How therapy can help with a chronic illness

Those who are diagnosed with a chronic illness, as well as their loved ones, may find themselves with a life-changing situation. In many ways, this type of change is not easily overcome without some guidance on how to move forward.

Chronic illnesses affect individuals and their families in both physical and emotional ways. What was once considered a “normal” life may now be filled with numerous hardships – even with everyday tasks such as eating or dressing.

Concerns of those with a chronic illness
Oftentimes, the issue of chronic illness or disability is treated somewhat oddly in society today. Accordingly, there could be a number of psychological ramifications that go along with the already difficult physical impairments.

Other factors may arise, such as trauma, anxiety and possibly even depression. Anxiety about the future progression of the illness, along with the depression and frustration that can go hand-in-hand with what the person is able to do – and the tiredness and fatigue that accompany trying to do formerly easy tasks – can all play a role. In addition, emotional issues such as helplessness may enter the picture.

Financial issues can certainly add to the strain. These can be related not just to the cost of needed care – especially if that care is not covered under a health or disability insurance policy – but also to the reality of losing income from a job. This alone can be a major problem even for perfectly healthy individuals, but coupled with a newly diagnosed illness, the circumstances can be nearly impossible to bear without some type of assistance.

Therefore, a number of concerns may need to be addressed when a patient faces chronic illness:

  • How to be comfortable with those who may treat you differently now.
  • How to keep a current job or find a new one with a chronic health condition.
  • How to continue a normal and healthy social life.
  • How to adjust a relationship or marriage to the new responsibilities of choric illness.
  • How to cope with a lesser amount of physical functionality.
  • How to deal with a potentially new identity due to the chronic illness or disability.

Types of therapy
For those in a situation with a new chronic illness or disability, a number of resources can be of great assistance – physically and emotionally. In fact, a qualified counselor who is familiar with the psychological processes that often occur as the result of a chronic condition can truly help in working through the many losses that the affected individual may encounter.

Overall, a therapist can help the individual in making emotional, practical, intellectual and even spiritual changes, which can allow him or her to live a new life with a great amount of satisfaction.

While chronic illness typically includes a great deal of physical pain, the psychological pain may often be worse. The affected person will usually be asking:

  • Why did this happen to me?
  • How can I support myself and my family now?
  • How can I get through the day?

Psychotherapy can help to alleviate all of these issues and help calm the anxiety that the person often feels. First, therapy can create a place to “vent” frustrations. By working through the many issues, the individual may also be able to explore and understand why this happened to him and how to move forward.

By utilizing the right types of therapy, the individual can develop a proper plan of self-care whereby he may take specific steps to manage not just his illness but also his emotional needs. This may include discovering additional resources such as support groups and educational sources.

Thought field therapy
Another potential type of helpful therapy is thought field therapy -- essentially a type of self-treatment that uses points on the body, or acupoints, similar to those used in acupuncture.

The affected individual can actually activate the treatment points by tapping on these points with his fingers while thinking about the issues that are affecting him. Different issues such as pain, depression, anger or anxiety, are all related to different acupoints on the body. While the person focuses on the specific problem or issue, the acupoints will be addressed and then a series of bilateral activities will be done prior to the acupoints being repeated.

Because most chronic illnesses are exacerbated by anxiety, stress, trauma and/or depression, this type of therapy will help to reduce the impact that these issues can play on the affected individual’s psychology. The therapy can also help to lower the tensions and the distress that his body is holding in. By doing so, it can assist the body’s natural healing progression. Essentially, having a lower amount of stress will allow more of the body’s energy to go into the healing process overall and can actually enhance the body’s immune functioning as well. 

Sarah Smith works with Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based psychologist Laura Thomas, PhD, who works with many different types of patients. Thomas’ practice has a narrow focus on specific fields of therapy including chronic illness.

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