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Section 7
Understanding the Psychological Dimensions
of Cancer During the Active Treatment Period

Question 7 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed regression and failure.  Regression is an unconscious signal of increased need. These unconscious signals of increased needs are normal, and usually resolve when the children feel that their three fundamental needs are being addressed.

In this section, we will discuss coping with visits.  This will include reactions during visits, planning for the visit, and leaving children behind. 

♦ Reactions During Visits
I find clients may worry about their child’s reaction to the illness during a visit.  However, children generally react better than adults.  Dr. Donna Copeland remembers when a family asked her whether they ought to bring their seven year old son, Mark, to see his mother in intensive care. 

Dr. Copeland stated, "She was hooked up to machines, and she had changed a lot.  The family members were worried.  Together we decided it would benefit Mark to come to the hospital.  Then we asked Mark if he wanted to visit.  He did.  When we brought him to the  hospital, he walked into the room and whispered, ‘Ahhhh… she looks beautiful.’  He didn’t see the machines as we would because he didn’t understand the meaning of them.  He only knew he was being deprived of somebody important.  The boy paid attention only to what he cared about; his mother." 

I find that children can also introduce humor to a hospital visit.  One client’s child yanked down the television and proceeded to delight everyone in the room with a running commentary on the basketball playoffs.  Of course a discussion with the child at later point in time may have revealed this sports commentary as avoidant behavior and a need to take care of the adults in the situation.  However, the adults in the room may become tense during a visit.  Children can pick up on that tension and become uncomfortable or scared. 

♦ Planning for the Visit
Once a client has decided to take a child to the hospital for a visit, he or she may consider engaging the child in planning the visit.  Perhaps your client might help the child choose a gift for the patient, or draw a picture, or write a poem.  The children can benefit from the parent preparing them for the visit.  After the visit, parents might consider doing something quiet and easy, like going out for ice cream or going to the park.  Later, your client may ask the child to talk about or draw a picture of how he or she thinks the hospital visit went. 

Do you find, like I do, that a visit that is well prepared for can have numerous beneficial results.  Most important, it can calm fears.  The husband of one patient explains, "After visiting his mother my nine year old was less frightened about where mommy was.  Now when I visit my wife in the hospital, my son knows where I am.  He isn’t wondering anymore.  He told me that the hospital wasn’t as bad as he thought it was and that Mommy looked better than he imagined." 

Also, a visit can bring a child and a patient closer together.  Visits can help the child understand what is happening to someone he loves.  It can make him feel as though he did something concrete to help.  After visiting his mother, the same nine year old stated to his father, "Aren’t you glad we went.  Mommy really needed someone to cheer her up." 

♦ Leaving Children Behind
In addition to reactions during visits and planning for the visit, let’s discuss leaving children behind.  Clearly, it’s important to maintain normalcy as much as possible.  If the patient’s treatment facility is far away, uprooting the children frequently may require them to make too much of an adjustment and it can even rob them of their friends and support systems. 

Stays at various hotel rooms or with someone they hardly know in a strange city can be especially hard.  Would you agree that children do best when they maintain bedtime rituals and other routines?  Children who cannot visit their cancer stricken loved one can be encouraged to write letters, send cards, or make a photo album to send along. 

In this section, we discussed coping with visits.  This included reactions during visits, planning for the visit, and leaving children behind. 

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Green McDonald, P., O'Connell, M., & Suls, J. (2015). Cancer control falls squarely within the province of the psychological sciences. American Psychologist, 70(2), 61–74.

Hou, W. K., Law, C. C., Yin, J., & Fu, Y. T. (2010). Resource loss, resource gain, and psychological resilience and dysfunction following cancer diagnosis: A growth mixture modeling approach. Health Psychology, 29(5), 484–495. 

Jacobsen, P. B., & Andrykowski, M. A. (2015). Tertiary prevention in cancer care: Understanding and addressing the psychological dimensions of cancer during the active treatment period. American Psychologist, 70(2), 134–145.

Salinas, C. L. (2021). Playing to heal: The impact of bereavement camp for children with grief. International Journal of Play Therapy, 30(1), 40–49.

Sandler, I., Gunn, H., Mazza, G., Tein, J.-Y., Wolchik, S., Kim, H., Ayers, T., & Porter, M. (2018). Three perspectives on mental health problems of young adults and their parents at a 15-year follow-up of the family bereavement program. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 86(10), 845–855.

Talen, M. R. (2019). A silver lining playbook? My mom’s death. Families, Systems, & Health, 37(3), 260–262.

What are three focus points to help children coping with visits? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 8
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