How Therapy Can Help People Cope With Terminal Illnesses

Published on: 17 Jan 2017
woman headscarf hospital bed

When people have a terminal illness and are journeying through their final days, they need lots of love and support from friends and family. Sometimes this isn’t enough, though.

Loved ones don’t necessarily have the skills or time to help someone come to terms with mortality. They might not know how to assist in making meaning of life as it is coming to an end.

This is when a psychotherapist or grief counselor can be invaluable. These mental health professionals have the skills to make patients and their loved ones as comfortable as possible during the end of a terminal illness.

During her time working as a therapist in hospices, Talkspace therapist Samantha White helped patients and their families navigate mental health issues related to death and closure.

Most patients were reluctant to talk about death, White said, that is until they began to worry about what their last moments would be like.

“Then I could tell them they had already been through the worst of it: the untreated illness, the tests, the treatments,” White said. “I could tell them death is not painful, that they will simply sleep more and more until they no longer woke up.”

White also assisted patients and family members in communicating everything they needed to, including thanking each other for being there and apologizing for anything they did to hurt one another. It was important for everyone to help the patient know he or she was a good person and lived a good life.

Family members tended to worry about the future, White said, so she helped them stay focused on the present. This allowed them to spend more quality time with their loved one before he or she passed.

“I have always taught that hospice is not about death,” White said. “It’s about maintaining quality of life.”

Unfortunately, not all terminal patients have access to in-person counselors like White. They might not be in hospice or their hospital might not provide enough counselors to adequately care for them.

Even if working with a therapist is an option, affordability or insurance issues can get in the way. In the worst cases, the patient loses his or her ability to speak, making talk therapy impossible.

In these situations, video-based online therapy or text-based therapy can help terminal patients receive the mental health care they deserve. Patients can connect with a therapist any time they want. This can be especially useful when friends and family members are unable to be there.

If you are enduring a terminal illness, consider trying Talkspace. It might work for you better than in-person therapy.

If you’re loved one has a terminal illness, a Talkspace gift card might help them make meaning of their life and be peaceful during their final days. Like White said, anything that helps maintain quality of life is worth it.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

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