MAHAK’s 30-year experience in providing treatment and support services to children with cancer and their families proves that medications and medical services do not suffice in cancer treatment. Counseling and psychological care services have proven essential as complimentary to medical services in children's recovery.
Due to this reason and based on its strategic plan, MAHAK has tried to integrate these services throughout the country to facilitate the access to support services for all cancer-stricken children. One of the focus areas in this vein has been the provision of psychological counseling for cancer-stricken children and their families at all public and university hospitals with pediatric hematology and oncology wards throughout the country.
Once under the coverage of MAHAK, the child and his/her family undergo clinical interviews and their psychological status get monitored by MAHAK’s psychologists and the required consultations and/or treatments get provided. In 2020, virtual counselling services were extended not only to cancer-stricken children in public and university hospitals in Tehran, but also to hospitals in other provinces of the country. To elucidate the experience, we held an interview with one of MAHAK’s psychologists regarding the provided virtual services for MAHAK children and their families across the country.
How does MAHAK provide virtual psychological services?
MAHAK’s resident social workers will contact the family of the child as soon as patient’s profile gets registered at any of public and university hospitals. Social workers have been educated in detecting psychological crises and screening children and families in need of psychological services. Once a case is detected, they refer the family to MAHAK’s psychology department. From this point forward, follow-ups and psychotherapy begin and continue until the family achieves the desired condition.
What are the biggest psychological concerns of children with cancer and their families?
Many of them are struggling with psychological problems that have arisen following the onset of cancer in the family. Some families experience problems that have nothing to do with their child’s health condition. We can say that 80% of the cases under MAHAK’s support suffer from situational stress, 10% experience acute mental illnesses such as depression, and another 10% exhibit chronic family problems for which the necessary psychological interventions get performed.
We all know that one of the greatest concerns in cancer treatment ishigh expenses associated with treatment. Research results indicate that providing comprehensive and free-of-charge treatment and support services for children with cancer and their families plays an important role in reducing anxiety and increasing life expectancy. MAHAK’s psychologists sometimes face issues rooted in social harms and problems during the counselling sessions and seek to solve such issues by referring the family to partner charities that are active in this field. For example, when the father is addicted, he is referred to the related charities or non-governmental addiction treatment centers.
What tools does MAHAK utilize to provide psychological counseling to families in different provinces of the country?
With the onset of the Corona pandemic in late 2019, MAHAK Psychology department quickly adapted its activities with these unprecedented conditions by utilizing telepsychology. In this method, we attempt to observe and evaluate their facial expressions and body language, and incorporate related cognitive-behavioral techniques through video counseling. But, in many cases video calling is not possible; therefore, measuring the tone of and anxiety in the voice helps us diagnose the type of problem and choose the appropriate and effective treatment.
How are these services provided for children with cancer hospitalized in Tehran?
Currently, children with cancer and their families in all public and university hospitals with pediatric hematology and oncology wards in 30 cities receive MAHAK’s psychology services.
Hence, children who are hospitalized in the twelve designated public and university hospitals in Tehran are also benefiting from these services. In these hospitals, providing counselling services is a little easier due to the ability to provide face-to-face contact with children and families. MAHAK’s psychologists are responsible for visiting these hospitals at least once a week to provide psychological services.
How long will children and their families receive these services?
There is no time limit for the provision of support services to MAHAK children and their families. In other words, our children can receive these services after recovery in order to curb the psychological issues caused by cancer. Grief therapy is also provided to families if a child deceases despite all interventions. For the first time in Iran, MAHAK launched and equipped a grief clinic to support families in process of grieving protocols 4 months after the decease of their child once it is evident family functions have been disrupted by the calamity. After passing their grieving process, the families of the deceased children can receive psychological services whenever needed.
In the end, what words do you wish to say to give hope to families of children with cancer?
I always tell them that distance does not matter. MAHAK has been founded to alleviate the pains of childhood cancer, and to be stay with its little heroes and their families during their tough days. Wherever they are in Iran, they are not alone and MAHAK which is backed with the 30-year love and care of donors and benefactors steadfastly supports them.