Coping with Cancer and the Search for Meaning

  • Ton Staps
  • William Yang


Psycho-Energetic Therapy (PET) has been developed to aid patients mobilize their physical, psychological, social and spiritual resources in order to cope with the many and often drastic changes in their lives. It includes regular counseling/psychotherapy and a variety of mind/body interventions. The latter have been developed to assist in the release of physical and emotional tensions and in the buildup of a reservoir of psychic energy. The mind/body interventions can also play an important role in the search for meaning.

PET is based on a five dimensional model. The five dimensions are: attention, com-munication, emotions, body, and meaning. Each of these five dimensions has its own characteristics and can be taken as the starting point for counseling. The dimensions are closely interrelated so that change in one dimension can also elicit changes in the other di-mensions. PET seeks to create a dynamic balance among the five dimensions considered vitally important for any patient coping with cancer.

Although the five dimensions are generally of equal importance, meaning takes the lead role in coping with cancer. The basis of the coping process is the search for meaning, which takes place in this dimension. Corresponding to the partly different tasks of the cerebral hemispheres, the distinction is made between the logical mind and the metaphorical mind. In the activities of the logical mind the self is placed opposite the non-self. In the activities of the metaphorical mind in contrast, the self is integrated with the non-self. The search for meaning also respects the distinction between an active, logical process of giving meaning to the illness, on the one hand, and the experiential process of recognizing that one is a part of a meaningful whole that includes the illness, on the other hand. PET helps the patient to find the dynamic balance between the two and thereby cope effectively (i. e., accept the irreversible and nevertheless behave autonomously within this restriction). In the course of effectively coping with an illness, the patient uses two mechanisms in his search for meaning. The first mechanism is changing the time perspective in which the patient tries to direct his attention to the here and now rather than the future. In such a way, the seriousness of his situation can be relativized. The second mechanism is changing the reference point. In doing this, the patient accepts the irreversible changes and starts organizing his life accordingly. Each change of reference point is made possible by a mourning process and by placing his own situation in a larger meaning context. Different changes of reference point, may take place with the progression of the illness, and also bring the patient to the acceptance of death.


Negative Emotion Dynamic Balance Time Perspective Intrusive Thought Bodily Change 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ton Staps
    • 2
  • William Yang
    • 1
  1. 1.TaborhuisGroesbeekThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of Medical PsychologyUniversity Hospital NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands

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