Frequently Asked Questions about Psychiatric Oncology

How do I get help?

During your initial visit at the Lifespan Cancer Institute, you’ll be asked to measure your level of emotional distress and identify everyday stressors. This assessment will help the team tailor the support and interventions to your needs.

After talking with you about your symptoms and concerns, your social worker may recommend that you seek assistance from others on the care team. The team may include a psychiatrist, integrative therapies (acupuncture, Reiki, massage, art therapy), spiritual care, and palliative and survivorship care. Communication among providers on your cancer care team, including your oncologist, ensures ongoing collaboration to provide care for your overall health, both physical and emotional.

If you were being treated for emotional issues before receiving a cancer diagnosis and have an established relationship with a provider, the Lifespan Cancer Institute team will be available to consult with your current counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist.

How do I know I need help?

If emotional distress affects your everyday functioning or well-being, please tell your health care team at any time during your treatment or follow-up. Symptoms of distress can include excessive worry, changes in your sleep habits, diminished or increased appetite, irritability, feelings of sadness, and difficulty concentrating.

Who can get services?

Any patient of the Lifespan Cancer Institute can receive services at any point in their treatment or follow-up.

How does psychiatric oncology help?

The care offered through the psychiatric oncology service is available to:

  • assist you in dealing with emotional distress (feelings of sadness, anxiety, fear)
  • help you navigate family and relationship dynamics
  • guide you in exploring spiritual and existential issues
  • help you cope with the adverse effects of cancer treatments

You and your provider will develop a personalized treatment plan to help you address your specific issues.  

Clinical social workers at the Lifespan Cancer Institute provide adjustment-to-illness support and counseling to patients and families to assist with the emotional impact of the cancer diagnosis. Clinical social workers provide initial assessments of patients and make recommendations and referrals for additional psychosocial supports. Social workers co-lead and facilitate support groups. They assist with the practical and family issues that arise during your cancer treatment and connect you with community resources. They serve as advocates for you.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in the field of psychiatry and human behavior. Once you are referred for evaluation by a social worker, a psychiatrist will assess your symptoms and concerns. They will make the appropriate recommendations, which may include psychotherapy, psychiatric medications, or a higher level of care if needed.

How do you work with my behavioral health professional?

If you are already under the care of a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist in the community, with your permission, Lifespan Cancer Institute providers will consult with him or her to provide a second opinion at any time during your cancer care, as well as to discuss any potential drug interactions if you are undergoing chemotherapy.

How do you work with my primary oncologist?

The psychiatric oncology service works with your medical oncologist as part of a multidisciplinary team. They are available to address emotional and behavioral distress during all phases of your care, and to offer interventions for side effects of cancer treatments, such as insomnia, mood swings, hot flashes, and night sweats.