Professional Caregivers

157731476_47There are many reasons you and your loved one should consider working with a counselor. For example, people with head and neck cancer may experience anxiety or depression during the cancer journey. Researchers evaluated 60 patients with head and neck cancer after completing radiation therapy and found that 20 percent had depression.

How professional interventions can help

Researchers have evaluated the benefits of various types of education/counseling for caregivers and/or for people with cancer, which are listed below. Read the list, identify areas that you think may help you and, when you seek counseling services, request help in those areas:

  • Improved coping strategies: You both may experience emotional distress during the cancer journey. A contributing factor to emotional distress can be a passive coping style. Some people under stress may avoid dealing with a challenge or deny a particular problem’s existence. This can also happen to caregivers, and counseling can help you recognize when you may be avoiding or denying the challenges associated with caregiving and provide you with active problem-solving methods you can use. Sometimes just a few counseling sessions—with the goal of developing proactive coping strategies—lead to improvements for several months.
  • Improved confidence: Even a few counseling sessions over the course of a few weeks can improve confidence in caregiving abilities for several months. Maintaining confidence as a caregiver can help you maintain your quality of life over time.
  • Reduced anxiety: You are likely to experience anxiety during the cancer journey. Researchers found that up to 40 percent of cancer caregivers experienced anxiety, and that counseling reduced or eliminated anxiety.
  • Improved family relationships: It’s not unusual for a cancer patient’s partner to act as his or her caregiver. It’s also not uncommon for a patient to become uncomfortable with his or her appearance after head or neck surgery. This discomfort can disrupt the couple’s sexual relationship. Counseling has been shown to improve this relationship for a few months, and repeated counseling has been shown to sustain this improvement.
  • Cessation of smoking or excessive alcohol consumption: Your loved one might need help to stop smoking or drinking excessively. Researchers assessed patients who were newly diagnosed with head and neck cancer and found that approximately 40 percent of the people had alcohol dependence or abuse. Counseling services can help a person with head and neck cancer to stop smoking and/or consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, which can reduce the risk factors for developing additional tumors.

Best practices for counseling

Researchers evaluated outcomes for both the person with cancer and the caregiver and found that both will achieve best outcomes if counseling is done together.

If your friend or family member does not want to seek professional services, you can still seek these services for yourself. Counseling for the caregiver alone has demonstrated benefit.

If there are barriers to seeking counseling, it can be a good idea to discuss your needs with a mental health specialist. Alternatives to traditional counseling include phone therapy sessions, which have been shown in six-week increments to reduce anxiety and depression among patients and their caregivers.

Support groups

You both may want to consider joining a support group. Support groups are typically small, with perhaps 10 to 12 members, and most members will have a similar disease state or caregiving role. Studies have demonstrated that people’s quality of life improves if they participate in a support group.

There are other alternatives besides a live support group. Another option is participating in online communities specific to the disease state. Your loved one may become uncomfortable with his or her appearance post-surgery, which can lead to isolation from people. Online communities permit members to participate and receive or give support, yet remain anonymous.

Exercise programs

Researchers found that participating in an exercise program can decrease the levels of anxiety in both cancer patients and their caregivers. Consider an exercise program in conjunction with counseling if either of you is experiencing high levels of anxiety.

These nurses, they do much, much more than provide medical care. They are counselors and friends at the same time. Lynn H. (wife of a tongue cancer survivor)