Helping Someone through the Denial of a Diagnosis


This past week I have encounter two families where a loved one was denying their medical diagnosis. This situation seemed to overwhelm the caregivers as they were not sure how to handle this fact.

Sometimes, though, a short period of denial can be helpful. Being in denial gives your mind the opportunity to unconsciously absorb shocking or distressing information at a pace that won’t send you into a psychological tailspin.

Today, I was at an ALS symposium, a young man approached me and said that he was there with his brother who had recently received an ALS diagnosis. He commented that he almost had to drag him through the door of the hotel for the symposium because he was denying his diagnosis.

He shared that he wanted to support his brother through this devastating journey. He said that he reassured his brother of his commitment and felt the best way for them to “get their heads around” the diagnosis was to educated themselves; he had tears in his eyes and compassion in his voice.

I reassured him that he was already doing all the important first steps in helping someone through denial!

1. Expressing to his brother that he is not alone in the journey

2. They were getting education so they bother understood the disease

3. They were hearing about community resources for future needs

There are other important steps.

4. Be a compassionate/active listener – let fears be discussed

5. Making a plan for the future – before a crisis arises

6. Ask questions about and find answers to confusing information

7. Participate in a support group together

The renowned author, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote about the five stages of grief.

Denial is the first stage. Acceptance is the last.

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