How do I know if I need counselling? | Cancer Research UK
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How do I know if I need counselling?

Coping with cancer

This page is about how to decide whether you need counselling. There is information about


When counselling may help

Generally counselling will work better if you seek it out yourself. You may not get the best out of it if you don’t really want to be there. At the end of the day it is up to you whether or not you have counselling.

Some people prefer to talk things over with someone when they are first diagnosed with cancer. They need the support and time to sort out their feelings during their treatment. Other people will wait until their treatment is over and things have settled down a bit. Or it might not be until this stage that the full emotional impact of having cancer hits them. Some people may never feel the need to have counselling. As a general rule, if your cancer causes you any of these problems for any length of time, then counselling may help you to get back on track

  • Feeling very anxious, depressed, sad, tired or angry
  • Difficulties coping with everyday issues such as work or socialising
  • Problems with sleeping and concentrating
  • Relationship, sexual or financial problems

Remember though that many of these symptoms can be side effects from your cancer and its treatment. They are likely to go away once your treatment has finished, though it may take a while. It’s very important to let your doctor or nurse know about any symptoms that you have.


Worries about having counselling

Many people are put off counselling because they feel it’s a sign of weakness, that they are going mad, or that they’ve failed to cope with things on their own. This is very far from the truth. Admitting to yourself that you need help is a strength, not a weakness. Not everyone who has cancer needs counselling. People handle stress in different ways. It all depends on the type of person you are, your genetic make up, how much support you have, and your life experiences.

So if you feel that counselling could help, don’t feel it’s a weakness to ask for it. In fact, it takes a lot of courage to seek help with a counsellor. It shows that you’re taking control of things. You recognise that at this point in your life, you need someone to talk to, to help sort out your thoughts and feelings. That is a very good thing. In the long run it may make you a much stronger person and help lessen the struggle you’re going through.

Having counselling is a really positive experience for many people. It can sound a bit daunting and it can be upsetting at times. But it can be of real benefit during or after your treatment to have an hour every week devoted just to you. You have some time to spend thinking about how you feel, what you want, and what’s happening in your life right now. More than that, your counsellor can concentrate on really taking in what you’re saying and what you’re going through. You can say whatever you like and it will stay between you and your counsellor.

The emotional pressures of a cancer diagnosis can be immense, both during treatment and afterwards. Talking to a counsellor gives you a chance to talk about what it really feels like, and to share and let go of some of your feelings.

The important things to remember about going to see a counsellor are that

  • It is not a sign of weakness
  • It doesn’t mean that you can't cope
  • It doesn't mean you are going mad
  • It can help you to cope and to feel better about things

Talking to family or friends

Not everyone who has cancer needs to get professional counselling. Of course, many of us have people who regularly listen to our worries and problems. These people may be family members and friends, a religious adviser or a caring neighbour. And for many, these people will be all they want and need. But this isn’t always enough. Sometimes, it’s easier to talk to someone who doesn’t know you quite as well. There are several advantages of talking to a professional counsellor who is outside your immediate circle of family and friends. It can mean that

  • You don't have to worry about upsetting or worrying them
  • They will not judge you or what you have done
  • You may find it easier to sort out and talk about your deepest feelings
  • Everything you say will be confidential because your counsellor won't tell anyone else
  • They won’t say something just because it is what they think you want to hear
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Updated: 16 July 2014