Psychological Self-Help

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If you have cancer, there are two things you should do to
understand the psychological aspects better: (1) read a scholarly and
detailed review--not just a newspaper article--of the recent
psychological research with cancer patients (such as, Anderson, 2002;
Email: This gives you a realistic notion of what
to expect from psychological treatment. Several types of psychological
interventions have been researched--relaxation training, individual
therapy, group therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, educational
classes, training physicians to be warmer and more supportive, peer
groups, and peer counseling. In general, these interventions reduce
distress in cancer patients. As you know (and as this book tells you
over and over) most self-help methods are adaptations of therapy
techniques, so you could select self-help methods that would fit you
and your situation. Examples: in general, relaxation techniques (see
chapter 12) and challenging your upsetting, irrational thoughts (see
chapter 14) might help you calm down. In a more specific instance,
the radiation treatment of cervical cancer often results in several kinds
of significant sexual dysfunctions. Therapists have found that a device,
called Eros, is very helpful in gradually restoring sexual functions and
pleasures. It consists of a gentle vacuum that is applied to the clitoris.
With a prescription and a little advice about how to use the device
(costing $395), it could become a self-treatment procedure. 
(2) The second thing I would do is read Holland & Lewis's (2001)
book, The Human Side of Cancer. Holland is a physician, a female,
who has concentrated for years on the psychological/emotional
experiences associated with having cancer. She is a leader in this field.
One of her salient points is that the popular self-help literature
sometimes does harm to cancer victims by preaching "positive
thinking." Some pop psych writers blindly believe and will tell you that
having unwavering hope, being positive and inspired, being an
aggressive fighter of disease, etc. will help you overcome cancer,
almost implying positive thoughts are a cure. Positive thinking can
improve the lives of some people in several ways but it can also
actually cause harm to others. Holland points out that many people
have never had a positive, optimistic, rosy, everything-will-be-
wonderful outlook and they aren't going to adopt such an attitude
while being diagnosed with cancer, facing sickness and possible death,
and enduring painful, draining cancer treatment. Some people cope by
being realistic and quietly stoic. 
Dr. Holland describes cancer cases in which the patient feels
especially hopeless because they just can't get optimistic, even
though their cancer treatment is going well or has been successful.
Because the self-help books say you must be positive, they feel afraid
and worried because they don't have the "right" attitude. Sadness and
fear do not make tumors grow. No one is going to die because they
can't keep a positive attitude. Self-help book writers should realize
their positive message, while helpful in some cases, can also
encourage blaming the victim. Some people are so into the positive
thinking thing that they actually blame people for having a brain tumor
or cancer of some internal organ. That is stupid and cruel. But
humans, always hoping they have a solution, are prone to think this
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