Q. What can you tell us about you, Alejandra?
A. My name is Maria Alejandra Glaser, and I’m 35 years old. I live in Mar de Plata, province of Buenos Aires, Argentina. It’s been almost 20 years since I moved to this city; I was born in Concordia Entre Rios. I moved to Mar de Plata for my academic training. I ended up staying here and raising a family. I have been a psychologist since 2006 and a specialist in Cognitive Psychotherapy since 2009. I did my hospital residency in a private hospital in the city, and currently I continue working in the Psyco-oncology department of this institution, under the Psychiatry and Health Mental service. I also manage the psychology residents who receive training in this institution. On the other hand, I also run my private clinic with adult patients.
Q. Why did you choose to study psychology?
A. Since I was a child, I have always been a good listener and helped as much as I could. Therefore, I chose a path related to humanistic and support studies. I decided to move to Mar de Plata to study psychology, 900km away from my family home, but where my older brother was also studying. I completed my studies in 2006, and from my first exposure to cognitive psychology, and more specifically cognitive psychotherapy, I knew this was the approach I wanted to use to relieve the emotional distress of patients. I therefore studied for an additional 2 years to specialize in individual cognitive psychotherapy, which I completed in 2009. A year earlier, I joined a private hospital, where I did my residency in clinical psychology. That’s where I learned about psycho-oncology as a specialty, and also where I met psychiatrist Dr. Hechen, with whom I currently work.
Q. Which services do you provide and which are the most relevant to cancer patients?
A. Within the Hospital, we have an exclusive psycho-oncology clinic, which is running one day per week and is the most used service by cancer patients. There are also two psycho-therapeutic groups, one of them for breast cancer patients, and another one for the other types of cancer. We also provide support to the patients during the administration of their chemotherapy treatment, and have also participated in interdisciplinary sessions with the treating oncologist.
Q. What is the main problem when following a therapy?
A. The impact of the diagnosis is often the initial problem, and where we meet many of our patients. Managing the uncertainty of facing the diagnosis and treatment is another recurring problem. Some other main issues that cancer patients need to face are the relationship with their treating physicians, the changes in family dynamics and their social network, body image, loss of autonomy and functionality, and death.
It is also important to highlight the need for some patients to talk about their personal developments from this experience, which can be traumatic. They also need to talk about the support they receive form relatives, and in some cases, about the way to explain their situation to their children.
Q. What gender and/or age are the cancer patients you usually meet?
A. The patients are women in between 30 and 65 years old. The difference is not big, but I think that a reason why there are more women than men could be because women are more likely to be in touch with their own feelings.
The fact that lot of them are young makes me feel that they do have confidence in psychotherapy, psychology or psychiatry as a valid resource for help.
Q. What do you think the main benefits are for a cancer patient to see to a psychologist?
A. The space that we provide to patients becomes a place where, for the first time, they can talk about their fears and their hopes. They may distress, cry and laugh openly, without the judgment of others. I think that being listened to empathetically and the strategies in managing uncertainty are the main benefits.
Q. What are the major obstacles that prevent some from resorting to psychological help?
A. There are many. Among others, there are myths about psychotherapy and difficulty behind expressing one’s emotions. Some patients even say…” I’m not crazy enough to go to the psychologist…”
Q. Have you ever developed “feelings or emotions” for a patient?
A. Empathetic understanding is something that is present with patient visit. This means putting ourselves in their place and feeling what is happening to them. This is part of the basic tasks of psycho-oncology. We feel affection for our patients, we laugh with them, we cry, and we care about them, but, at the same time, our profession allows us to take enough distance to be able to act therapeutically with them.
Q. How has it affected your life being in continuous contact with cancer patients? Have you changed your perception of life?
A. Completely. Patients have taught me a lot about life, about my life goals and my priorities. Also about human communication, relationships and death.
Q. What are the most important tips you would like to share with other patients or family members who have a loved one facing cancer?
A. I would like to suggest them to transmit and contextualize the emotional distress that they may be feeling, also to accept certain emotions that they could be faced with, to give alternatives to the catastrophic thoughts, and to enable spaces for expressing their emotions. It is important to keep in mind that there are professionals that have the therapeutic resources to alleviate their transit through this disease. There is always hope. There is always something to do, even minutes before the dismissal.