Chronic Illness Isn’t Just Physical: It’s Also Emotional
Treating patients who are dealing with health-related issues in our NYC therapy practice, we understand that being diagnosed and living with chronic illness not only affects people physically, but also emotionally. We’re excited to have had the opportunity to talk about the many facets of chronic illness recently in The New York Times’ “Five Things I Wish I’d Known Before My Chronic Illness.”
Centering the article on her own experience with Crohn’s disease and how her life changed after her diagnosis, writer Tessa Miller delves into some under-discussed aspects of chronic illness, including how relationships change, how to educate yourself and others, and the significance of support and community when chronic illness can be isolating. Speaking to our director Matt, Miller also lays out the ways chronic illness can influence your mental and emotional health. “There is trauma related to certain aspects of illness or treatment, and fear of outcomes like death or disability,” says Matt.
Not only is there anxiety about physical challenges, but the health care system itself can be anxiety-producing or even, traumatizing. Even in well-intentioned medical environments, treatments can be alienating, uncertain, or poorly communicated about. Matt notes in the article that often there is also uncertainty about paying for medical care that can add extra stress or worry.
Grief Is Also A Part Of Living With Chronic Illness
Matt also discusses how coming to understand the new reality of living with a chronic illness can be a form of grief. Matt explains, “In trauma therapy, we call this ‘integration,’ the task of integrating a new reality into one’s life and world view…this emotional work can look a lot like grief therapy for a passing loved one.”
Finding A Therapist With Experience Working With Chronic Illness Is Key
In the Times, Matt emphasizes the importance of finding a therapist who has experience treating patients with chronic illness. However, the style of approach to treatment depends on the character of the individual’s mental distress. For example, acute anxiety may be addressed with cognitive behavioral therapy, whereas illness-related trauma should require a trauma-based approach. There’s also value in a sort of case-management/social work approach in which a therapist can function as an advocate or care-coordinator, helping to coordinate with doctors, physical therapists, nurses or other health care providers. With chronic illness, often a team approach is best.