What does the American Psychological Association have to say about Chronic Illness and coping? Well, it suggests a few steps towards dealing with a chronic illness, which include the following:
• “Stay connected. Establish and maintain quality relationships with friends and family. Many health organizations also sponsor support groups composed of other people experiencing similar challenges. These groups will not only add to your well being, but also provide rewarding opportunities to help others” (APA, 2012).
• Take care of yourself and your physical needs such as eating and laughing
• Do things to help maintain a sense of stability such as engaging in a hobby if at all possible
• Remember that there is a mind/body connection. Psychological studies show that your mind and body are strongly linked. If your physical health declines, it can take a toll mentally.
The American Psychological Association encourages seeing a Psychologist of you are living with a chronic illness. Talking to a psychologist can help you deal with your emotions.
According to APA (2012), psychological well-being and learning resilience go hand and hand and provide:
1. The capacity to make realistic plans to deal with stressors in your life and carry them out
2. A positive view of yourself and confidence in your strength and ability to confront life’s challenges
3. Skills in communication and problem solving
4. The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses associated with stress
It is good to talk with friends and a good friend may listen, but a psychologist has the skills and professional training to help you learn to manage when you are overwhelmed. Here are some facts about psychologists as outlined by the American Psychological Association (2012):
• “Psychologists have Doctoral degrees and are licensed by the state in which they practice”
• “They receive one of the highest levels of education of all health care professionals. In fact, psychologists spend an average of seven years in education and training after they receive their undergraduate degree”
• “Psychologists study human experience and behavior”
• “Psychologists are trained to help people cope more effectively with life problems using techniques based on best available research and their clinical skills and experience and taking into account the persons unique values, goals, and circumstances”
Here are some of my personal tips on working with a psychologist for increased coping and support:
1. Find a professional you are comfortable with. Being in therapy can be a very vulnerable experience. Pay attention to your initial “gut feeling” when you meet someone new.
2. Although initial feelings of anxiety are common when working with a psychologist, you should be able to build a relationship. This is what we call positive rapport. I always say that the relationship is the most important part of therapy.
3. Therapy should provide a safe place and space to emote and narrate your feelings and life experiences. Trust is very important for this reason. Your psychologist should provide empathy, support, non-judgment, and guidance.
4. If, for whatever reason, you are not getting what you want out of your therapy experience, talk it over with your therapist. He/She should be willing to hear your concerns and address them. If things don’t improve, consider finding someone else. Just as you would look for another endocrinologist if you were unhappy with your current one; you have the right to have a positive therapy experience!
5. Remember that therapy is a process. Don’t expect things to change overnight. It may take a while to even build enough trust to finally open up. Living with a chronic illness is quite traumatic and there is a lot to work through.
6. NEVER GIVE UP!
Finally, APA (2012) has some suggestions for how to help a friend or loved one suffering from a chronic illness:
• Communicate directly and be open with family members
• Let the Children know its okay to ask questions, as this will help relieve some of their anxiety. Be open and honest in an age appropriate way.
• A person should share with people who provide a strong sense of support and strength. Give emotional support and provide a shoulder to cry on.
• Help in any way you can. The sick person may be ashamed to ask others for help. Help with daily errands and chores and other important tasks.
• Learn about the disease and provide understanding. Gaining more knowledge will help your loved one feel like you are in this with them.
American Psychological Association (2012). Chronic illness. Retrieved May 3, 2012
American Psychological Association (2012). How to help a friend or a loved one
suffering from a chronic illness. Retrieved May 3, 2012 from http://www.apa.org
American Psychological Association (2012). For a healthy mind and body…Talk to a
Psychologist: Focus on mind/body health. Retrieved May 3, 2012 from http://www.apa.org