Improving the quality of life for patients living with cancer is as much about the physical aspects of treating the disease as it is about caring for the emotional health of patients.

In 2007, Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) established the Psychotherapy Unit at its National Center for Cancer Care and Research (NCCCR). Thought to be the first of its kind in the region, the unit provides psychological services to patients with cancer as part of an integrated treatment experience.

Dr Alain Lemaux

Dr Alain Lemaux, Head of the Psychotherapy Unit at NCCCR and Consultant in Clinical Psychology and Family Therapy, said the establishment of the unit highlights the importance HMC places on providing a holistic care programme. He added that the concept of working in unity – treating both body and mind – is essential to promoting overall health and well-being.

We recognise that in treating cancer, it is equally important to consider the mental and psychological needs of the patient as it is to treat their physical symptoms. The mental strength and psychological stability of the patient plays a significant role in achieving a positive outcome to the physical treatment provided.

Our team works with the patient to instill real hope and to help them, and their family, understand that they are on a journey. The patient must learn to accept their illness and to coexist with it.’

According to Dr Lemaux, support services are provided at NCCCR on both an inpatient and outpatient basis. He said services take into account the needs of not only the patient but also their family.

A cancer diagnosis can be many people’s worst fear. From a clinical perspective, our first priority is often the physical aspects of treatment – the medication, chemotherapy or radiotherapy. However, we must also look at the psychological needs of the patient, addressing the emotional and mental aspects of cancer care.

For some patients, this can mean a single 45-minute counseling session, and for others, it may mean a more extensive treatment plan.

We understand that a cancer diagnosis and treatment can create psychological trauma, anxiety, and depression, and we work with patients to address all  their needs.’

Dr Aisha Ali Abd El Karim

Dr Aisha Ali Abd El Karim, Clinical Psychologist at NCCCR, added that the main factor contributing to the success of any psychological treatment is the degree of confidence between the patient and their therapist. She said some cancer patients may experience denial after diagnosis, adding that an important part of supporting them through the various stages of acceptance is working together to develop a comprehensive treatment plan.

In 2015, HMC opened a 10-bed supportive and palliative care unit at the NCCCR. Palliative care takes a holistic approach and looks at the whole person, whether their needs are physical, emotional, spiritual or social. It aims to ensure the best possible quality of life, supporting patients and their family in a dedicated, specialised environment.

The unit also has an activity room that focuses on helping patients de-stress through discovering their creativity. Maryam Al Doseri, Social Activity Supervisor, manages the activity room and says painting, embroidery, calligraphy and writing, can provide a patient with a sense of achievement and increase their psychological and moral balance during their treatment journey.