BY KALISHA MENDONSA
A Saskatchewan–based PhD student is seeking cancer survivors to take part in an online therapy program.
Dale Dirkse is a PhD student in Clinical Psychology at the University of Regina.
As a member of Dr. Heather Hadjistavropoulos’ research team, she is offering a free Internet-delivered program, for the treatment of anxiety and depression in cancer survivors, called Wellbeing After Cancer.
The program provides opportunities for survivors to learn coping skills and healthy habits to manage their symptoms. Wellbeing After Cancer is open to those who have completed their primary treatment of either chemotherapy, surgery or radiation within the last five years.
“We know that from the pilot study in Saskatchewan a few years ago that the program was successful. What is exciting about the current research trial is that is has been extended across Canada and anyone can participate,” said Dirske.
“That has been published, and we know that the results were good for that in terms of a decrease in symptoms for the people involved. From that study, all of the participants said the course was worth their time and that they would recommend the course.”
The program is being offered to 100 men and women across Canada, and the team is seeking more people who wish to participate in the research trial.
The program seeks to help the clients understand the nature of anxiety and depression associated with life after cancer, seeks to help them manage concerns related to cancer (such as worry about cancer returning) and teaches clients strategies to overcome anxiety and depression based on proven cognitive behavioural therapy techniques.
“Right now, we have 70 people who have gone through the treatment or who are going through it right now so we haven’t officially analyzed the results yet. However, the anecdotal comments have been very positive. We’re told that their symptoms are decreasing and that they are enjoying the online service,” Dirske explained.
She said anyone wishing to participate must go to onlinetherapyuser.ca/wac in order to first complete a screening intake. Following this, Dirske will contact all those who submit their information to see if they are eligible for the program.
She said people experiencing severe symptoms of depression and suicidal thoughts are not well-suited to the program and should seek in-person counselling, therapy or mental health crisis support.
For people who are dealing with mild, moderate or in some cases severe – with the lack of suicidal thoughts – the Wellbeing After Cancer program could help to decrease these symptoms and provide information on healthy day-to-day coping methods.
Dirske said it is important to allow rural and isolated communities the option of online therapy because there may be a lack of suitable services in the area.
“We know that people in smaller communities really do enjoy the online therapy because there may not be immediate services available. We want to make sure people in those smaller centres are aware of the option,” she said, adding that places like Lacombe are ideal to reach out to and offer these online programs.
“I’m really interested in online therapy because there are so many people who simply don’t have access to mental health services. Online therapy is a really great way to vastly increase access to services for those people. It’s great for people who do not live in urban centres, or those who are afraid to seek help due to the stigmas around mental health care.”
She said they are hoping to draw in a few more interested people to take part in the study, especially people in rural centres.
“For cancer survivors specifically, we find those people may not be feeling well or are recovering and don’t want to have to get into town for another appointment. This provides an easier way for them to reach out from home,” Dirske explained.
“Most of what we teach in our course is skills to cope with their anxiety and depression. It’s not necessarily traditional talk therapy, but it is more about teaching techniques and tools that those people can use in their own lives.”
For more information, head to the onlinetherapyuser.ca/wac site, or contact Dirske via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.