Learning The Skill Of What To Say In A Moment Of Illness with Susan Halpern

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Why do we have such difficulty saying the right things when friends, loved ones, colleagues, and acquaintances are ill? Because we are afraid to say the wrong things, we often stumble over our words or don't say anything at all. Susan Halpern says, "I think it's important to say something. There is such a loneliness that comes with a diagnosis. Suddenly our path in life has changed, and something has entered that we never expected, so we need to hear from friends that they care. I did. I needed to hear that friends cared. Just a simple, 'I'm thinking of you' is all that it takes." Halpern shares her own story both as a support person for those who are ill, and as a person who has had a diagnosis of cancer. With great wisdom she imparts to us how to be both a better caregiver and patient. (hosted by Justine Willis Toms)


Susan Halpern has been a clinical social worker since 1977. She has, over the years, worked in a variety of settings, from community mental health centers to consulting on supervision at the Yale Law School Legal Services Clinic. She has facilitated support groups for people with cancer, and is the founder of the New York Cancer Help Program and a staff associate at the Commonweal Cancer Help Program and, on the staff of Smith Farm Center for the Healing Arts.

Informed by both her work with cancer support groups and her own diagnosis of lymphoma in 1995, she is the author of:

To learn more about the work of Susan Halpern go to contemplativemind.org.

Topics Explored in This Dialogue

  • Why we have such difficulty finding the right words to say to those who are ill
  • When making a statement rather than asking a question can be the best expression
  • How caregivers and patients give feedback to one another
  • What is the best way to enter a hospital room
  • How should we talk to children about illness and death
  • When and how should we give advice to people with a diagnosed illness
  • How do we treat people with acute illness and chronic illness differently
Host: Justine Willis Toms      Interview Date: 2/28/2008      Program Number: 3244