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The power of language when treating cancer patients

cancer patient language Jul 16, 2021
communicating - words

The role of language comes up a lot in our discussions with therapists, spa industry leaders, and cancer patients. What we say and how we say it, is an important part of putting clients at ease, but it’s also integral for our confidence as therapists.

Wanting to do the right thing

The language we use is about a whole variety of factors. It’s about empathy, being polite and boundaries, but it’s also about terminology and understanding the treatments and wording that cancer patients are experiencing in the new world they have been plunged into since diagnosis. It’s even in our unspoken communications; our body language, our reactions, and our responses to the expected and the unexpected.

Lots of therapists that we speak to pre-Jennifer Young training, are concerned about saying the wrong thing or causing offence. In other, tragic circumstances, we have heard of situations where clients have been turned away from spas because the venue is not equipped to support anyone with cancer, we have heard reports of the most insensitive terminology.

Abi Selby, the Founder of spa booking agency has often talked of the time in the early days of her business, when she put her mobile number on the website as the emergency out of hours contact for customers. She had a pivotal moment that led her to develop spa breaks for anyone with cancer, saying:

“I had this one call that when I picked up the phone, there was a lady sobbing. She had booked through us but hadn’t mentioned that she had had cancer. At the spa, someone said: ‘I’m sorry love, but I can’t touch you with a barge pole.’”

Empowering therapists to feel confident at work

Earlier in the year, when we spoke to Sue Harmsworth, founder of the SATCC (Standards Authority for Training and Cancer Care), she talked about how we communicate as being a fundamental part of tackling the spa industry’s relationship with cancer patients. She said:

“The biggest issues for therapists are:

  1. A lot of people who have been touched by cancer know the problem in the industry and then go to see a spa or a therapist and don’t tell them their medical history. Many young therapists haven’t seen the scars from cancer treatments – they don’t know about lymph nodes or mastectomies and will be halfway through treatment when they discover something.
  2. Therapists need to know and understand the terminology around cancer so that they can provide comfort and not show shock. For the client, it’s so important to be asked questions, made to feel safe and to know that the therapist won’t suddenly get a surprise and react inappropriately. Often, young therapists haven’t had the life experience to deal with these things, so the more help and knowledge they can get, the better.”

Staying up to date in an evolving field

Sue’s sentiments have been echoed by experienced therapists, who periodically revisit their training to make sure they are up to date with the latest cancer treatments that their clients are likely to be going through. You may recall certified lymphoedema therapist and experienced complementary therapist, Susie Fishwick telling us

“Working with cancer patient’s is such a dynamic field, where treatments and approaches are changing all the time, based on the latest research. Patients nowadays are experts and as therapists I think we owe it to them to keep abreast of change.”

Feeling supported at work

From our perspective at Jennifer Young, we know that it can be extremely daunting as a therapist - wanting to support vulnerable clients, knowing the impact that complementary therapies can have, and at the same time not wanting to cause offence by saying the wrong thing. There is often a sense of feeling silly for worrying about it, but it can stop us in our tracks and become a real barrier to providing the best care possible.

For that reason, learning about the biology of cancer, talking about the treatments, and providing an understanding of what clients are likely to be facing following a cancer diagnosis, are all part of Jennifer Young therapist training. We also provide ongoing conversations and discussions through our membership programmes to keep your knowledge up to date. That includes webinars with industry experts providing insight into trends, needs and strategies employed by the most successful wellness professionals and businesses.

Building confidence in what we say and do is all part of providing a holistic experience for the client, but it’s also extremely important for therapists themselves to feel as though they have been given the right tools to do their job well.

If you would like to find out more about our courses and membership options, follow the link below or contact us any time.


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