Cancer patients’ experiences of relational depth: A qualitative study

University of Roehampton, Online event

18:00 - 19:00

Research by Dr Ruth Anderson reveals the importance of relational depth for counselling clients with cancer

About this event

The purpose of this study was to explore cancer patients’ experiences of moments of relational depth (profound contact and engagement) with their therapist during psychological therapy. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten cancer patients at a UK urban hospital. Eight participants reported having had experiences of moments of relational depth. Their transcripts were analysed using thematic analysis (TA) from a critical realist position.

Five themes were identified. Being physically and psychically vulnerable describes participants’ experiences at the start of a moment of relational depth. Being rescued from the waves describes their experiences during a moment of relational depth. A closely related theme, experiencing the calm after the storm, describes their experiences after a moment of relational depth. More than a feeling describes the relational impact of these moments. The final, overarching, theme describes the participants’ sense of the therapist as ‘a stranger and not a stranger’.

The results reiterate existing psycho-oncology and psychotherapy research findings on the central importance of the therapists’ kindness, love, and care, both within moments of relational depth and in the therapeutic relationship more broadly. Within a cancer setting, this may be particularly crucial, as during treatment there is the potential to feel de-humanised. The results also suggest that although moments of relational depth are experienced as precious and powerful, they can also lead to increased anxiety about the unavailability of the therapist or the end of therapy. It is suggested that therapists in this setting should be open to communicating that their client is having a personal impact on them and that they are on their patient’s side. Therapists should also consider whether the door can remain open for patients to re-enter the therapeutic relationship as and when this is needed.

Dr Ruth Anderson is a Counselling Psychologist working in an acute physical health care setting at University College London Hospital (UCLH). She has previously worked in secondary mental health care in the NHS and for mental health charities and has a particular interest in relational therapy processes. In her current role, she offers psychological therapy to people with red blood cell conditions such as sickle cell and thalassaemia, and to people with blood cancer.