How Counseling and Psychotherapy Can Help You
Cope with Chronic Illness and Pain
Although pain is a natural and important function of the human body, millions upon millions of Americans suffer from chronic pain and illness that interferes with their daily lives. In fact, a recent Stanford Medical Center poll found that approximately 1 out of every 5 Americans suffers from some form of chronic pain.
Anyone suffering from chronic pain or illness can readily attest to the immensity of the physical and emotional burdens these problems can cause. But, unfortunately, words are rarely enough to describe the unrelenting and devastating effects these individuals experience on a daily basis.
Chronic illness and pain is a very personal experience. Some individuals will agonize in silence for years, while others will lash out at those around them in an unconscious attempt to vent their frustration, anger, and stress. The inability to adequately isolate pain or cure a chronic illness can also lead to depression and substance abuse.
Ultimately, your ability to adjust to the stress that chronic pain causes will depend on your coping skills and your willingness to seek emotional support. Fortunately, because chronic pain and illness encompass psychological and physical components, professional counseling and psychotherapy can help you cope with chronic illness and pain so you can move forward in life with confidence and optimism.
A Closer Look at Chronic Conditions
So what makes pain or illness chronic?
In general, illness or pain can be defined as chronic when its duration is far longer than expected based on the original issue or when pain or illness lasts for more than six months.
Chronic pain and illness can be caused by a head, neck, shoulder, back, or knee injury that doesn't heal properly and never seems to go away, or they may be caused by conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, diabetes, HIV, cancer, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), and the list goes on and on
Our bodies and brains can react to chronic problems in a variety of ways. Chronic pain, for example, may be accompanied by low physical energy levels, mood disorders, and impaired mental performance. People suffering from chronic illness often complain of awakening frequently at night. This, in turn, can result in daytime fatigue, irritability, low productivity, and hampers interpersonal relationships.
Unfortunately, the problems only worsen when normal activities, such as caring for one's children or going to work, become affected. Not uncommon, also, is the development of "new" pains that one didn't experience previously. This is not to imply that pain is contagious. Rather, in response to coping with chronic pain, neurochemical changes in the body may increase one's sensitivity to pain. Thus, pain that was previously too slight to be consciously noticed can lead to an increase in one's suffering.
The Chronic Cycle
According to the American Pain Foundation, over 32 million Americans have reported suffering from chronic pain lasting more than one year. Nearly half of these people have also complained of feeling depressed or struggling to cope with other associated psychological symptoms.
In fact, no one with a chronic illness or recurring pain escapes an emotional reaction. Even the most resilient individuals will eventually be worn down by the constant battle with their physical condition.
But the link between chronic pain and illness and the emotional distress that accompanies them may go well beyond the psychological distress caused the condition itself.
Many people with chronic pain and illness do not look "sick." Individuals suffering from "invisible disabilities" are often shown a lack of compassion and empathy due to their appearing "ok," which can lead to misunderstandings and feelings of isolation.
Additionally, several recent studies have indicated that chronic pain and depression share some of the same neurotransmitters in the brain as well as some of the same nerve pathways. In essence, our brains may naturally intertwine the physical and psychological components of chronic illness and pain.
Coping with the daily struggles of managing illness and pain is difficult enough. Add to this a perceived loss of control over one's own body, feelings of stress, depression, hopelessness, and despair, as well as the negative effects these psychological conditions have on one's relationships and one's ability to function, and you've got a recipe for a vicious cycle of continuous physical and psychological pain from which no escape seems possible.
Effectively Coping with Chronic Pain and Illness
The cycle of chronic illness and pain leads many sufferers to view themselves as victims.
This is all the more likely if their condition has remained the same or steadily worsened over time, and has deprived them of the lifestyle they once took for granted.
Unfortunately, feeling like a victim doesn't do anything in the way of helping one cope with or abate the pain their suffering. Therefore one of the first steps in successfully coping with chronic pain is to make a place for your pain and keep your pain in its place. And a professional counselor or psychotherapist can help you do just this.
By working with you to identify the losses you've suffered as a result of the illness or pain you're experiencing, working through any feelings of anger, resentment, frustration, and grief that are complicating the problems you're facing, and teaching you coping skills to manage and decrease the pain, stress, and depression you're experiencing, counseling and psychotherapy can help you restore a sense of control to your life.
Professional counseling and therapy can also help you change your thought process, allowing you to focus on the numerous positive aspects of your life and helping you redefine who you are and develop a new sense of identity and self-worth that incorporates the daily challenges you face.
Having a chronic illness or suffering from chronic pain always involves multiple levels of experience, from physical symptoms to your emotional reactions, from thought processes to your beliefs about yourself.
Counselors and therapists who are experienced at helping individuals cope with chronic pain can work with you and your other health care providers to develop an effective, multi-disciplinary treatment plan that restores a sense of wellness to all areas of your life.
While there is always hope your illness or pain will go away, counseling for chronic pain can allow you to regain a sense of control and move forward in your relationships and your life today!
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For more information contact:
Haleh Rambod, M.A., MFT
2111 Geer Road, Suite 505-507
Turlock, CA 95382
4100 Moorpark Avenue, Suite 106
San Jose CA, 95117