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Types of counselling

Coping with cancer

This page tells you about different methods of counselling. You can use these links to go straight to sections about


Choosing your type of counselling

The type of counselling you choose will depend on

  • What you feel most comfortable with
  • How serious the issues are that you want to discuss
  • How long you have been having the problems
  • The type of issues you have, such as general worries about not coping, relationship problems, phobias

The important thing to remember is to tell your counsellor if you feel uncomfortable. For example, if they ask you questions that you don’t want to answer.

If you don’t feel that you’re getting on very well with your counsellor, you can always try someone else. Personality clashes do happen. So don’t feel bad. It doesn’t mean that counselling won’t help you or that the counsellor is bad at their job. A good counsellor will understand that you may find it more helpful to see someone else.


Supportive one to one counselling

One to one supportive counselling means that you can talk about your problems and worries in privacy, knowing that what you say is confidential. You talk to a counsellor who is trained to listen and help you explore your thoughts and feelings. You may have practical issues and want some help to sort them out. The counsellor may not use a particular method here. They won't tell you what to do but they will listen to you carefully and help you find the best solutions for you. For counselling to work well it is important that you have a trusting and safe relationship with your counsellor. 


Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

You may hear the terms cognitive therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Cognitive describes the mental process that people use to remember, reason, understand, problem solve, and judge things. Behaviour describes your actions or reactions to something. CBT aims to help you change how you respond to situations or emotions.

This type of therapy helps you to understand how your thought patterns may be making you feel depressed or scared. This therapy also teaches you how to calm your body and mind. This helps you to control your feelings more, think more clearly, and generally feel better about things.

CBT is often used to help people overcome

  • Difficulty in keeping emotions such as anger, sadness, fear and guilt under control
  • Feeling very stressed
  • Addictions
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks and phobias
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia and other sleep problems
  • Low self esteem

Group counselling

There is also group counselling, sometimes called group therapy. This means joining in a group where everyone discusses their problems together. Usually, everyone in the group is facing similar problems, but not always. The counsellor will facilitate the group and encourage people to express their feelings within it. Some people find it very helpful to learn that they are not alone with their worries. But this method doesn’t suit everyone, especially if you have some very personal and painful issues you want to discuss.


Family counselling

Because cancer often affects the whole family, it can sometimes help if you all see a counsellor together. Family members may be too scared to express to you how they really feel about your illness. You may not feel well enough or have the time to sit and talk honestly with your partner and children. Talking to children about cancer can be very difficult and upsetting. Having the support of a family counsellor may help make these things easier.

Children may be keeping a lot of their feelings to themselves for fear of upsetting you. They’re likely to be trying to deal with your illness as well as keeping up with schoolwork, looking after younger siblings and wanting to feel supported and accepted by friends.

How a child deals with a parent being ill will depend very much on their age. Very young children may not be emotionally developed enough to express their real feelings in words. They often express their feelings through play or their mood rather than in words, and they are often spontaneous in the way they do this. They may not be able to tap into how they are feeling on a specific occasion. A family counsellor may be able to help you recognise what your child is actually feeling. And suggest the best ways to support them.

Children aged between 8 and 12 have some understanding about a serious illness and how it will affect them. You have to be sensitive but straightforward. If you’re too subtle, they will lose the point. It may help to understand that children of this age may feel guilty when a parent is seriously ill. As if it’s somehow their fault. Or they might feel angry with a parent for not being there. Having said that, children can often react in a positive way too, reacting in a more mature way than you thought they could.

Being a teenager can be a time of emotional ups and downs. Teenagers often feel confused and unsure about themselves anyway. This can make the way they deal with a parent’s illness very different to that of a younger child. And their reactions are likely to be more intense than an adult's. It’s very important that they have the time to grieve about the illness and be included in what’s happening. They may become anxious, angry, moody, depressed or pretend that they’re coping very well when actually inside they’re feeling very scared and lonely. Equally, many teenagers behave in a mature and supportive way, and remain or become very close to their parents.

Seeing a counsellor together allows you all a set time to listen to each other’s worries. It can really help give everyone in the family a better understanding of what is happening. It can also bring you much closer together and encourage you to give each other more support.

There’s information about support for children when a parent has cancer and children coping with a parent’s cancer in our question and answer section.

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Updated: 16 July 2014