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How a psychological therapy changed my life

The Brain Tumour Charity are excited to announce that we will be funding a study exploring whether a psychological therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can be adapted to help treat young brain tumour survivors.

The treatment, which is already being used to treat adults with a wide range of difficulties will be trialled by Dr Sophie Thomas at Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham, over the next three years.

Here, mum of three, Sara, who was diagnosed with necrotising fasciitis, bravely shares her experience of ACT and how it has helped to improve her psychological and emotional wellbeing.

Within the space of 24 hours, Sara went from having dinner with her family, to being rushed to hospital, undergoing emergency surgery and being put into a coma having contracted sepsis.

“Afterwards I was left with a big indentation in my leg and a huge scar, but I didn’t instantly realise the psychological and emotional impact that the whole ordeal had had on me too,” explains Sara.

At the time I reasoned that I was alive and that was all that mattered. I just wanted to leave hospital and get back home to my family. My focus was on getting physically well, not mentally well.”

“But a few months on, the impact of what I’d gone through hit me quite hard. I started having nightmares about my leg and realised that the trauma had affected me more than I’d realised. I just kept wondering why this had happened to me. Every time I looked at my scar or leg it was a constant reminder of what I’d been through and I became very self-conscious. At times I even struggled to leave the house.”

Psychological therapy

During her time in the hospital, Sara was offered psychological therapy. The first therapy was called eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), a treatment that’s been found to reduce the symptoms of PTSD.

The second therapy was ACT, which Sara started in July 2018. ACT has been shown to help people deal with strong emotions, difficult thoughts and re-learn how to get the most out of life even under difficult circumstances.

The therapy helped me to work through a lot of emotions I’d not necessarily realised I’d been experiencing such as my anger towards my GP for not sending me straight to hospital when I first went in feeling unwell and my feelings of guilt towards my children for disappearing so suddenly when I went into hospital.

“The therapy helped me to address the PTSD I’d experienced and to accept the physical changes to my body. Together, my psychologist, Laura, and I worked through everything step-by-step. The sessions helped me to get a lot of my emotions out and as time went by I started to feel better, until eventually all the trauma I’d experienced felt more like a distant memory.”

ACT has changed my life

“ACT has helped change my life so much. Now I walk out the door and don’t even think twice about my leg. Since having the sessions I feel more confident taking on new challenges and I’ve even recently started a new job.

“I know for a fact that if I hadn’t had the therapy, I wouldn’t be where I am in life now. The sessions have helped to put me in a positive and happy place. They’ve helped to give me a completely different outlook on life and have taught me a lot.

“ACT has helped me to realise that I’ve got to keep strong for me. It was okay saying to everyone I’m okay and portraying that on the outside, but it’s important that I really am ok on the inside too – and ACT has helped me to feel that.”

ACT research project

Dr Sophie Thomas wants to use ACT to help young people build a rich and meaningful life after a brain tumour.

ACT for improved quality of life

Sabrina Bell, who is 24 years old and living with a meninigioma, tells us about her experience of ACT.

Our Research Strategy

See how we plan use pioneering research to double survival and halve the harm caused by brain tumours.