Μ was introduced to Pamemmazi’s free programmes, which are offered to cancer patients and their caregivers, to find a way to process her thoughts and feelings around her illness. She initially participated at an open art psychotherapy group with a caregiver (family member of another patient) to try this particular therapeutic approach. Thus she decided to work together on a weekly one to one basis. The sessions were held within the Agioi Anargyroi hospital premises, in Kifisia in the Pamemmazi room. Our therapeutic relationship lasted for seven months.
The issues that arose from the therapy sessions tended to pertain to thoughts and feelings she had experienced for a long period of time during and after the diagnosis and operation. We discussed about the psychological and physical changes caused by the illness and at the same time we explored her present feelings, who supported her and continues to support her through this journey, her fears, her anxiety and what gave her in the past and what still gives her the strength to manage this traumatic cancer trajectory.
Through the therapeutic relationship we created a safe and trusting environment for M to share all the difficulties that she is facing as a cancer patient. Our therapeutic goals were to reframe who she is, to help her gain insight into what is making her life hard, to become more resilient and to find a way to be happier and stronger. Also, for her built a sense of control and empowerment. We used art to give form to these thoughts. Even though M herself is an artist; in art psychotherapy the onus is not to produce ‘aesthetic’ artwork, but rather to engage in the art making process and explore the narrative the client provides. Art is a tool, like dreams in psychoanalysis. Art might offer insight and bring unconscious thoughts that may cause dysfunctional and unwanted thoughts and behaviour to the surface. These thoughts may later be discussed and processed within the therapeutic relationship.
The long term fight against cancer may alter the way one may see him/ herself both externally and internally. It is important to foster a sense of selfworth and encourage them to make plans for the future again. Cancer survivors often use this experience to re-evaluate their lifestyle and move forward with a positive healthy outlook. With a new sense of understanding an individual is able to effect positive change, address what is important, what should be utilized and what is best to leave behind. M and I discussed ways of improving everyday life and her relationships. She tried to add new value and perspective into her life.
Communication and understanding are not usually a given between patients and their caregivers. People can’t always find the best ways to describe fear, stress, anger and sadness. Patients usually refrain from worrying their caregivers more by expressing these feelings and caregivers do not want to burden the patients with how they experience their loved one’s illness. Psychotherapy is providing this space and the therapist is an experienced professional who can help in terms of expressing and look for ways to process these worries.
Our therapeutic journey was just the beginning for M to understand how she can achieve a better quality of life. It is very important to approach the illness holistically (mind, soul and body) and liaise with multidisciplinary teams in order to work together and offer the best possible support to patients. Palliative care and psychological support is crucial when it comes to general wellbeing and may define the course of treatment or offer relief. It can also enable people to become more socially active and share their experiences with others who have faced the same challenges. This may also help reduce the stigma around the illness.
It was an honor working with M and I thank her for trusting me and taking me on board for this journey. I noticed that by the end of our therapeutic relationship she was more able to set life goals, felt in control of her life again and appeared to be stronger and ready to address any new difficulties she may face in the future. She had gained deeper insight into the changes she had experienced during her illness and is now able to dream again. On behalf of the Pamemmazi team, we wish her the very best!
‘’I feel ready to get rid of what caused my illness and I am trying to eliminate any traces of fear moving forward. Pamemmazi and Eva gave me the opportunity to gain better understanding and to open up windows in strength and stability. I will carry on trying.’’
MSc Art psychotherapist