Reviews

Counseling People with Cancer

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Available at Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.
 

Ann M. Akers

Journal of Religion and Health

Counseling People with Cancer, by Jann Aldredge-Clanton, defies the assumption that a cancer diagnosis is a death sentence.  Although some cancers resist cure, Aldredge-Clanton demonstrates how pastoral caregivers can facilitate life-affirming personal and spiritual growth in the midst of disease—and even against overwhelming odds.  With a strong foundation in psychodynamic principle, her approach is refreshingly non-clinical as she relies on the use of “sacred stories” as the frame for her interventions and guidance.  She suggests that a caregiver can act as “Divine midwife,” aiding patients to give birth to new and imaginative stories which seek to integrate personal experience and the biblical story, giving hope and spiritual sustenance on the journey of coming to terms with cancer.  She unapologetically asserts that some folks “seem to be better off if they believe that they can do something to keep the cancer from coming back, even if this belief is not confirmed. . . even illusions of control can be essential for coping.”  Hope is more life-giving than almost anything else.

Chapter by chapter, this compact, easy-to-read book covers a wide range of issues and concerns faced by someone with cancer, including the difficult feelings of rage, powerlessness, despair, the ways families and communities might respond, the process of decision-making about treatment, and the agonizing questions of where God is and how life can be lived when the reality of limited time is acute.  Anecdotal and verbatim case material demonstrates how a caregiver might help another navigate the theological and spiritual territory that has become arid into richer, more nourishing fields of living relationship with the Divine.  For example, when people hold an image of God as punishing, the author may suggest an image of God as Wisdom, caring Mother, or Living Water, as an alternate route to spiritual and psychic healing.  Openness to new pictures of the Divine and the self is central, as it ought to be in any pastoral counseling work.”