What is the role of medication and Psychotherapy in the treatment of cancer-related depression & anxiety?

20 Aug 2021

Depression and anxiety can arise when someone is suffering from cancer or has a high risk of developing cancer. Research, as well as professional experience, shows that moderate to severe depression and anxiety are best treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy. The most common type of medication group is the SSRI group of medications. SSRI stands for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor.

Psychotherapy is commonly referred to as a ‘talking therapy’, but in actual fact is much more that. It is also a listening and understanding therapy.

Psychotherapy is provided by some psychiatrists and all psychologists. The research demonstrates that it is the relationship between therapist and patient that matters most. One of the aims of psychotherapy is to help the patient discover new perspectives about themselves and contemplate new ways of thinking. Depression and anxiety tend to narrow a person’s thought process into a negative realm. Therapy will aim to help the patient broaden their cognitive and emotional horizons and hopefully experience greater fulfilment.

Some patients present with a history of childhood adversity. Their parents or caregivers may not have provided sufficient nurturing or consistency. In some instances, there may even have been frank abuse or neglect. In psychiatric language, we say that the person has suffered a form of relational trauma.

Psychotherapy can play a major part in treating relational trauma. If the patient feels enough trust in their therapist to express their thoughts without being judged, genuine healing can begin to occur.

Feelings can be processed. It is important to note that this approach is not about blaming a particular parent or caregiver. The parent themselves may have suffered their own relational trauma, something we refer to as intergenerational trauma. The purpose of processing childhood material is not to assign blame to any one person but instead to find an understanding that will help the patient progress in their life. We only go to the past to find a way to move forward.