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Together is a new resource for anyone affected by pediatric cancer - patients and their parents, family members, and friends.

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Mental Health and Emotional Well-Being

Most children facing a serious illness adjust well to diagnosis and treatment. But your child may have emotional, social, cognitive (thinking), behavioral, or developmental needs. Psychologists and other providers can help your child cope with problems, manage stress, and adjust to a diagnosis.

Good mental health and good familial health can really improve the medical outcomes.

Niki Jurbergs, MD

Ways mental health services can help

Psychology and mental health resources can help your child:

  • Manage emotions or behaviors
  • Adjust to illness and life changes
  • Cope with treatments and side effects
  • Manage pain
  • Follow medical plans such as taking medicines, wearing masks, or doing rehabilitation therapy
  • Have less distress during medical procedures
  • Manage sleep problems
  • Identify and treat depression and anxiety
  • Identify and address developmental delays 
  • Get academic testing and school support
  • Cope with treatment transitions
  • Have better relationships
  • Cope with grief and loss

Psychological testing and assessment for children

Psychological tests and mental health assessments help providers better understand problems and identify needs for care. As part of the assessment, a psychologist or other trained specialist will meet with you and your child. They may ask questions to learn more about thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. 

The psychologist will review medical records and talk with other members of your child’s care team. For school needs, psychologists can also give reports and suggestions for academic support and accommodations. 

Good mental health is an important part of cancer care. Niki Jurbergs, PhD, and Olivia share how psychologists can help patients and families find strength.

Depending on your child’s needs, tests may measure: 

  • Attention
  • Learning and intelligence
  • Memory
  • Skills and preferences in school and work
  • Language and verbal skills
  • Mood and emotions
  • Behaviors
  • Developmental milestones
  • Personality

Mental health services for children

Care providers may use psychotherapy (counseling, talk therapy), behavioral interventions, and other treatments, such as relaxation and biofeedback, to address specific needs.  

Your child may only need one brief session or short-term therapy. Or therapy may be ongoing. Treatment may include family counseling, group therapy, or peer support groups.

Types of mental health providers

Mental health professionals and other providers can offer care for your child’s cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and adjustment needs. Providers who may offer help include:  

  • Psychiatrists diagnose and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who can prescribe medications and other treatments.
  • Psychologists diagnose and treat mental disorders and use talk and behavior therapy to help patients manage issues. Clinical psychologists are licensed health professionals who specialize in psychological assessment and psychotherapy.
  • Neuropsychologists treat issues that affect thinking, reasoning, and learning. Neuropsychologists may help children who had treatment or surgery on the brain or central nervous system.
  • Psychiatric-mental health nurses help patients going through social, emotional, or psychological issues. They can assess, diagnose, and provide therapy, crisis intervention, and family support. 
  • Licensed clinical social workers make treatment and prevention plans for patients with mental health issues. They may help with social, behavioral, economic, and health aspects. 
  • Licensed professional counselors help patients with life challenges, transitions, hard events, and trauma. 
  • Pastoral counselors are religious counselors who help people cope with mental health problems from a faith viewpoint.

Your child may have mental health services as part of their care team in a clinical setting. In other cases, you may seek mental health care from community providers. Your care team can help you find resources in your local community.

Learn how to Find a Mental Health Provider.

Key points about psychology and mental health services

  • Psychologists and other mental health providers can help your child manage emotions and behaviors, cope with problems, reduce stress, and adjust to illness.
  • Mental health providers may use psychotherapy (counseling, talk therapy), behavioral interventions, and other treatments. 
  • Your child may need short-term or long-term mental health support. 
  • Talk to your care team about mental health services and support resources that may help your child. 
  • Your care team can help you find mental health resources in your local area.

Reviewed: January 2024

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