Medicine is a social science in its very bone marrow…. No physiologist or practitioner ought ever to forget that medicine unites in itself all knowledge of the laws which apply to the body and the mind.
—Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902), German pathologist
What does a psycho-oncologist do?
Psycho-oncologists are highly trained psychologists and psychiatrists who specialize in cancer treatment and are an integral part of the multidisciplinary oncology team. Their expertise helps physicians better understand patients’ psychological problems, allowing them to plan appropriate medical interventions. It is an example of a positively oriented coping strategy or approach-oriented coping strategy. For example, a person may identify that a diagnosis of cancer caused them to reflect on what is really important in life, which subsequently led them to improve their quality of life.
Given the overwhelming importance of psychological issues in cancer, it is surprising that psycho-oncology began only in the mid-1970s. It becomes understandable, however, when one recognizes that, in Western countries, the centuries-old stigma attached to cancer diminished in the late twentieth century only when patients began to be told their diagnosis. This made it possible to openly explore and study patients’ psychological responses for the first time. However, it is crucial to understand society’s attitudes toward cancer and toward mental illness, because these attitudes still impact patients’ willingness to accept counseling services.