Living with a Chronic Illness

by Casandra McGee, MFT

You have just been diagnosed with a chronic illness or are trying to live with your chronic illness and are asking, “Where do I go from here?” Most of the questions you have are probably medical in nature, but I want to talk a bit about the benefits of mental health counseling for people diagnosed with chronic illness.

When you are diagnosed with a chronic illness, people say they know how you feel, tell you what they think you should do, and say they will help you. However, the truth is that only you know how you feel and things that may help you cope with the difficult news. According to the book, Feel Better Fast: Overcoming the Emotional Fallout of Your Illness or Injury by Charles Foster, when diagnosed with a chronic illness “we take our medicine, follow the doctors’ orders, and faithfully attend physical therapy, but all too often we overlook the emotional issues that inevitably emerge and hinder our recovery.” That is the reason that individual mental health therapy can be beneficial. With individual therapy you are in the driver’s seat to process your feelings and determine what may support you in living with a chronic illness.

Regular mental health treatment with someone who is familiar with theses specific issues can help you live the highest daily life functioning possible. It may be hard to adapt to a new reality and to cope with the changes and ongoing treatment that come with the diagnosis. Individual therapy is a place where you have the potential to gain understanding and peace with the news of a chronic illness. It can help reduce anxiety, depression, and anger you may experience and gain an understanding of what is possible for yourself in your future.

In his article, “Counseling for Chronic Illness”, Tod Fiste says, “Chronic illness can strain your view of yourself, your relationships, your place in society, and your plans for the future. Psychotherapy (also known as ‘counseling’ or just ‘therapy’) is a valuable resource when you are struggling with these challenges.”

Individual therapy is a step by step process, much like learning to cope and live with an illness. Therapy is a place where, with unbiased guidance, you can learn new coping skills and develop an action plan to live the way you want to live, taking into account your new self-understanding and limitations. It can be hard to reach out for help, but know that by doing so you are taking the first step to help yourself.

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Casandra McGee is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Petaluma who specializes in counseling people diagnosed with a chronic illness and chronic pain as well as the people who support them. She has extensive experience in this area and knows with hard work, time, and patience people can identify and put into practice ways to improve their life functioning.

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