THERAPY CAN HELP CANCER SURVIVORS process their unique experiences, such as treatment-related stress and fear of recurrence. Anxiety, depression and a decreased quality of life are common among survivors, but psychological care can assist in managing emotional distress. Finding a therapist who meets your needs isn’t always a straightforward journey, however, so it’s important not to get discouraged if the first therapist you meet with isn’t a good fit.

One way to find a therapist is to seek a referral from your primary provider or cancer care team. You can also ask survivors in your area whom they see and whether they would recommend their therapists for counseling, says Corinne Leach, senior principal scientist of behavioral research at the American Cancer Society. If you know what type of therapy you’re looking for, search for someone who specializes in those techniques and methods.

In-Person vs. Online Therapy

Teletherapy is a great option for some people, but it may not be for everyone. Attending sessions from the comfort of your own home may be worthwhile if the commute makes regular appointments inconvenient. However, if you’re struggling with social isolation or have trouble building relationships online, seeing a therapist in person may be preferable.

Many therapists offer a screening call before the first session. Use this to assess whether the therapist’s techniques, goals and personality align with what you’re looking for, Leach says. You can also ask about their prior experience working with cancer survivors, which is often helpful, but not necessary, she adds.

It may take several sessions to determine whether the therapist is a good fit, especially if you aren’t meeting in person. Don’t give up immediately, Leach says. Let them know what is and isn’t working for you, and they may be able to adjust their methods. Therapists are often trained in various techniques and may be able to switch to a different approach that is better suited to your needs. Your first therapist might not be a good fit, but it may be worth asking them for a referral, as they can often point you toward another specialist.

Types of Therapy

There are different kinds of therapy and some have shown more benefits for cancer patients than others.

There is more evidence to support the benefits of some types of therapy for cancer survivors than there is for other methods. A 2017 review published in F1000Research found that the types that are best supported by research are:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which focuses on developing strategies for coping with difficult situations, interrupting harmful thought patterns and behaviors, and building confidence.
  • Cognitive-existential therapy, which builds coping skills and addresses concerns about death, the meaning of life, and more. It is often performed in a group setting.
  • Meaning-centered psychotherapy, which concentrates on finding meaning and improving spiritual well-being and is often performed in a group setting.
  • Mindfulness stress reduction programs, which teach mindfulness to cope with physical and emotional challenges.

If you don’t feel respected by your therapist or you don’t trust them, that’s often a clear sign to seek a different therapist. “Feeling pushed out of your comfort zone is very common,” says Leach. “Ideally, you should look for a therapist that challenges you to grow and that you trust at the same time.”