The Mind-Body Connection: Psychotherapy during a Health Crisis
The diagnosis of a serious, chronic, or life threatening illness is a difficult life event and is often traumatic for the patients and their families. The road to diagnosis usually involves countless tests, bureaucratic procedures, bouncing from one medical center to the next, and terrible uncertainty; but even after all this, the diagnosis often fails to provide relief, as it brings with it many implications to be processed. Content found on Google and Facebook can provide information and other people’s experiences, but it is also often frightening and not relevant to the specific situation of the individual.
Though many tend to focus only on the physical impact of illness, we must keep in mind that this is a personal and familial crisis in every way. The connection between mind and body is two-way: illness can cause deterioration in mental health, while a troubled mental state can lead to the development of an illness.
Health problems can also result in impaired daily functioning and sometimes inevitably result in dependence on someone else. In the absence of counseling, these problems can lead to emotional and family crises, depression, feelings of helplessness, a loss of self-worth, and existential anxieties. The world of a person who has always been independent but now depends on someone else and needs help performing basic activities has been fundamentally undermined, and likewise the world of the loved ones who must now become caregivers.
Life changes dramatically after such a diagnosis, and patients and their families need to muster the strength to cope with the new situation on both an emotional and practical level, build a quality life that is full of meaning, and learn to live in peace with the illness.
Which diseases present a high risk for mental health problems?
- Cancer of any kind is a very common cause for the development of mental health problems. Cancer patients and their families are forced to cope with death anxiety, and there are many cases of depression and anxiety that develop as the result of grappling with a cancer diagnosis.
- Chronic diseases and chronic pain syndromes (such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, and others) force those diagnosed with them to change their lifestyle from top to bottom.
- Neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and spinal problems can lead to limited mobility, a significant impaired ability to work, and the deterioration of an individual’s self-image.
- Many other diseases do not receive equal recognition, leading to feelings of loneliness and frustration.
How will talking help if there is no cure?
Counseling and psychotherapy for patients and their families provides a safe space for expressing difficult emotions such as fear, sadness, and grief, which arise around the onset of the illness, the loss of health and function, and death anxiety. Anger also has a place, even if it is irrational and does not seem legitimate.
The treatment helps the patient understand the psychological facets to the illness, if there are any, and drastically reduces the stress that affects the body just as the physical symptoms do.
Counseling provides tools for reducing stress and developing strategies to cope with the illness. During the treatment, we will learn how to build a new identity while accepting the illness and its limitations. The treatment will provide close guidance for the lifestyle changes necessitated by the disease, such as the change in family roles and the new way of life.