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Straker, N. (2020). The Treatment of Cancer Patients Who Die. Psychodyn. Psych., 48(1):1-25.

(2020). Psychodynamic Psychiatry, 48(1):1-25

The Treatment of Cancer Patients Who Die

Norman Straker, M.D.

The psychodynamic treatment of dying cancer patients is a relatively neglected area in practice and the literature. Death anxiety in these patients often results in countertransferences that lead therapists to exclude dying patients for treatment or avoid discussing their patients' concerns about dying. This article offers the reader an exposure to a clinician's immersion in the psychodynamic treatment of cancer patients for over 40 years and offers recommendations that meet the needs of patients facing death. Interventions that may lessen the patient's death anxiety and the therapist's countertransferences include: advocating for the patient's quality of life, taking a common sense approach to denial, helping the patient accept “uncertainty” regarding prognosis, providing a flexible approach that includes support and medication, validating the patient's life contributions, elevating the patient's self-esteem, and exploring the patient's concerns about dying. In addition, the article will also provide many case examples of meaningful psychotherapeutic work at the end of life, including mastering longstanding psychological conflicts, forgiving oneself for past mistakes, establishing a legacy, and healing relationships.

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