Emotional Effects Therapies

Cancer patients experience a myriad of emotions before, during and after treatment. Emotional effects therapies, such as meditation, counseling and pet therapy, can help these individuals cope with their cancer in everyday life.

Dealing with an illness like mesothelioma doesn't just affect the body. It can also take a toll on someone's mental and emotional health. Keeping a healthy mind can also help the body better deal with the stress of illness, improve quality of life and help the body recover from treatment. Emotional effects therapies can help patients manage their emotional well-being as well as the physical.

To manage their emotional well-being, patients with mesothelioma may wish to look into meditation, counseling or pet therapy. There is evidence that these therapies provide multiple benefits that carry over from the mind to the body.

Meditation

At its core, meditation is simply a practice of awareness. Meditation can help not just with spiritual and emotional problems, but with physical ones as well. Adding meditation to traditional cancer treatment has produced excellent results. Meditation can reduce feelings of depression, anxiety and physical discomfort.

Additionally, studies claim that meditation can lower tumor growth by as much as 10 percent. Meditation is also known to prolong survival rates, while improving quality of life. Presently, meditation is utilized in countless medical facilities to help cancer patients manage disease by reducing grief and anger. It also teaches those in physical pain how to cope with the extreme discomfort.

There are many types of meditation, but the two basic forms are spiritually-framed meditation and non-spiritual meditation.

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Spiritually-Framed Meditation

Some patients may choose to meditate with a spiritual focus. Patients can incorporate prayer into their practice, or meditate on spiritual writings that provide reassurance, guidance or peace. In one evaluation of devotional meditation, a practice involving prayer and quiet reflection on spiritual material was more effective at reducing anger and anxiety than progressive muscle relaxation.

Many mesothelioma treatment centers host spiritual meditation programs, such as the MD Anderson Cancer Center's “Introduction to Centering Prayer.” These programs are designed for patients of all faiths and denominations, and focus on generating peace through deeper awareness. Hospice-employed clergy members may also provide guidance for spiritual meditation.

One Italian survey found that almost all of the cancer patients who identified as religious churchgoers felt that prayer and meditation helped them cope with their illness. Studies have also found that spiritual coping methods including meditation can help patients adjust to a cancer diagnosis.

Non-Spiritual Meditation

Meditation does not have to have a spiritual focus. Patients can practice it without a religious inclination. In one small survey, non-religious cancer patients explained that they practiced meditation to obtain peace of mind.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a popular form of non-religious meditation. This style is especially prevalent in the cancer community. Several hospitals (including the Abramson Cancer Center and the University of California San Diego Health System) offer eight-week MBSR programs for cancer patients. These courses help patients channel their own inner wisdom to rise above illnesses, stressors and other challenges in their personal life.

In one small study, 89 cancer patients completed a seven-week MBSR program. Participants reported immediate improvements in their sleep quality, fatigue, stress and mood, and maintained these benefits through their six-month follow-up visit.

Counseling

A mesothelioma diagnosis is usually accompanied by aggressive treatment plans that care for the patient's physical well-being but not the feelings of being overwhelmed, fearful and anxious. Sometimes mesothelioma patients might not be able to handle or process negative emotions on their own.

It's OK to ask for a little help. Counselors and therapists are trained professionals who can help patients process their emotions. Depending on the type of health insurance the patient has, some counseling visits may be covered.

Tips for Choosing a Counselor

When looking for a counselor, two of the most important factors are the patient's comfort level and the counselor's experience. Here are a few things to consider when choosing a counselor:

  • Counselors who work in a cancer treatment center might have more experience and be more easily able to assist with the specific emotions cancer patients may have.

  • A counselor should have at least a bachelor's degree in a counseling field and may also have a master's or doctoral degree.

  • A counselor should be warm and caring.

  • One of the best sources for a counselor is by word-of-mouth from other cancer patients.

  • If the first session doesn't "feel right," don't be afraid to look for a better match.

  • Trust is important.

Pet Therapy

Pet therapy, also known as animal-assisted therapy, employs the use of animals in the treatment of a disease or illness. Pet therapy can range from watching fish swim in an aquarium to petting a dog to caring for livestock. A friendly animal companion can ease some of the stress and anxiety of dealing with mesothelioma.

Scientific studies prove that pet therapy can benefit patients. Lower medication costs, longer life, increased alertness, and an improved mood are just some of the health benefits of pet therapy. While pet therapy should not be considered a replacement for conventional medicine, it is a wonderfully effective complement to traditional methods.

The most common animals used in this type of therapy are dogs and cats that are specially trained to be around hospital equipment and are comfortable around many people. Professional animal handlers may accompany the pet when visiting with patients.

This type of therapy can help mesothelioma patients reduce stress in just one visit. One study found that pet therapy participants noticed immediate changes to their mood, and this small amount of therapy reduced stress and mood disturbances by 57 percent.

Less stress equals a drop in fatigue, reduces pain perception, improves respiration and increases vital sign stability. For a mesothelioma patient, this can be a blessing.

Additional Resources


Joining the team in February 2008 as a writer and editor, Michelle Whitmer has translated medical jargon into patient-friendly information at Asbestos.com for more than eight years. Michelle is a registered yoga teacher, a member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine, and was quoted by The New York Times on the risks of asbestos exposure. If you have a story idea for Michelle, please email her at michelle@asbestos.com.

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