Seeing a Professional

Updated 
August 31, 2015

Mental health professionals are trained to help you with many different concerns, including

If you find your mood interferes with your daily life, you should seek a licensed mental health provider. Many understand the concerns of people with breast cancer or cancer in general.

Types of Mental Health Providers

These health professionals have different training and strengths. Look for someone you trust and feel comfortable talking to. It’s OK to try a number of providers until you find one who works best with you.

  • Oncologyinfo-icon social workers have special training with the emotional impact of breast cancer. They provide counselinginfo-icon and education for you and your family.
    • They also can help you learn coping skillsinfo-icon and navigate insurance, job-related concerns and practical matters.
    • You may find cancer social workers in your hospital, care center or community.
  • Oncology nurses give you medical treatments like chemotherapyinfo-icon and help you manage side effects.
    • They can provide help with medical and emotional issues and steer you toward resources.
  • Psychologists talk with you and your family about the impact of breast cancer.
    • They diagnose and treat anxietyinfo-icon and depressioninfo-icon.
    • Psychologists can also help you prepare emotionally for medical procedures and offer tips to improve your mood, body imageinfo-icon, self-esteem and sexual health.
  • Psychiatrists have a medical degree and can prescribe medicines for anxiety, depression and problems with sleep. Some practice talk therapyinfo-icon.
    • They can help manage treatment side effects such as fatigueinfo-icon, energy loss and changes in your ability to think or concentrate.

You may also find it helpful to connect with a spiritual care professional or pastoral counselorinfo-icon.

When to Consult a Mental Health Professional

Talking with a professional who understands the emotional impact of breast cancer can help at any time. Doing so is a way of caring for yourself if:

  • You are worried about how you feel or function in daily life.
  • Your distressinfo-icon does not lessen after starting treatment.
  • You want more emotional support.
  • Your mood interferes with your ability to function well.
  • You have trouble falling or staying asleep, or you sleep all the time.
  • Your self-image, body imageinfo-icon or self-esteem has changed a great deal.
  • You feel overwhelmed by fears the cancer could come back.
  • Great sadness gets in the way of your life.
  • You stop doing things you enjoy.
  • You isolate yourself from family and friends or have trouble speaking with people.
  • You skip follow-up visits, treatments or medicines because you want to avoid thinking about cancer.
  • You do things that could hurt you, like drinking too much alcohol, using street drugs, misusing prescriptioninfo-icon drugs or eating too much or too little.
  • You have thoughts of harming yourself or committing suicide.

Talk Therapy

Talk therapyinfo-icon involves speaking one-on-one with a mental healthinfo-icon professional about your thoughts and feelings.

During talk therapy, you will explore your thoughts and feelings and learn new ways to copeinfo-icon with your diagnosisinfo-icon. Many women seek talk therapy for the same reasons they go to support groups: for emotional support, or to meet other women who understand. For those who feel sad or anxious, talk therapy helps address your immediate concerns. It can also help you cope more effectively with illness and the challenges it presents.

In talk therapy, you set the agenda. You may want to talk about the impact of breast cancer on the way you feel about yourself or your intimate relationships. Or, you might want to talk about other things in life of concern to you. There are many different types of talk therapy, so ask your mental health provider about his or her approach.

Typically, you will meet with your provider regularly over several weeks or months. During this time, you may develop new ways to think about your situation and life, and better understand your feelings. You could learn new ways to express your needs. Sometimes, with your permission, your provider will partner with members of your care team to provide the most effective treatment for you.

Finding a Mental Health Professional

To find a mental healthinfo-icon professional near you, consider reaching out to any one of the following organizations:

  • CancerCare: (800) 813-4673, cancercare.org
  • Association of Oncologyinfo-icon Social Work: (847) 480-6343, aosw.org
  • American Psychologicalinfo-icon Association Practice Organization: (800) 374-2723, locator.apa.org
  • The American Psychosocialinfo-icon Oncology Society: (866) 276-7443, apos-society.org

Paying for Mental Health Treatment

Discuss payment policies with your healthcare providerinfo-icon and with your insurance company.

You may need to get a referralinfo-icon to a mental healthinfo-icon provider from a primary careinfo-icon physicianinfo-icon, or your insurance company may provide a list of approved providers. Your provider may also have a referral service to connect you with someone who specializes in helping people with breast cancer.

If you have financial hardship, you may be able to get mental health services at low or no cost. Some universities have psychology or psychiatry departments that offer services based on your income. Some providers, federally qualified health centers, and low-cost clinics often offer income-based services on a sliding scale, or even for free.

More In Emotional Health

Insight Magazine December 2013
Article August 31, 2015