Psycho-Oncology FAQ

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Psycho-Oncology FAQ

What is Psycho-Oncology?

Psycho-oncology is a specialty in cancer care concerned with understanding and treating the psychological, emotional, quality-of-life and functional aspects of cancer, from prevention through bereavement.

It is normal to feel distressed when diagnosed with a potential life-threatening illness. Sometimes the disruption caused by cancer can be managed by calling upon coping resources within yourself, and by availing of support from your family and your friends. Your medical and multi-disciplinary team also all play an important role in helping you cope but occasionally you may feel you need additional help from a Psychologist. It is known that psychological support and intervention at all levels can reduce psychological distress, improve the patient’s quality of life, lead to a better functional and emotional outcome, and facilitate a return to daily activities.

Who are the Psycho-Oncology department?

The department is comprised of Counselling Psychologists, Clinical Psychologists and Trainee Psychologists. To qualify as a Counselling or Clinical Psychologist, 8-9 years of training is required, typically to doctoral level. People with cancer are sometimes unsure about meeting a Psychologist, as it is a common belief that Psychologists only work with people who have mental health problems. Although we are trained in mental health, we also specialise in helping people cope with, and adjust, to the emotional stress of physical illnesses.

Is Psychological therapy for me?

  • Do you feel very anxious about cancer and your treatment?
  • Have you felt depressed and very low?
  • Have you been irritable or unusually angry?
  • Has cancer and its treatment interfered with your family or social life?
  • Has cancer and its treatment interfered with your sexual life?
  • Has cancer and its treatment caused changes in your physical appearance and this causes you distress?
  • Have pain and discomfort caused you to limit your activities?
  • Have you had difficulty coping with the stress you have experienced?
  • Do you want to harm yourself or have suicidal thoughts?

Everyone may at times experience some of these symptoms, to various degrees. However, if you agree with a number of the above statements, and you are having difficulty dealing with your situation on your own, you may wish to engage in psychological therapy.

Who can use the Psycho-Oncology services?

All adults and children affected by cancer who have received or are currently receiving treatment at St Luke’s Hospital.

How can I get a referral to Psycho-Oncology?

In order to access psycho-oncology services, a member of the medical team from St. Luke’s Hospital must firstly provide you with an information leaflet regarding the service (“Psycho-Oncology Services – Information leaflet for patients and relatives”). On gaining your consent to be referred, the doctor will make the referral to the Psycho-Oncology team.

Can a relative of a St Luke’s hospital patient avail of the psycho-oncology services?

A time-limited service is available to relatives of patients. The referral process is slightly different as your relative is not a St Luke’s Hospital patient. The first step in availing of this service is for the relative to request the service from the medical team.

How soon can I see a Psychologist within the Psycho-Oncology department?

The actual appointment waiting time may vary from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the nature of your circumstances and department workload.

I have been referred to Psycho-Oncology—what will happen?

A Psychologist on the team will contact you to organise an initial appointment. After initial assessment sessions, the psychologist will talk with you about their understanding of your situation and what might be helpful. If agreed that psychological treatment would be helpful, then the number of sessions, when and where they should take place, will be decided together.

Our Psychologists have specialist training in psychological therapies that help people and families who are particularly distressed, anxious or feeling low. The team psychologists use an assortment of evidence-based therapies to help patients improve their quality of life and deal with their cancer journey. There are many different styles of therapy, but the psychologists will choose the type that best addresses your difficulties and best fits with your characteristics and preferences.

How long are the appointments?

A typical session is one hour. We are aware that you may be fatigued, experiencing nausea etc., and if necessary we will shorten the appointment time to avoid any discomfort.

Do I need to bring anything to my appointment?

No. You may, however, want to think about what you would like to focus on during the sessions.

How many sessions will I need?

This varies. After hearing your difficulties during your first appointment, the psychologist will discuss with you roughly how many sessions you may need.

How much will the Psycho-Oncology services cost?

The service is free for all patients.

Everything I tell the psychologist is private, right?

Yes, but with some exceptions. As your therapist will discuss with you when you come in for your first appointment, your records are confidential, but there are a few exceptions to this confidentiality. The first is if we are concerned you might do something to seriously harm yourself. The second is if we are concerned you plan to harm another person. The third is if we become aware of, or suspicious of, the occurrence of child or elder abuse. We are mandated by law to report our suspicions, regardless of whether the abuse was conducted by you or someone you know. The fourth instance in which we may have to disclose information about you is if we are ordered to do so by a court of law. In all of these instances, the therapist will almost always discuss with you that they must make a disclosure prior to doing so. Last, we also work as part of a multi-disciplinary team and we may discuss some general information about you within the team. Again, we will discuss this with you at the first session and ask for your permission.

What other services does the Psycho-oncology department run?

Other on-going services offered by the Psycho-oncology Department: Weekly Relaxation Sessions using Progressive Muscular Relaxation for patients and relatives take place every Thursday from 11-11.30 in the Judge Room (located beside Ward C). No need to book. Just show up on time.
The department run a group based programme offered to patients after they have finished their treatment to help with recovery and coping. For more details contact the AHP Admin office directly ext 5163/5032.