Dr. Sean Phipps: Post Traumatic Stress vs Growth in Pediatric Oncology

The traumatic stress model starts with the assumption that cancer is a traumatic event, and people often think of children with cancer as having depression or post-traumatic stress. But that is not always the case.

Dr. Sean Phipps and his team discovered that for some survivors their personal function actually improved as a result of their cancer experience.

Sean Phipps, PhD is the Chair of Psychology at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. He spoke at the 2013 POGO Multi-Disciplinary Symposium on Childhood Cancer.

Straight Talk about Childhood Cancer is POGO’s new series of video shorts featuring the insights of experts whose leading-edge work impacts the care, treatment and quality of life of childhood cancer patients, survivors and their families.

Beyond Survival: Emotional Equilibrium After Cancer


Presentation description:
Childhood cancer can be an intensely stressful experience that may have emotional affects even years after treatment.  While cancer can contribute to personal growth in some ways, it can also lead to emotional and social vulnerabilities later in life.  This session explored common developmental challenges for survivors, highlighted the relationship between emotional and physical health, and considered the different ways survivors make sense of their cancer experiences as they move into adulthood.

Christopher J. Recklitis, Ph.D., MPH
Senior Psychologist
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics
Harvard Medical School

Post-traumatic Stress and Post-traumatic Growth: Pathways to Resilience

Presentation Description:
Childhood cancer has been widely viewed as a traumatic event, and traumatic stress models have become a dominant approach to understanding the experiences of children with cancer. This approach, which focused on psychopathology rather than adjustment, overlooked the generally positive adjustment of most children to this significant health challenge. The speaker presented an alternative approach, based on a view that cancer is a significant life event that represents not only a potential trauma, but also a potential catalyst for growth and positive change. This session presented some recent findings which demonstrate how subtle changes in methodology can produce significantly different outcomes, and which support our contention that resilience and psychological growth are the most common outcomes of the childhood cancer experience.

Sean Phipps, PhD
Chair, Department of Psychology
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis