Counseling Awareness Month: Mesothelioma and Mental Health

Health & Wellness

We’re in the midst of Counseling Awareness Month, which aims to highlight the contributions of professional counselors. It’s also an opportunity to promote mental wellness and encourage people needing support and guidance to seek it from qualified mental health counselors. 

Throughout my 28 years as a mental health counselor, I have witnessed great strides in the societal acceptance of people seeking help when they’re struggling. Today, it’s less stigmatic to admit to mental health challenges

Luckily counseling is also more accessible today. Mesothelioma patients and their loved ones may experience anxiety, depression and other understandable, yet difficult, mental health symptoms. Counselors with expertise in cancer can help mesothelioma patients and their caregivers feel better.

What Do Professional Counselors Do? 

The goal of counseling is to help people improve their awareness of their own thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Together, counselors and clients work on developing coping strategies and problem-solving skills to enable people to feel better and function optimally. 

Most states require licensure and a minimum of a master’s degree in either social work, mental health counseling or psychology to practice counseling. Most health insurance covers all or a portion of the cost of mental health counseling with licensed professional counselors. 


The field of psycho-oncology is a subspecialty of psychology that originated in the 1970s. At the time, many cancer patients, including those with mesothelioma, weren’t even informed of their cancer diagnosis. Doctors sometimes withheld this information or informed a family member and not the patient. 

Some people would whisper the word “cancer” as though it were a taboo topic. There was no opportunity for many patients or their loved ones to talk about their thoughts or feelings related to having cancer. 

As the stigma diminished in the 1970s and 1980s, psychologists began exploring the experiences of cancer patients and conducted research. They developed clinical strategies to help alleviate fear, anxiety, depression and other social and emotional challenges of living with cancer. 

Counseling in Cancer Care

I was diagnosed with cancer in the late 1980s and received my treatment in a university-based, state of the art multidisciplinary cancer treatment center. Back then, no one on my health care team asked about my emotional or mental wellbeing and no support groups or counseling was available at the cancer center. 

Since then, decades of research have shown the benefits of assessing for and providing mental health care to cancer patients and their loved ones. Today, more and more cancer centers are screening for emotional distress and providing professional counseling to their patients as part of comprehensive cancer care. 

In our monthly mesothelioma support group, group members share their struggles with anxiety, sadness, fear or depression. Some acknowledge that they’re seeking care from a counselor that specializes in cancer. 

Having the outlet to talk about their thoughts and feelings related to coping with a mesothelioma diagnosis provides a sense of relief.  Counselors can also provide a lot of practical advice on how to manage the social and emotional challenges of living with mesothelioma. 

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