Dr. Amii Steele pediatric psychologist

Child Health | 10 months ago

Helping Kids, Families Face the Emotional Side of Cancer

Kids fight cancer on more than one front. Dr. Amii Steele, a pediatric psychologist, helps children and families work through the emotional challenges with unique strategies to cope with diagnosis, treatment and moving ahead.
Our oncology team doesn’t sneak up on the children’s diseases; they take them head-on. In helping patients and families confront the emotional challenge of cancer, Amii Steele, PhD, takes the same approach.

Dr. Steele is a pediatric psychologist at Levine Children’s Hospital and head of our psychosocial program. Together with her team of five clinical social workers and one postdoctoral fellow, she works to help families not only get through their medical experiences, but past them.

“I help children and families cope with not only the medical aspects of their treatment, but also the social and emotional aspects,” she says. “Cancer is absolutely just as much emotional and social as it is physical. It's something that affects the entire family, not just the child. Children are resilient and generally do pretty well, but they also have a wide range of emotions that comes with having a cancer diagnosis.”

Dr. Steele or a member of her team makes contact with a patient and family in every instance of a new diagnosis, a recurrence or relapse, or a negative outcome during treatment. “I meet patients and families at moments when they’re most vulnerable," she says.

And while other child psychologists may deal with phobias or general anxiety, “These children’s fears are real. They may actually occur,” she says. “There’s something patients and families like about my being open with them and not sugar-coating things. It’s normal to have questions and fears. If you don’t talk about them, the anxiety just grows.”

Using what she calls a strength-based approach, Dr. Steele helps families assess the clinical, social, family and community resources they have, then plot the best ways to put them to use. “The biggest thing is knowing you’re not alone,” she says. “We try to instill healthy coping skills and set them up for success when they’re on their own.”

Dr. Steele also offers advice to the people in a patient’s life who may be at a loss for what to say or how to help. “Show it in your actions,” she advises. “Do things that are needed for everyday life. Instead of saying, ‘Let me know what I can do,’ ask: ‘Can I drop off a meal? Can I mow the grass? Do you need me to pick up one child from the school bus while you and the other child are at the hospital?’ People want to help but they don’t know what they can do.”

Sometimes, maintaining everyday routines can be more help than people know. “One of the things that's often overlooked is the importance of everyday things that kids may miss out on who have a medical condition,” Dr. Steele says, “whether that's school, or feeling normal, or hanging out with friends.”

“I’m impressed and in awe of the patients and families I have the privilege to work with. They teach me things every day about coping with adversity many people never experience,” Dr. Steele says. “And while working with young cancer patients isn’t always easy, there’s something in your heart that draws you to this.”