Perceptual Style and Breast Cancer: A Caregiver’s Perspective

One headline that you are not likely to see anytime soon is that an understanding of Perceptual Style Theory (PST) has an impact on the treatment of breast cancer. Admittedly, there is no formal research project being conducted – no double blind trials – but I have personally been deeply involved in a one subject test of the hypothesis since late October 2010 when my wife was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer. As one of my friends put it, the process of battling this type of cancer is “like pushing the pause button on your life for about a year.” I can tell you that knowing what I do about how people perceive the world has been an important component in the whole process. So much so that I thought that my experience was worth sharing.

So, how does a psychological theory of perception affect something as straightforwardly medical as cancer treatment? The truth is that it’s not so straightforward: there is a social and psychological component to any human interaction, and medical treatment is no different in that respect. Strictly looking at the health care side of what we went through, PST has helped us to:

  1. Break through the ‘arms length’ emotional distance that many people in
    the medical field have been taught to interact with their patients.
  2. Understand how to interact with particular members of my wife’s treatment
    team to get the information and care we needed without alienating them.
  3. Know which one of us would be best at communicating with each member
    of her treatment team. This is driven by our different Perceptual Styles, the
    Perceptual Style of the team member we are communicating with, and the
    circumstances of the communication

In addition, we discovered that there is more to treating cancer than the medical component. This social component involves:

  1. My role as her caretaker as she recovered from each treatment
  2. The changing nature of our interaction through each round of chemo, then
    radiation, then surgery
  3. Coordinating a support network of friends and family who must be
    communicated with, but from whom she must also be ‘protected’ from at times
  4. Finding ways to take care of myself so that I do not suffer from ‘resourcing

According to John Lennon, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” My wife and I discovered the truth of this when the doctor uttered one short sentence: “That’s breast cancer.” It turned everything upside down. We found ways to manage and, in many cases, found the positive in a very difficult process. I have always maintained that PST was not just an interesting theory, but one with profound ‘real life’ applications.

There is nothing more real life than what we’ve just been through. As I look back on all that has transpired since last fall, I know that without our understanding of PST it would have been a very different and much harder experience.

Gary Jordan, Ph.D., has over 27 years of experience in clinical psychology, behavioral assessment, individual development, and coaching. He earned his doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology – Berkeley.  He is co-creator of Perceptual Style Theory, a revolutionary psychological assessment system that teaches people how to unleash their deepest potentials for success. He’s a partner at Vega Behavioral Consulting, Ltd., a consulting firm that specializes in helping people discover their true skills and talents.  For free information on how to succeed as an entrepreneur or coach, create a thriving business and build your bottom line doing more of what you love, visit

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