Counseling and Therapy for Cancer Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Healing trauma caused by your fight with cancer
Your diagnosis was weeks ago, maybe even months ago. Your physical body has survived the treatments, whether that was surgery, chemo, and/or radiation, but you’re still worried about every little discomfort, and you’re thinking that you’re a little crazy and your life seems to still be on hold. Friends and family are advising you to just “get over it” and everyone is losing patience with your failure to return to “normal” life.
Here’s what I’d like you to know. What you are experiencing is normal, natural, and common with many cancer survivors. While the PTSD term grew out of military combat, we know a lot more about trauma and its effect on the body, mind, and spirit than we did when PTSD was first studied. Severe trauma, especially if you experienced something similar in the past literally changes the way the brain operates, making it difficult to return to “normal” life in all ways – physically, mentally and even spiritually. (What I mean here by spiritually, is that your worldview is changing and any previous beliefs that you held may be changing in some way).
Here’s the good news – this isn’t permanent. You can heal, and you can create a life that is filled with purpose, joy, and meaning. It will take support from someone who understands the process, as well as a strong intention on your part.
Steps for Healing the Trauma of a Life Threatening Diagnosis
- Decide to go on the healing journey – that’s probably what brought you to this page today
- Find safety – create a plan to assure that while you’re on this journey, you can be safe. No one will ask you to interact with any part of your trauma story until you’re ready. When you’ve completed your treatment, if you’ve been pronounced cancer free, the safety that you need to find is inside your own mind. We’ll talk about ways you might adopt for healthy lifestyle that provides energy and interest in your life. Also, you’ll find support here to follow your medical team’s recommendation for further self care.
- Develop skills for self-calming – this is a precious skill that will serve you in these recovery months (see blog post on What Matters isn’t Matter - http://www.oplcenter.com/oplblog/what-matters-isnt-matter-at-all). It’s true that cancer may be in the back of your mind now, but that story doesn’t have to hold the keys to drive your life. You do. Self-calming skills, which may look like meditation, prayer, breathing, or self-hypnosis for relaxation can all invite that experience take a seat at the back of the bus, and put you back in the driver’s seat.
- Desensitization – this simply means begin able to tell your story enough that it looses the edge it may have at the beginning. I can also provide books where people tell their own cancer stories with humor, and with total irreverence for the journey. It can also mean going with your support person close the some of the experiences related to the treatments so that those no longer become panic triggers for you.
- Map your future - once you have the keys to your life and you are in your own driver seat again, we’ll begin to create that future that is out there waiting for you.
- Create meaning/give back - some people hold the value of helping and giving to others. If that is an important value for you, as we work to design that future, we can also consider ways that you want to use your strengths and wisdom derived from the cancer experience to create meaning for you and to support you to gift others with your new way of being in the world.
How I can help you in your journey….
At the On Purpose Living Center, I offer a large variety of techniques and tools that can support you on your journey toward your future.
- Resources to provide support for PTSD associated with a life threatening illness - To support your first step of deciding to go on this healing journey, you’ll find access to videos and ebooks for your friends and family that will help them understand your courage and your struggles. When those around you support the process, your decision to move forward will be easier for you. Secondly, I’ll help you describe specifically what the goal of your journey might look like for you. At this stage, that mostly will look like what you DON’T want to have happening – like no more nightmares, no more panic attacks, no more fear of being with a group of people. It can also look like getting back to your job, enjoying the family, laughing, getting out the way you used to. Whatever your healthy idea is, we’ll record that together, as a focus for both of us toward your desired life.
- Depending on where you are on the journey, you’ll find help deciding who to talk to about your experience, and when not talking might feel better for you.
- Self-calming training - The next critical step is to provide self-calming training so that you can manage those panic moments through your own resources. We might also learn the art of becoming “exquisitely physical” as a way to bring your body back from the experience of the accident, into the present moment, where you are no longer at risk. I also provide general guided meditations to increase self-calming effectiveness as well as meditation created specifically for you as part of your healing journey.
- Energy work - I offer energy work to support returning to the present. As a trained energy body worker, I can help you through a simple process to calm and relax energetically. While I do not offer energy work instead of traditional cancer treatments, the energy work does support an intention to stay calm, get back in touch with the part of you that is healthy, and help you find quiet and peace if even for a few moments.
- Talk therapy/Cognitive Behavioral Therapy -We might use talk therapy to provide space for stories needing to be told once your skills of self-calming are firmly in place. This might also take the shape of looking at the beliefs that you may have internalized through your trauma and I’ll help you explore ways to either reshape the new, and possibly distorted beliefs (such as, if I avoid hair spray and always eat organic, this will never happen to me) or to reshape your belief into a “street-smart” awareness. Some people call this process CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). I offer several types of strengths assessments to discover what aspects of you we can begin to fold into your recovery and into your future.
- All these taken together will begin to bring your thinking out of the painful past and into your future.
- If you have a spiritual practice, I believe that your healing will be complete only when the strengths that have supported you in your past, becomes part of your healing journey. If prayer is part of your practice, we can use that practice on this journey, too. When you’re ready, we will revisit those spiritual practices to begin to create mission and purpose to move forward. If religion or spirituality isn’t part of your life, we’ll skip it – after all, this is your healing journey, your way.
- Mind mapping - Toward the end of your healing journey, we’ll be able to use a mind-map process to create a plan toward your new life pattern.
- Sometimes, your healing journey may need additional resources, like medicine for sleep or depression. I am not a physician, so I will provide a referral for the needed medication, along with coordination with medical team to chart recovery options.
Positive Outcomes: PTSD and Cancer Case Study
Megan is a single mom in her 40’s who came to me half way through her chemo. She was self employed, and had to find a way to continue working even through the intense chemo.
We used guided meditation to support her to calm both in the office as well as during her chemo infusions. We did some energy work session to help her relax and keep the strong parts of her body strong. Her strengths were her self-discipline, her strong will, and in her love for her daughter. While she didn’t have a large “Why Me” tendency, we did a little work on some thoughts she was having around her ability to build her business successfully during this period. The gift of cancer is the opportunity to evaluate one’s priorities, which Megan addressed in our sessions. As she crafted her life going forward, she separated from her husband, and eventually divorced, being careful to keep connections with him friendly and consistent so her daughter could always rely on both her parents.
As we designed the future she wanted, we created strategies for growing her business, becoming stronger as a single parent, as well as times for her to travel and expose her daughter to additional cultures and places. She is now in full remission, with a full time business, and has taken her daughter to New York and to China. She had a very difficult road to travel, and feels her life is better than it was before her cancer experience, although she is not ready to call that experience ‘a gift’.
Learn More about Treatment for PTSD
For more information about working with me to overcome symptoms of PTSD - Contact Me.
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