How counselling can help

Counselling can help you sort out different types of problems you may face when you have cancer.

Counselling can help with:

  • coping with your reactions to cancer
  • family and relationship issues
  • exploring personal issues
  • dealing with practical issues

Reactions and stress

There are many reactions to cancer you might have including:

  • fear or anger
  • strong reactions to changes to your body
  • anxiety about treatment

You may feel very angry, or find it difficult to cope with a feeling of loss of control. You might also feel very stressed about having to cope with the side effects of treatment, such as fatigue, pain or sickness.

Cancer can stir up many deeply personal issues such as consideration of your:

  • spirituality
  • sexuality
  • relationships

Your family relationships

Cancer can also affect your family relationships. You might find it affects how you talk to your children or your intimacy with your partner.

It might also lead to role changes within the family if you can no longer fulfil the role you used to, even temporarily.

Cancer can cause financial strain

You might need to have difficult conversations about:

  • financial support
  • mortgages
  • pensions
  • making a will

There may be practical issue such as transport problems or difficulty talking to your doctors. All these can cause family tensions or extra stress for you.

How talking helps

You may want to deal with things in ways that your friends or family don't agree with.

It might help to talk through any of these issues and feelings with someone outside your friends and family. Your friends and family may be too close to the issues to see them clearly and objectively.

A counsellor can help you find different coping methods that hadn't occurred to you before. And because counselling is confidential, you can be honest about what is bothering you. 

How counselling helps

There is no evidence to suggest that having counselling will help treat or cure your cancer. Nor is there any convincing evidence that it will help prolong your life.

But there is a lot of evidence that counselling can help you to cope better with the many difficulties. This includes during and after your cancer diagnosis and treatment. It can help reduce the stress you face and improve your quality of life.

Your doctors and nurses

Many doctors and nurses may provide their patients with emotional and psychological support. But, others don’t feel comfortable doing this.

Some healthcare staff may not feel able to give support, or they may not have the time.

Their main focus is on treating and curing your cancer. Of course, if you have cancer, this is very important. But many people are also worried about how they can cope with their illness and how it will disrupt their everyday life.

Because of this, some cancer units now have a counsellor or psychotherapist as part of their team.

How counselling helps with treatment

We know from research that counselling can help some people overcome the depression and anxiety that cancer can cause.

There’s also evidence that certain methods of counselling with phobias about having cancer treatments. These phobias include:

  • fear of having injections
  • being confined to a small space during an MRI scan
  • Oncologists', nurses', and social workers' strategies and barriers to identifying suicide risk in cancer patients

    L Granek and others

    Psychooncology, January 2018. Volume 27, Issue 1, Pages 148-154

  • Coping with cancer

    National Cancer Institute (NCI)

    Accessed November 2022

Last reviewed: 
04 Nov 2022
Next review due: 
04 Nov 2025

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