There are many challenges and stressors that individuals face when undergoing a new medical diagnosis. Research suggests that many medical diagnoses are comorbid with mental health diagnoses and often lead to symptoms of both depression and anxiety. Specifically, individuals with a cancer diagnosis experience various difference reactions and emotions. Among the emotions experienced are fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, and anger. There is strong evidence to suggest that adults with a cancer diagnosis can significantly benefit from the effects of psychological interventions, helping to improve distress and psychological well being.
One treatment in particular that is found to be helpful to those undergoing a cancer diagnosis is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). ACT is a type of therapy that helps individuals to change their relationship with their thoughts, rather than changing the content of the thoughts. Patients can learn to have difficult thoughts and feelings without being dominated by them. Individuals can help learn to engage in behaviors that are consistent with their values and what they believe in. Overall, the treatment helps individuals to develop psychological flexibility to allow them to effectively deal with their distressing symptoms through the use of acceptance techniques, mindfulness techniques, and the exploration of values work.
Below are lists of areas in which ACT hones in on:
* Defusion: Attempts to alter the undesirable functions of thoughts, rather than try to alter their form and frequency
* Acceptance: Involves the active and aware embrace of emotions and experiences, without attempt to alter the experience
* Being Present: Promotes non-judgmental contact with psychological and environmental events as they occur, the goal is to experience the world more directly
* Values: ACT uses a variety of exercises to help a patient chose life directions in various domains (i.e. career, spirituality)
In engaging in these techniques, individuals experiencing distress related to a medical diagnosis can begin to target their distress symptoms and gain acceptance surrounding their recent diagnosis.
Author: Gabriella Podolski, M.A.
Feros, D. L., Lane, L., Ciarrochi, J., & Blackledge, J. T. (2011). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for improving the lives of cancer patients: A preliminary study. Psycho-Oncology. doi:10.1002/pon.2083