Behavioral health

The information on this page was reviewed and approved by
Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

This page was updated on September 21, 2021.

Our services

The behavioral health program at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) is designed to support you before, during and after cancer treatment. We offer a variety of mental health services designed to improve your health and well-being.

Behavioral health care, an integral part of whole-person care, recognizes the powerful ways in which emotional, mental, social and behavioral wellness may directly affect a patient’s physical health. Our licensed mental health and allied professionals offer caring relationships and therapeutic practices and techniques to help you and your caregivers respond to a cancer diagnosis in empowering and stress-reducing ways, so you are better able to improve your health outcomes, relationships and overall well-being.

Some of the behavioral health services we offer include those listed below.

Animal-assisted therapy

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT), also known as pet therapy, is a form of therapy that uses dogs and other animals to help people cope with health problems, including cancer. Visiting with a certified therapy pet in the hospital may provide patients and their families with comfort, relief and a distraction from pain, discomfort and stress.

AAT has been shown to reduce stress, improve mood and energy levels, and decrease perceived pain and anxiety. It may also provide a sense of companionship that combats feelings of isolation.

Dogs are most commonly therapy pets, although other domesticated pets, farm animals and even dolphins have been used in some mental health treatments.

Therapy dogs are trained and certified to work with our patients. During a visit from a therapy dog, the dog’s owner walks the dog through the hospital, stopping to greet people who would like a visit. The visits vary in length, but generally last anywhere between five and 15 minutes. It is important that patients meet certain health criteria and are cleared by their oncologist to receive AAT.

We have certified therapy dogs at all the hospitals in our health system. As part of our AAT program, our therapy dogs visit the hospitals throughout the week, and are always accompanied by their owners.

Intimacy and cancer counseling

A cancer diagnosis may change cancer patients’ relationships with their partners in many ways, including how they interact, share intimate moments and engage in sexual intercourse. These changes may be caused by physical effects from various cancer treatments, or from emotions triggered by feelings of loss, insecurity or a lack of control. Discussing your concerns and experiences with your care team may help you and your partner better communicate and take new steps to prepare for and manage cancer-related relationship changes as they occur.

At CTCA®, we offer a variety of counseling, advocacy and other support services to help you maintain your quality of life and strengthen your relationships during and after cancer treatment. These services include cognitive behavioral therapy and other early-intervention techniques.

Because of their biological makeup, men and women often experience relationship and intimacy challenges differently. Their experiences may also vary based on their cancer types and individual treatment plans. For example, these cancer treatments may cause side effects that impact intimacy, sexual intercourse and relationships:

Hormone therapy: Men with advanced or metastatic prostate cancer may be prescribed hormone therapies that reduce their production of testosterone and other androgens. This may lead to hot flashes, decreased sex drive, impotence, loss of muscle mass and other physical changes. Hormone therapies for women with ovarian cancer and breast cancer are designed to curb estrogen production. This may trigger physical changes that resemble menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes and vaginal dryness.

Chemotherapy: For women, some anti-cancer drugs may irritate mucous membranes, making sex temporarily difficult or painful. A weakened immune system may also raise the risk of yeast and other infections during treatment. Chemotherapy drug use may lead to early menopause in some women, even young adults, and sterility in some men.

Surgery: Depending on the location of the tumors, certain surgical procedures may impair bodily functions and/or self-image in both men and women. For men, surgeries for prostate, bladder or colon cancer may damage nerves or blood vessels, affecting their ability to achieve or maintain an erection. For women, surgeries to remove breast, cervical or other gynecologic cancers may lead to physical changes that make sexual activity painful or that impact their self-esteem.

Radiation therapy: Men treated with radiation therapy to the lower belly may experience scarring or nerve damage that affects their ability to have an erection. Radiation treatments for women with pelvic-area cancers may develop decreased tissue elasticity or scarring, which may make sex difficult or painful.

Music therapy

Music therapy is the practice of using music to address your physical and emotional needs in a therapeutic environment. The soothing effects of music are commonly used to help patients struggling with mental illness or substance abuse. But this form of therapy is also used to help alleviate emotional, physical and social stresses caused by cancer, or to boost your mood and help you through cancer treatment and recovery.

Our behavioral health therapists may help patients use music for therapeutic expression—both in-person and through our outpatient telehealth solutions—without the need for an oncologist referral. Music therapy may include creating, singing, moving to or listening to music by:

  • Playing an instrument
  • Singing a song
  • Participating in a group class where you may either listen to music or play along
  • Talking with a health care provider about the feelings certain music evokes in you