When a child is stricken with cancer, fighting the disease very quickly changes life for the whole family. On top of the often-prolonged medical journey, there are numerous emotional and practical struggles as well. Emotionally, both the child and their family experience everything from fear and worry to bravery and support, and the practical struggles include everything from finances and scheduling to temporary relocation. While the whole family is impacted, mothers often shoulder a large amount of the responsibility. Often perceived as “chief nurturer” as well as coordinator of household schedules and day-to-day tasks, mothers can become physically, emotionally, and psychologically drained when coping with their child’s cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Recognizing that fact, many pediatric oncology departments include individual counseling for parents as part of their overall treatment process. Traditionally, a “reflective listening” approach is used, which does help women achieve lower stress levels while they are in counseling. But after counseling, that stress tends to rebound. Working with children’s cancer hospitals in both Houston and Florida, specialists have developed a new stress coping program called Problem-Solving Skills Training (or PSST). So far, PSST has been twice as effective as reflective listening counseling, and has maintained those improvements over a longer period of time.
The idea behind PSST is simple: when clients are highly stressed, why not switch from helping them deal with that stress to helping them reduce its causes? Counselors in the PSST program help these mothers trouble-shoot the situations that are compounding an already weighty situation. This is an excellent example of how versatile the support of a therapist or counselor can be. The cliché of a goateed, bespectacled therapist nodding sympathetically and relating every problem back to the client’s parents is a tired one. In practice, counselors play a range of roles: from helping people identify the roots of their darkest emotions to helping them change behavioral patterns, from working with stressed patients on their stress responses to helping them devise practical solutions to every-day difficulties. This latest evidence-based study is just one in dozens that illustrates the value of counseling, therapy, and psychotherapy for a wide range of real life difficulties.
© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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