Julie Sweet, clinical psychotherapist talks about asking for support after your diagnosis

30 Sep 2021

At this difficult time, asking for help (or space!) can be daunting.

We asked clinical psychotherapist Julie Sweet for advice on how to share your news with friends and family and how to seek support from those closest to you

“Sharing your diagnosis news is a subjective experience. The best way to do so can vary"

I suggest the following:

  • Choose a safe and quiet environment. Communicating face to face or over the phone can be more personable than text or email.
  • Write down some succinct points or make notes before sharing the news. This can help anchor you and ensure what you want to communicate remains focused.  
  • Seek support by using resources such as a therapist or group therapy. This can assist you in helping you work out how and when to find the appropriate means to share your news.

This is a time of anxiety and you may feel fearful, nervous and worried about sharing your diagnosis with others. These feelings are completely natural and expected. You may feel a sense of urgency and a strong need to inform friends and family. 

Or you could experience angst around how your diagnosis will impact others. You might unconsciously step into a caretaker role to help your friends, family, or colleagues process what they’re hearing. 

Research shows that sharing our stories can often strengthen interpersonal relationships and deepen connections. It can enable us to feel seen and heard. Bearing witness to someone’s story is a powerful gift. Once you’ve disclosed your diagnosis and news, it’s imperative you give yourself permission to feel whatever comes up for you next: self-acceptance is key. 


Dealing with people’s reactions

Some people may make your diagnosis all about them – there may be many reasons for this.  Some people become overwhelmed and flooded with emotion; others want to jump in and deflect; some can become uneasy, so they default to filling any silence or awkwardness they’re feeling with a narrative about themselves. 

These reactions are not personal, but they can hurt. Empower both yourself and others by expressing how you feel about their reaction. This is a good time to discuss what YOU need. Often there’s an unconscious conditioning at play and many of us haven’t had guidance or training on how to ask for our needs to be met. The first step is to identify your needs. The second step is to communicate them. Not doing so can lead to a sense of hopelessness or loss of control.


Boundaries are critical

Setting your personal boundaries are as important as expressing your needs. Boundaries require self-awareness, along with a willingness to establish and implement them. This is not an easy feat if you’ve never been shown what boundaries are or how to apply them. It can be a learning process, however it’s worth working on. 

How to accept – and decline - help

Here’s a simple way to graciously turn down someone’s offer of help: “I feel touched by your generous offer of coming to my medical appointments with me. What I really need is to call you after each appointment to offload what’s coming up for me instead.”

Most people have good intensions. However, this is your process and must be one you cultivate so that it aligns with your values, feelings and above all, what is in your best interest.  

Asking for help can take some practice as it’s often something that can be unfamiliar for many. Understandably it may cause apprehension or discomfort. 

People can fear rejection, feel embarrassed, or that they’re troubling others when they ask for what they need. The sheer act of asking for help can also press on historical wounds from our early childhood experiences, where we may have been labelled “too much” or “needy” or “sensitive”. These factors can become barriers to seeking external support, not only from your personal support system but professional services as well. 

It’s often thought that it takes a village to raise a child, however this also applies to adults. As human beings are interconnected, using support, utilising professional services, and cultivating strategies and protective factors will serve us, especially in a crisis.

Julie Sweet is a clinical Psychotherapist at Seaway Counselling and Psychotherapy, practicing in Sydney’s eastern suburbs in Bondi Junction