You may have met a social worker when your child was diagnosed. Most children’s cancer centers have social workers who help families figure out what the hospital routine will be like, deal with insurance and financial concerns, and are available for support of the parents and, sometimes also, the child or siblings. The social worker usually works as a team with other mental health professionals and with the doctors and nurses caring for your child. You can ask the social worker any questions about how you or your child are feeling and about what services are available for support through the cancer experience.
If this is your first experience working with a social worker, and you feel a little embarrassed, remember: Social workers in hospitals have had a great deal of experience with others who have been where you are, and they can offer good advice and direction. This is one of the places where it is good to recognize that you are being asked to handle much more than a typical parent, and it is helpful to get all the support you can so you can offer your child all the support he or she needs.
Psychological Supportive Therapy
In some hospitals, there are psychologists who work with patients and/or parents on the children’s cancer floor. You may be asked to meet with a psychologist or to allow your child to meet one. The psychologist may be available to follow your child or you through the cancer experience, or they may be there to do an initial evaluation of your child. They may not routinely see all families. If you are concerned about how your child is doing, you may want to ask if the psychologist could see your child to evaluate them. This may be useful since psychologists who work in hospitals understand the ways in which children’s behavior typically changes when they are sick or in pain. Psychologists have a variety of ways of working with families. Some use, among other things, interventions developed for families of children with cancer that have been shown to be helpful and effective in reducing stress.
If your child had a psychologist who knows them from before the hospitalization, it may be useful to talk with the hospital psychologist about how they might work together to help your child deal with his or her fears and concerns about being ill.
In some centers, it is psychiatrists who see patients or parents on the cancer floor. Psychiatrists are physicians whose specialty is working on people’s emotional problems. They can also prescribe medication. Talking with a psychiatrist doesn’t mean you will have medications prescribed. The psychiatrist may or may not recommend medication for you or your child, and you can discuss your thoughts, feelings and questions about medication with the psychiatrist.
Many hospitals and clinics offer groups for parents to talk with other parents about the stresses and strains related to their child’s treatment for cancer. Even if you are not typically a “group person,” it might be worth attending at least one meeting to see if talking with other parents – or even just listening to them talk – is helpful. You may think differently about groups at this time as this is an unusual circumstance. If you have not been told about a group for parents, ask the social worker. Sometimes, if there is not a formal group, you can arrange an informal group in the playroom, or the cafeteria.