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Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis.

Counselling — admin @ 7:32 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week our discussion has been about counselling for cancer. There are many different aspects to this but this week we will confine what we say to coping with the diagnosis and aftermath of a cancer diagnosis. To be told by your doctor that you have cancer is initially very shocking. One of the first things you are faced with is your own preconceptions of what a cancer diagnosis may mean. It may have been regarded as the next best thing to a death sentence and you may have to work hard to overcome your own fears in this regard. Our experience is that modern cancer treatment is very effective and that a return to a full and active life can happen quite quickly. The shock to your system of this whole experience may linger and it is this aspect of counselling for cancer which we want to address this week.

Cancer awareness and in particular the importance of early intervention has increased with public information campaigns targeted at particular sets of risk factors and types of cancer. We still probably believe, however, that it will never happen to us. We can therefore become quite worried when we find a lump; a swelling of some sort or a pain which causes us to go to our G.P for assessment.  A temptation towards denial is a feature of serious illness especially cancer. It is important to try to overcome this and seek treatment as soon as possible. Denial is a psychological aspect of illness and it is useful to try to understand it.

A cancer diagnosis may be experienced initially as a serious threat to our self. This will set off a natural process in us as we are programmed by nature to respond automatically to threats. This different with illness is that the threat is internal and we have to face it in order to receive treatment and meet the threat. There is a paradox here whereby the natural defence of denial may actually increase the threat is we choose to ignore it and delay treatment. It is easy to understand this when we think of it abstractly but it is experienced in a very immediate and frightening way when it happens to us.

Like a lot of things in life a cancer diagnosis is something which we imagine as only happening to other people. In order to receive treatment we have to cope with this initial shock and set aside our fears and face into the treatment. These fears may be put to the back of our minds to be dealt with at a later stage and that is where counselling is especially helpful.

Sometimes there isn’t much time between diagnosis and the beginning of treatment and one of the things that you may have to deal with during this time is letting others know. There was a sort of denial present in the public discourse around cancer which we think is changing. It may have been referred to in abstract terms as ‘The Big C’ and spoken of in a kind of hushed or reverential tone reflecting the fear which a cancer diagnosis evoked in people.

Our experience with people diagnosed with cancer is that it is possible to speak about it openly and to say what kind of cancer it is and what the treatment is likely to be. We are sure that this healthy attitude to talking about cancer can also help a person come to terms with their own diagnosis.  The public awareness campaigns which we spoke of earlier have made this task easier. It can put an additional strain on the patient at the same time in that they are put in the position of having to deal the reactions of others and to become a sort of advocate for cancer treatment and care.

Information is a critical tool in gathering your strength for dealing with talking about your cancer diagnosis. There are many organisations and support groups available to offer assistance. Our experience is that oncology specialists and nursing teams are an excellent source of strength and support at this time passing on their in-depth knowledge and valuable experience. This knowledge and the openness which comes with it help to engender a sense of confidence which will help you fight your cancer.

There is so much more to be said about counselling in relation to cancer. We could only cover a couple of points this week but it is a subject we will return to again. For this week we just wanted to say a little about the shock and denial and also about the beginnings of a fighting spirit which is in no small way helped by openness in talking about a cancer diagnosis. Our experience has taught us that sometimes it is only after treatment and a return to normal life that a person can really engage at a deep level with what it means for them. The fears and feelings that are put aside in the initial shock can be dealt with in counselling at a later stage. It is important to understand that this is a natural process. Our minds are designed to save us from having to face for example the fear of our own death. But if these thoughts remain buried and are not dealt with they may leave us feeling fearful and not living life as full as we can. In these instances we find that counselling can be very beneficial when coming to terms with a cancer diagnosis.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

The Titanic and the Psychology of Tragedy.

Counselling — admin @ 1:24 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week we have been talking about the Titanic. This week marks the centenary of the sinking of that great ship which was built just fifty miles up the road from us here. The tragedy of the loss of the Titanic still attracts our attention a full century after it happened. We wonder what it is about it that generates so much interest. There is something about that tragedy which seems to resonate within us at an unconscious level. Maybe we can identify with the human failings that are at the heart of it.

The story of the Titanic is grounded in the spirit of the age in which it was conceived. One of the most striking things about even the design of the ship was the way it reflected the class divide that held sway at the time. The ship reflected the confidence of the time; in modernity, in engineering and in mankind’s mastery over the Earth. We wonder who we identify with when we look back at this. Is it with the upper class that enjoyed opulence on a scale never seen before on an ocean liner? Or do we imagine ourselves in the bowels of the ship with the steerage passengers.

That class divide is also reflective of the attitude that sent thousands to their deaths in Flanders and The Somme only two years after the sinking if the Titanic. In what was supposed to be the War to End all Wars thousands died heroically but needlessly following a dream that failed to take account of the realities of what became an obsessive conflict. The unsinkable ship ended up at the bottom of the sea because of the human failings of a society that dared to dream. Those dreams failed to take account of worldly limitations and obstacles ably represented in this story by the bulk of an Atlantic iceberg. We all have dreamed. And we all have met with icebergs which have threatened to hole us below the waterline and leave us floundering.

The personal stories of those lost in the sinking of the Titanic mirror those of any time. People set off on that journey hoping to find work or to make a new life. The very name of the ship reflected the scale of the hope of that time. It was Titanic, meaning it was enormous in scale. Named for the Titans of ancient Greece who ruled in the time of the Golden Age it was representative of the Edwardian dream of a new Golden Age. Therein lays some clues about our ongoing fascination with the tragedy of the loss of the Titanic.

Each of us passes through phases of childhood which leave us on the cusp of launching into adult life. We may dream big; indeed our dream of what life holds for us may be titanic. We may put doubt to the side and steam ahead in the belief that nothing can stop us. And we may come across real world difficulties and obstacles that force us to stop in our tracks. We can find analogies for life in the story of the loss of the Titanic. Blame and reproach at the loss of a dream can leaves us becalmed in the waters of depression.

Moving on means finding some understanding of what it was we were trying to achieve and how or where it went wrong. It means understanding the scope of the dream and maybe even forgiving the dreamer for the scale of their wish. No great advancement is ever made without first being represented in a dream. Sometimes the dream is not fulfilled because of our own failings. Then perhaps the best course is to tweak the dream, take account of the obstacles and set sail again. Taking on board the mistakes of the past means being able to mourn the loss of unfulfilled dreams and then moving on with new ones.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk. 13th April 2012.

Easter and Personal Transformation.

Psychotherapy — admin @ 8:02 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week we have been grappling with a question posed to us by a twelve year old. She wanted to know about the origin of the tradition of giving eggs at Easter time. Like a lot things it turns out there is more than one answer. In the first instance it seems that eggs were one of the foods that were not generally consumed during the Lenten fast. Pancake Tuesday became the day when all the eggs in the larder were eaten before Lent began. The stocks that piled up over the weeks of Lent were then consumed at Easter time. Eggs also represent renewal or rebirth which is a deeper, older meaning of the Easter holiday.

Indeed a look at the dictionary reveals that the origin of the word Easter lies in the old Germanic goddess of fertility and spring. Her name is linked with East and the sunrise and her feast was celebrated around the spring equinox. It is said that early Christians borrowed her name for their celebrations of the resurrection at the same time of the year. So the Christian story of Jesus dying and being raised from the dead supplanted earlier traditions who celebrated a feast of new life at this time of the year.

Indeed the story of the Passion of Christ which we remember at this time is one which represents extremes of suffering. Suffering is something many people endure at different times in their lives. The anguish which He endured in the Garden of Gethsemane is something that many have identified with at times of illness, loss or personal crises. The idea of death and rebirth is one which recurs not only in the story of Jesus but also throughout mythology. It also makes an appearance in dreams. We may find a dreamer reporting that they imagined their own death but were a witness to it and emerge from it a different person.

These themes represent something which seems to be common in human psychology, especially as we pass through the phases of childhood. We can face the next stage ahead of us with great fear. It can seem like a trial which we are not sure we will be able to survive. We cling to the comfort of the familiar and we resist change. This can happen after we have reached adulthood if we become unhappy in our home, work or relationship. At these times we can suffer great anguish and fear at the prospect of what may lie ahead of us. We may be tempted to turn away from the suffering that might be involved if we try to bring about change. This can also result in pain for the ones we love.

We see this kind of anguish all the time in our work. We see people assess where they are at in life and begin to consider a different kind of future. Often this results in upset and suffering as we go through a process of transformation from an old self to a new one. Sometimes these changes result in a new career or in the breakup of a long standing relationship or marriage. These are the modern, therapeutic realities of the ancient phenomenon of death and rebirth. They mirror our ancient forbears marking of the change of the seasons; the coming of spring and the light of sunrise on new growth. It is a natural process with a momentum of its own and we hope that in our work we can continue to facilitate those who are ready to undertake their own journey.

Happy Easter from us all at Counselling Connections.

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