A social worker asks what imagery would be best for an oncology nursing support group she will be facilitating at her hospital, and wonders if they could be suffering from PTSD.. BR,
Could you recommend some guided imagery for me to use with oncology nursing support groups which I will be facilitating, as the staff social worker for the floor? Could multiple deaths of the patients they’ve cared for result in their acquiring PTSD? What imagery would you suggest for them?

Dear EG,
Oncology generally attracts especially empathic people, because it’s one of the few remaining specialties that still allows people the time to build relationships with their patients and to care about them as people. It’s still very satisfying in this way.

But of course, you are correct in that there are emotional costs too. Oncology nurses carry around a lot of grief for the losses they experience. Some may have also acquired a certain amount of vicarious trauma as well, from empathizing with their traumatized patients and their families. But grief probably trumps PTSD.

But the biggest complaints you hear (and read about in studies) is that there is a lot of workaday stress. Oncology nurses have to be very expert in a field that constantly demands learning new information, and the stakes are pretty high for getting it right. Yet they are often short-staffed and pressured to do too much in too little time. Irritations connected to administrative and hierarchical issues on the floor abound, and it tends to be those things that preoccupy and distress nursing staff most.

So I guess I’d start with something like Relaxation and Wellness or General Wellness or Relieve Stress. If your group seems up for it, you could always move on to the Ease Grief and Healing Trauma imagery, but I wouldn’t start there - that imagery could prove to be too intense for most people to be doing in the middle of a workday, right off the bat.

And just to warn you: you may have to present the imagery as a technique for them to review for their patients, in order to get them to do it at all. Nurses are famously resistant to doing things just for themselves! Sometimes a little trickery is in order. Just a thought..

Good luck with this.