Frequently Asked Questions about Serious Illness
Q. There are many options available as to what treatment patients should have. How can talking with a psychologist best prepare them for making that choice?
A. Overall, talking to a psychologist is an empowering process. Sometimes patients have to fight for what they want. Sometimes they need to push a bit. Most patients are uncomfortable pushing and asking questions because they’re not the expert and it feels disrespectful.
Also, psychology is helpful for coping with the side effects of treatment. Some people give up chemotherapy, even though it may threaten their life, because they can’t deal with the side effects.
Too often, a patient’s psychological needs throughout the treatment regime are not taken into account. Making an educated choice with the patient means weighing both their psychological needs and their medical needs.
Q. How can psychology help people to manage their pain?
A. Psychologists can help people manage their pain by giving them language to describe the pain both to themselves and to physicians (is it shooting or numbing pain, for example) and can suggest helpful medications or use hypnosis as a pain management intervention.
Q. How are friends, family and loved ones affected by a person’s serious illness?
A. Serious illness can affect the whole family, not just the patient. Psychology deals not only with the patient, but also with his or her aging parents, children, spouse, or friends who are involved with that patient’s treatments. The stress on a partner is enormous — they’re taking over the other person’s role, the financial burden, the burden of children, while simultaneously containing their own feelings. The stress on the caretaker cannot be understated. And children feel stress too. Parents mistakenly assume that theyíre hiding the illness from children in the family, but children often know when something is wrong.