“Is psycho-oncology really spiritual health…?”
Interview with psycho-oncologist Eva Asribabyan.
What is psycho-oncology? What is the characteristic of this branch of psychology? What can a patient suffering from cancer gain from a psycho-oncologist? What is the desired outcome of the process? Armenia’s only psycho-oncologist answers this and other questions. Eritasard.am: What is psycho-oncology? Who is a psycho-oncologist? Eva Asribabyan: This is a new profession and has only been around for 30 years. Its roots trace to the United States. A psycho-oncologist specializes in working with patients suffering from cancer. It’s not just about the terminal (fatal) stage that the patient is in. It’s a task that’s carried out in all stages of the illness, and family members are also engaged in the process. Eritasard.am: What is the characteristic of this branch of psychology? E. A.: It is the goal for which the task is launched. The task begins when the patient is diagnosed. There are many stereotypes in relation to these illnesses. It often makes one get afraid and panic. When people hear the word “cancer”, they think everything is over. Another main characteristic is that it’s not just psychology, but cooperation with doctors, meaning information is more important since people have wrong interpretations of the illness, and that makes them feel more afraid. When they change their attitude, their moods and state of mind also change. Eritasard.am: It’s not secret that these patients often think everything is in vain and refuse to undergo therapy. What is the necessary approach? E. A.: Again, it’s due to lack of awareness. People are afraid of asking questions, and this makes them feel more afraid and panic more. It’s clear that the psychologist doesn’t do the doctor’s job. The main expert is the doctor. The psychologist is simply the person who doesn’t leave the patient alone. The psychologist deals with the patient’s negative mood, fears, rejection and the fear of the diagnosis. Eritasard.am: In which stage is the development of psycho-oncology in Armenia? E. A.: Last year we held a discussion with doctors and psychologists of the Center for Applied Psychology. The Center currently has an initiating group that includes young experts who are trying to enhance this branch. The Armenian-American Wellness Center is the first in that regard. It has an expert. Eritasard.am: Eva, you are currently the only expert in Armenia. Have you undergone training? E. A.: Yes, I trained through short-term programs abroad. I’ve also participated in conferences. However, no matter what we import from abroad, it needs to be refined and changed in Armenia. Armenians have a different mindset, starting from the cost of treatment, telling each other about the diagnosis and family ties. Armenia is very different from the States and Europe. In Armenia family is a supreme value, and the entire family takes part in the treatment and is often against telling others about the diagnosis. Nobody says it’s easy for the patient, and here is where the psychologist plays a bigger role to help people accept that. It’s after acceptance that a person can fight for his or her life more actively. Eritasard.am: How much does one consultation cost? E. A.: One consultation costs AMD 27,000. We also work via Skype since it’s not always that a patient can travel from the province to see us. Eritasard.am: What is the frequency of visits? Are there more men or women? E. A.: We’ve been working for the past couple of months and have especially been receiving men. Women are more open to psychologists and don’t have problems with expressing their feelings. Besides, most of the patients visiting us are women. Eritasard.am: Finally, how efficient is psycho-oncology? E. A.: The problem is that when a person dies, he doesn’t need anything anymore. But we’re going to die someday too, and we don’t need a lot. The important thing is the quality of a person’s life. A patient can talk about his fears and emotions. It’s often hard for patients to tell their families that they’re dying and that they’re afraid of that, but they can tell psychologists. The goal of this is to raise the quality of a person’s life. Satenik Khachatryan