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Too often, the psychological well-being of cancer patients is overlooked. While your doctor is focusing on getting rid of the tumor, what about the rest of you? Cancer doesn't only impact the body; it impacts the mind and spirit as well.
Mind-body medicine (also called Psychoneuroimmunology, or PNI) explores the influence of your mind and emotions on your body and immune system, and vice-versa. CTCA at Southwestern Regional Medical Center (Southwestern) offers a Mind-Body Medicine Program in an effort to address this dimension of your healing journey.
The Mind-Body Medicine Team at Southwestern
Southwestern’s mind-body medicine team is comprised of licensed psychologists, licensed professional counselors (LPCs) and a psychiatrist. Our mind-body therapists explore the connection between the mind and the healing process. As you receive conventional cancer treatment, our mind-body team aims to help you move towards healing through support, encouragement and empowerment.
When you first arrive at Southwestern, you and your family members will have the option to meet with one of our mind-body therapists. Whether or not you decide to integrate mind-body medicine into your treatment plan is completely up to you. Our team is here to help you with the healing process, not to analyze or judge you in any way.
A mind-body therapist will meet with you and/or your family members for group and/or private discussions. They will also collaborate regularly with the rest of your care team to discuss your treatment plan.
Our mind-body therapists will recommend specific mind-body tools and techniques to help you deal with the physical and emotional issues that may arise during your cancer treatment. Every attempt is made to empower you to participate fully in your care and treatment decisions.
Mind-Body Medicine Therapies
Cancer treatment can be physically demanding and can sometimes cause side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, muscle tension and lost sleep. Mind-body techniques, like guided imagery and relaxation, may help reduce some of these symptoms.
By complementing your conventional cancer treatments with mind-body techniques, Southwestern’s mind-body therapists aim to help improve your body’s immune system, response to cancer treatment, and overall quality of life.
Throughout your cancer treatment, our mind-body therapists offer you and your caregivers the following mind-body services:
- Stress management classes
- Classes on managing your emotions
- Relaxation and guided imagery training
- Laughter/humor therapy
- Cognitive reframing
- Psycho-educational and support groups
- Individual and group counseling
- Educational resources
The diagnosis of cancer, the side effects of cancer treatment, and all the other changes taking place in your life can make this time especially stressful.
“About 99 percent of the patients I visit with are dealing with more in life than just cancer,” said Dr. David Wakefield, who leads Southwestern’s stress management class. The class aims to help you and your family members cope with these stresses so that you can focus on healing.
The class discusses the difference between boredom, eustress (the good kind of stress that motivates us to be at our best), stress and distress (the level of arousal that overwhelms our abilities to deal with the current stimuli in our life).
“We also discuss ways to use your body as a feedback tool to communicate to your mind when you are experiencing stress,” explains Dr. Wakefield. “For example, there are many physical, behavioral, emotional, cognitive and spiritual symptoms that occur when you experience stress. As we go through the class I try to emphasize stress management interventions."
One stress management technique is to keep a stress awareness diary, and record the date, time and symptoms that occurred during the stressful event. “You can use your stress awareness diary to discover and chart your stressful events and your reactions to them,” Dr. Wakefield says.
Imagery and relaxation techniques can become important tools in building and maintaining peace of mind and well-being as you cope with cancer.
Imagery is a flow of thoughts and feelings that help teach the body what to do. Southwestern’s mind-body therapists use guided imagery techniques to teach you to envision yourself responding to treatment and experiencing a desirable outcome.
"We teach our patients to develop and play ‘videos’ in their heart and mind of a good future and a desirable outcome to treatment,” explains mind-body therapist Dr. Gerald Ellison, who leads Southwestern’s relaxation and imagery class.
The class discusses the importance of positive images, which can help control nausea, raise blood counts, resolve constipation or manage pain.
“Imagining enables us to rise above the concrete, here and now world, into a realm where we can think about things in new ways and create new perspectives on life, health and recovery,” Dr. Ellison says.
This class aims to help you use and enjoy laughter as a tool for healing. “Research tells us that laughter stimulates the body to produce its own antidepressant and a natural painkiller,” explains Dr. Ellison.
"Laughter is also a wonderful stress reliever, a great relationship builder, and it facilitates learning and helps the body generate energy. What a natural resource! It costs nothing to use except some time and a little effort. And while cancer isn’t funny, life is and we can encourage those we serve to enjoy laughter as a resource,” says Dr. Ellison.
Pain is an important example of the relationship among the mind, body and spirit. When the body feels pain, our thoughts and emotions get aroused. Pain may cause anxiety and depression, which may make the pain more intense.
Southwestern’s mind-body therapists offer non-pharmacological interventions to help reduce pain, anxiety and depression—so you have more energy to focus on healing. Our mind-body team will also educate you about the effects of pain on energy, relationships and the immune system.
"It is said, ‘pain is whatever the patient says it is.’ And this is not a problem for CTCA’s staff which functions out of compassion, avoids judging the patient and validates the patient’s experience," says Dr. Ellison.
Learn more about Cancer Pain Management