Oncology Psychology

One in two men and one in three women will get cancer in their lifetime. Cancer can cause distress for individuals and their families, friends, and caregivers, but well-trained mental health care providers can help alleviate some of that distress. Psychologists can help with cancer-related symptoms like insomnia, nausea, anxiety about treatment, fear of recurrence, and depression. However, research indicates that cancer centers are struggling to meet the psychosocial needs of patients. 

The Center for Oncology Psychology Excellence (COPE) at the University of Denver (DU) is a first-of-its-kind training program and partnership with community cancer centers. The first course in the specialty sequence was offered in fall 2016. We offer graduate-level coursework to doctoral students at the Graduate School of Professional Psychology (GSPP), create field placement opportunities in cancer centers across Colorado, build community partnerships to increase access to psychological and social services for cancer patients, and serve as a hub for research and program evaluation on the psychological, social, and emotional impact of cancer.

Specialty Structure


COPE coursework will be completed as part of a comprehensive specialty track for students enrolled in the APA-Accredited PsyD program at the Graduate School of Professional Psychology. To complete the Oncology Psychology specialty, PsyD students will take at least 15 credits in the specialty. This will include Introduction to Psychosocial Oncology, a year-long clinical seminar, and other electives.

Field Placements

Students involved in the COPE program will also complete field placements working with cancer patients. These may include:

  • Outpatient cancer centers
  • Inpatient cancer centers
  • Palliative care and Hospice

Clinical Training & Supervision

The Center for Oncology Psychology Excellence offers students a clinical training component on site at the University of Denver's Professional Psychology Clinic. Read more about the services offered through our community-based clinics.

Explore Clinics
Diane Simard speaking at event

Meet the Founder

Diane Simard

Diane is a business mentor, an award-winning author, a national speaker on women in business and survivorship, an angel investor, and an advocate to bring more attention to the psychological impact of traumatic illnesses like cancer. She is also Sr. Vice President and serves on the Board of Directors of Bye Aerospace, an aerospace engineering company developing the “eFlyer” family of all-electric aircraft.

  • Diane's Story

    My life has not been the same since cancer.

    When I received the dreaded phone call on February 11, 2015, I panicked, grieved, then quickly accepted the uninvited challenge. There was much to do and learn, so I became a sponge for information. A few cancer survivors I met with encouraged me to take a sabbatical from work, live on the couch and wallow in self-pity. But I couldn't do that. I was determined to face my battle head-on.

    As I began the five-month chemotherapy regimen, I was asked numerous times by medical professionals how I was faring psychologically. They encouraged me to attend breast cancer support group meetings, but I cringed at the thought of sharing my thoughts and feelings with a group of strangers. When I asked my medical oncologist whether she could refer me to a counselor who has experience working with a female executive cancer patient like me, she said mental health professionals, including licensed psychologists, typically don't specialize in an area like cancer. If I did find someone, they likely wouldn't accept health insurance. I couldn't believe it, but I was too sick to care. Instead, I decided to express my feelings in a journal.

    When I emerged from the 16 brutal chemo treatments, I was relieved and filled with a profound sense of gratitude. I felt an overwhelming need to positively channel my experience and was determined to find out why so little emphasis is placed on the psychological impact of cancer.

    Thankfully, I was introduced to Dr. Shelly Smith-Acuna and Dr. Nicole Taylor with GSPP before the first of my two lumpectomy surgeries. After a series of exploratory meetings, we realized that no psychology training programs exist in the U.S. that focus on psychosocial oncology at the graduate level. We sketched out the concept for what has become the Center for Oncology Psychology Excellence (COPE) at GSPP. I decided to provide the initial funds to establish the COPE specialty, and am so proud of the first cohort of COPE students at GSPP who completed the 12-credit specialty in August 2017.

    After chemo, I had two surgeries and 33 radiation treatments. Now, I am completing a book based on my year with breast cancer and my extraordinarily emotional experience that ultimately led to COPE's launch. A portion of the proceeds will provide operating funds to help expand the COPE specialty. In the meantime, I promise to continue advocating for patients, survivors and caregivers who struggle with the trauma and fear that often results from such a challenging experience.

    The National Cancer Institute has made the staggering projection that one in two men and one in three women will get cancer in their lifetimes. In addition to continuing our quest to find cures for the more than 100 known types of cancer, it is imperative that cancer treatment plans begin to provide individualized, professional psychological support for cancer survivors and their families. We are a mighty many, and there is much more life ahead! 

    Thank you for your interest.

    Diane M. Simard


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