affected by cancer. You may be able to see a psychologist or psychiatrist at your hospital or cancer treatment centre.
You can also ask your GP for a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist, as you may be eligible for a Medicare rebate to help cover the cost. To find a psychologist in your area, visit the Australian Psychological Society.
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Dr David Joske, Clinical Haematologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and PathWest, Chairman and Founder Solaris Cancer Care Foundation, Clinical Professor of Medicine, The University of Western Australia, WA; Australasian Integrative Medicine Association (AIMA); Dr Robert Blum, Clinical Director, Cancer Services, Bendigo Health, NSW; Sally Brooks, Senior Pharmacist, Medicines Information, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Suzanne Grant, Senior Research Fellow, NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University, and Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Prof Danforn Lim, Adjunct Professor and Advisory Board Member, NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University, and Adjunct Professor, UTS, NSW; Christina Line, Statewide Services Senior Coordinator, Cancer Council WA; Jen McKenzie, Physiotherapist (Lymphoedema) and ESSA Accredited Exercise Physiologist, The McKenzie Clinic, QLD; Simone Noelker, Wellness Centre and Pastoral Care Manager, Ballarat Regional Integrated Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Nirzari Pandit, General Practitioner, RACGP Specific Interests Integrative Medicine Group, NSW; Georgie Pearson, Consumer; Cris Pirone, Counsellor, Cancer Council SA; Dr Elysia Thornton-Benko, Specialist General Practitioner, and UNSW Research Fellow, NSW; Kirsty Trebilcock, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA.
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