An online therapy service being offered by a research unit of the University of Regina is providing free assistance to cancer patients who have completed treatment but are suffering from depression or anxiety.
“We’ve been running the program for about a month ,” said Nicole Alberts, the program’s therapist, “and I’ve had a good response from people in rural areas.”
Alberts is a Doctoral Student in Clinical Psychology working under the supervision of Dr. Heather Hadjistavropoulos, an award-winning professor and Director of Clinical Training at the University.
The program, called Wellbeing After Cancer, is similar to others offered by the same department and focuses on providing Cognitive Behavioural Therapy services to cancer patients who find the cost or physical effort of travelling a barrier to receiving therapy.
“I’ve taken it and modified it a bit so we’re focusing on using it with people who have recently completed cancer treatment and are experiencing either depression or anxiety or both,” said Alberts.
“We know with people that feel depressed that you can feel quite tired and lethargic, so if you’re experiencing that, in addition to just finishing chemo or radiation, we know a common effect of that is fatigue and pain, things that in and of themselves make it hard to get out of the house and travel any distance.”
Those interested in this service do not need a referral, and there is currently no cost involved.
“People who are interested can just contact me. If they’re in active treatment, and at least a month has passed since their treatment finished, and they’re experiencing some low mood or anxiety or worry, they just phone me and I give them a bit more info about the study and the program and kind of the research component involved.”
Once contact has been initiated, Alberts conducts an interview over the telephone that takes about an hour to an hour and a half to complete.
“From there if they’re eligible for the program and we know the program would be a good fit, then they start the program right away. There’s not a wait list or anything.”
The program is broken down into five lessons that each person works through at their own pace.
“They work through them over the course of eight weeks. During that time, it is sort of like self-study lessons, but at the same time they have access and contact with a therapist. Once a week a therapist checks with them through email to answer any questions they have, and kind of sort through any concerns they might have, things like that.”
Participants in the program are asked to complete a set of questionnaires before they start treatment, and another set once treatment has been completed.
“That helps us know where the symptoms are at when they start and then whether there’s any change. That’s a big part of the research that helps us find out is the program effective and are we seeing a change in symptoms.”
Developers of the Wellbeing After Cancer program have been in contact with the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency and hope to eventually implement it as part of Cancer Care.
“This is actually part one of my dissertation, and part two will being dealing with social workers who work within the Cancer Centre and getting their feedback on the program, kind of with the thought that maybe if they’re on board with it and we could do it, that we could somehow make it a part of Cancer Care. That’s kind of my hope for it.
“This is kind of the pilot study to see how people do, what they think of it, but the feedback that I’ve gotten so far, a lot of patients and professionals really think there’s a need for something like this.”
The research group has also sent out letters and ads to physicians and oncologists letting them know that the program is ongoing and they are open to referrals.
For more information on the Wellbeing After Cancer program, or to take part in a telephone screening interview, contact Nicole Alberts at 306-585-5203 or by email at email@example.com.