Stabilizing Mental Health Can Help You Heal


By Saran Archer, MSW

The CCNM Integrative Cancer Centre uses an integrative, whole-person-care model based on the idea that whole-person-care is both integral and fundamental in addressing all aspects of the person, not just their cancer. In this model, people living with cancer are seen as the whole person they are and their needs are addressed in a holistic way which includes their mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.

The experience of cancer diagnosis and treatment has a significant mental-emotional impact. The process of being diagnosed, treated and tested is overwhelming and can create a lot of stress, anxiety and depression. Recognizing and addressing the mental and emotional impact of cancer can provide emotional relief from stress, validate their emotional experience and can help to normalize any feelings that come up.

Studies have found that people living with cancer receive great benefit from participating in mental-emotional supports. Numerous studies have shown that counselling and therapy helps people living with cancer by:

  • Reducing depressive symptoms
  • Enhancing coping ability
  • Improving emotional well-being and mood
  • Improving overall quality of life and well-being and
  • Validating and normalize their experience, feelings and emotions

A recent study conducted here in Toronto through the University Health Network at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre demonstrates these benefits. In this trial, patients with advanced cancer were randomized into Usual Care (UC) or a program called CALM – Managing Cancer and Living Meaningfully. Usual Care included routine oncology treatment and follow-up and clinic-based distress screening; most patients in the usual care group did not receive any type of psychosocial support, as most patients with cancer do not. Patients in the CALM group received three to six psychotherapy sessions (each 45 to 60 minutes) over 3 to 6 months. CALM is a supportive-expressive psychotherapy intervention intended to treat and prevent depression and end-of-life distress in patients with advanced cancer. The trial found that the CALM group receiving psychotherapy reported significantly less-severe depressive symptoms than the UC group at both 3 and 6 months, with the effect even greater at 6 months. The study also concluded that CALM may help to prevent the onset of depressive symptoms that may otherwise grow over time in individuals with advanced disease.

Jennifer Bell is one of the trial patients who experienced psychotherapy through the CALM intervention. She has written about her experience and says that “…Healing is still very much a work in progress. The impact of a life-altering diagnosis, suddenly confronting one’s own mortality, enduring a drug regimen where you’re just trying to get through today, then deal with tomorrow, all take their toll on the psyche, a reality that can translate into depression, anxiety and feelings of helplessness long after cancer treatment ends.” Participating in counselling helped Jennifer realize that all of these feelings were normal and that going through physical trauma would, of course, impact her mental state. She says that “being able to have your feelings and experience with cancer validated and normalized has large impacts on mental wellness. To me, that was huge, to have someone validate my feelings. It’s about knowing that mental health, and stabilizing mental health helps you heal. That’s why it was important for me to get treated for my mental health. I knew it would help me heal.”

At the CCNM Integrative Cancer Centre, we have also seen our patients benefit from psychotherapy and we work to support their mental-emotional health. Dr. Kristin Heins, ND, Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) is available for psychotherapy appointments to help support our patients emotional well-being. If you are outside Toronto, consider finding a psychotherapist near you at The College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario.