About counselling | Cancer Research UK
Cancer Research UK on Google+ Cancer Research UK on Facebook Cancer Research UK on Twitter

About counselling

Coping with cancer

This page tells you about counselling and how it can help people with cancer. There is information about


What counselling means

Counselling means talking to a trained person and exploring problems or issues in a safe and supportive environment. It is very similar to psychotherapy. Whether you choose to see a counsellor or a psychotherapist, it is very important to choose a person you feel comfortable with. It is also helpful to have a little knowledge about the different types of counselling and psychotherapy. There are many different therapies and they generally fall into three areas. These are

  • Behavioural therapies, which focus on thoughts and behaviours
  • Psychoanalytical and psychodynamic therapies, which focus on unconscious relationship patterns that evolved from childhood
  • Humanistic therapies, which focus on looking at the here and now

You can find information about different types of counselling in this section.

It is important that you see a counsellor or a psychotherapist who has done appropriate training with accreditation by a recognised organisation. Some other professionals (e.g. GPs, nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers) may have been trained in counselling as well. But not all have, so it is important to check out their counselling qualifications and accreditation.

Usually, you see a counsellor for an hour at a regular time every week. You may have a weekly session for a set period of time (often 6 or 8 weeks). Or you might have sessions for as long as you and your counsellor agree that you need them. Your counsellor will try to

  • Listen properly to what you are saying
  • Not interrupt you
  • Help you sort out and untangle your feelings and worries
  • Give you some insight into how you really think and feel
  • Help you express your emotions in your own way
  • Help you work out your own solutions to problems
  • Help you accept what cannot be changed
  • Help and support you while you do all this

If you are looking for general information on talking about cancer there are some booklets that may help you. See our general reading list on cancer.


Why people have counselling

There are many times in our lives when we all really feel we need someone to listen to us. This is basically what counselling is – someone to listen to you. Being heard properly can be really important if you have cancer. You may find it difficult to deal with your diagnosis. And you may be feeling a bit lost amongst all the treatments and hospital appointments.

Most people feel very shocked when they are told they have cancer. It can turn your life upside down. Things you can normally cope with, such as going to work, shopping, looking after children and socialising, may become more difficult. Things in your life may feel as though they have less meaning for you. Your intimate relationships might change because of changes in how you look and the way you feel about yourself. The stress you’re under may mean that you can’t show the love and attention you want to your partner or children.

You may want to carry on with life as normal, but feel frustrated that you can’t. Many people with cancer have confusing and upsetting feelings, such as anger and sadness. And some people feel that they are not in control of their lives.

It is common to worry that your cancer could come back again after your treatment has finished. Or you may be afraid you are going to die. All of these feelings are very real and frightening. There’s only so much your mind can process at one time, so these feelings can become overwhelming.

But bottling feelings up can become very draining and make living your life very difficult. Counselling gives you an opportunity to explore your feelings and express them in a safe place. A counsellor can help you to find a way to make things less difficult to deal with.


If you are a relative or friend

If you’re a relative of someone with cancer, you may feel that you need some time to think about yourself and how you can cope. You are bound to have feelings of your own which you don’t want to burden your sick loved one with. Being able to express your feelings may help you to support your relative more effectively.

Rate this page:
Submit rating


Rated 4 out of 5 based on 18 votes
Rate this page
Rate this page for no comments box
Please enter feedback to continue submitting
Send feedback
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team

No Error

Updated: 11 July 2014