DiscoverCounselor Toolbox PodcastMental Health and Cancer – Coping is a Loved One’s Diagnosis
Mental Health and Cancer – Coping is a Loved One’s Diagnosis

Mental Health and Cancer – Coping is a Loved One’s Diagnosis

Update: 2021-02-141


Mental Health and Cancer Addressing Caregiver Needs

Dr. Dawn-Elise Snipes

CEUs are available at


– Explore the unique needs of loved ones and caregivers of people with cancer


– 650,000+ people die of cancer EACH year

– When someone is diagnosed, the patient and loved ones grieve

– Even if the cancer is “cured” or goes into remission there may be lasting disabilities and/or losses

– Loss of security (health anxiety in the patient and SOs)

– Loss of function or changes in appearance

– Cognitive impairment (“chemo-brain”) impacts attention, working memory, executive function, and processing speed

– Unmet needs of caregivers and patients were associated with increased physical symptoms, anxiety, and reduced QoL

– Not everyone experiences grief in the same way

– Families need to be educated about the grief bill of rights

Bill of Rights for Cancer-Related Grief

– To know the truth and have questions answered honestly

– To be heard with dignity and respect and able to talk about it as much as needed OR to be silent and not talk about emotions and thoughts.

– To not agree with your perceptions and conclusions

– To see the person with cancer

– To grieve in my own unique way without hurting self or others

– To feel all my feelings and to think all my thoughts

– To not have to follow the “stages of grief” as outlined in a book

– To be angry at death, cancer, the patient, god, myself, and others

– To have “griefbursts”

– To not be taken advantage of

– To feel guilt

Unmet Needs

– Prominent unmet needs

– Fatigue

– Due to around the clock caregiving

– Due to insomnia associated with grief

– Nutrition deficiencies

– Blood sugar

– Coordination of services

– Emotional support

– Anxiety

– Anger

– Anticipatory grief

– Guilt over

– Past issues

– Being happy

– Being informed about:

– Benefits and side-effects of all treatment options

– Illness information (causes, course, care) (esp. men)

– Information about preventive, maintenance & restorative strategies

Other Unmet Needs

– Current Caregivers

– Managing daily activities

– Maintaining intimacy with partner

– Managing emotions about prognosis

– Balancing own needs and patient’s needs

– Impact of caring on work

– Making decisions in the context of uncertainty

– Financial concerns

Other Unmet Needs

– Former Caregivers (up to 5 years post remission)

– Managing emotional distress

– Intrusive thoughts about cancer coming back

– Managing interpersonal relationships

– Reducing patient stress associated with cancer

– Medical

– Stress related illnesses

– Consequences of neglected health

– Financial

– Daily activities—Getting their groove back

Other Unmet Needs

– Bereaved Caregivers

– Guilt over perceived failings with the patient or family

– Working through the grief process

– Reintegrating into daily life

Cancer-Focused Cognitive Processing

– Contextual Facts about…

– This illness in this patient at this time

– The loss of this patient at this time

– Addressing Cognitive Distortions

– All or nothing thinking

– Catastrophizing

– Personalization

– I should be able to make her comfortable

– It is my fault that…

– I made her angry (displaced anger; cognitive issues)

– Mind reading

Cancer-Focused Cognitive Interventions

– Distress Tolerance (TAGS)

– Thoughts

– Activities

– Guided Imagery

– Sensations

Other Issues

– Paternalization of the patient

– Needing assistance explaining things to children

– Coping with child behavior issues

– Health anxieties

– Separation anxiety

– Increased behavioral problems

– Refusal to go to bed

– Magical thinking


• Counselor Interventions

• Information provision (informing individuals use verbal and written)

• Support (acknowledging experience, connecting with others; facilitating expressions of feelings or emotions)

• Encouraging acquisition of new coping skills and promoting emotion regulation and distress tolerance

• Spiritual or existential therapy to help the person find meaning









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Mental Health and Cancer – Coping is a Loved One’s Diagnosis

Mental Health and Cancer – Coping is a Loved One’s Diagnosis

Charles Snipes