Psychosocial Demands of Speech Therapy with Head-and-Neck Cancer Patients: Clinical Experiences, Communicative Skills and Need for Training of Speech Therapists in Oncology

Peter Ullrich, Dorit Wollbrück, Helge Danker, Susanne Kuhnt, Elmar Brähler, Susanne Singer

Abstract


Head and neck cancer patients suffer from high levels of psychological comorbidity and often do not receive adequate psychological assistance. Therefore, speech therapists are frequently confronted with specific psychosocial challenges beyond the scope of their standard professional education. The following aspects were examined via a mixed-methods approach to explore their own perceptions of these challenges and their skills to deal with them: 1) The experiences and problems of speech therapists working with head and neck cancer patients; 2) the self-assessment of speech therapists' skills in cancer patient care; 3) the experiences and observations of psychologists supervising case discussions in oncology with speech therapists; 4) the communication skills of speech therapists working with emotionally distressed patients in oncology
Our results show that therapists are acutely aware of their patients' distress. They agree that there is a need for patients to receive psychosocial counseling and that a significant portion of their speech therapy sessions is often dedicated to talking about personal problems. This difficult situation leads to: 1) deficiencies in speech therapists' ability to address patients' demands and deficiencies in distancing themselves from their patients; 2) speech therapists feeling overwhelmed with excessive demands and experiencing mental distress themselves.
The psycho-oncological knowledge and communication skills among speech therapists were often deficient in light of such demands. There is a need for further training in psychological and social skills for speech therapists working with head and neck cancer patients.
URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs1001220

Keywords


speech therapy; psychosocial oncology; head and neck cancer; training; psychic distress; communication



Copyright (c) 2010 Peter Ullrich, Dorit Wollbrück, Helge Danker, Susanne Kuhnt, Elmar Brähler, Susanne Singer

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