Who Can Benefit From Health Psychology?
Health psychology can benefit all cancer patients with any cancer diagnosis and prognosis and at any point in their unique cancer journey. Individuals who wish to manage distress at any level, learn strategies to cope with the challenges of their cancer and its treatment, gain guidance and improve their health behaviors, and adjust to life following cancer treatment can all benefit from health psychology services.
Stress Management Services
Receiving a cancer diagnosis and undergoing treatment can be very stressful. Health psychology can help cancer patients cope with a cancer diagnosis, evaluation, active and maintenance treatment, and survivorship. Health psychology evaluates each patient’s symptoms, circumstances, and needs to develop an individual plan to manage stress and emotional distress. Health psychology offers a range of evidence-based stress management treatments to reduce stress and distress symptoms and improve coping with cancer. These include:
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy strategies to reduce anxiety and improve mood.
- Relaxation and mindfulness-based treatments to manage physical, cognitive, and emotional distress and restore a sense of calm and well-being.
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy for insomnia treatments to improve sleep and reduce fatigue.
- Problem-solving therapy to assist patients in navigating through a range of problems and determining a solution.
- Communication training to assist patients in communicating about their cancer issues and needs with their health care team, families, friends, etc.
- Relationship counseling to assist families in managing their distress and supporting the cancer patient.
- Supportive therapy to provide ongoing assistance throughout each cancer patient’s unique journey.
Lifestyle Modification Services
Certain health behaviors, such as smoking and heavy drinking, may contribute to the development and worsening of cancer and interfere with cancer treatment. Health psychology provides specialized services in health promotion and disease prevention to reduce or stop unhealthy behaviors and thereby may improve cancer treatment outcomes, reduce the risk of cancer recurrence, and improve health and wellness. These specialty treatments include:
- I CAN Quit: Nicotine and tobacco treatment for individuals with cancer. Evidence-based behavioral and pharmacological treatments for smoking cessation are provided directly in cancer clinics for cancer patients who smoke or have recently quit smoking. Treatments help patients increase their motivation to quit, prepare for their targeted quit day, manage acute nicotine withdrawal and urges to quit, and prevent relapse to become a long-term ex-smoker.
- Reduction of excessive alcohol and drug use. Assessment and treatment for heavy drinking and illicit drug use that impact cancer treatment and outcomes. Treatments include harm reduction strategies to reduce excessive drinking, abstinence, and relapse prevention strategies to help patients stop alcohol/drug use, and referrals to detoxification and a substance use treatment program, as needed.
- Healthy eating and exercise lifestyles. Health psychology, in coordination with information from dieticians and physical therapy/exercise specialists, provides guidance and motivation to develop and restore healthy nutritional and fitness lifestyles. This program may assist patients in maintaining health and wellness during and after cancer treatment, losing or managing weight, and regaining fitness levels. It can also provide information on regional fitness programs (e.g., LIVESTRONG, etc.)
After completing active cancer treatments, survivors may face unique physical and emotional challenges. Health psychology provides evidence-based treatments derived from Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to help cancer survivors navigate potential issues that they may face, including:
- Worry and fear of cancer recurrence.
- Returning to tasks and responsibilities at work or home.
- Managing distress associated with upcoming scans and medical appointments.
- Sleep hygiene to improve sleep and reduce fatigue.
- Relaxation and mindfulness-based strategies to reduce distress and pain.
- Combatting “fuzzy brain” and enhancing cognitive acuity.
- Communication with family, friends, coworkers, and health care providers.
- Promoting healthy behaviors after treatment:
- Tips on managing alcohol/drugs and smoking cessation.
- Tips on diet, weight management, exercise, and sun-protective behaviors.
- Body image and sexual health.
- Living in the moment.
- Clarification of and living one’s values and goals.
- Growth and meaning after cancer treatment.