From the bewilderment and terror of making sense of a new diagnosis to the every day grind of living a life affected by a chronic condition, serious medical illness creates profound psychological challenges throughout its course. Symptoms like depression and anxiety frequently arise and then exacerbate the very fatigue, pain, and cognitive problems that characterize much illness. When severe, these symptoms may even compromise the motivation required to fully participate in medical treatment. Thus the mind and the body can get caught in a negative feedback cycle.
Just as the mind can exacerbate problems in the body, so it can also alleviate them. Therapy can play a pivotal role in helping mind and body come together to support health and wellbeing. It can foster grieving, acceptance, and adaption, allowing life’s focus to shift from limitation and loss to making peace with a “new normal” and pursuing a life worth living given the current medical conditions. Learning and regularly using meditation and relaxation techniques can heal the body. Therapy can also strengthen motivation for wellness activities like exercise, socializing, and healthy eating. When working with clients with chronic illness, I draw upon Motivational Interviewing, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for chronic pain. I have worked with adolescents, adults, and seniors with serious medical conditions in numerous settings including bedside in patients’ homes, outpatient primary care and specialty clinics, assisted living facilities, and inpatient medical hospitals.