How Psychologists Can Support People with Chronic Health Conditions

Introduction

Living with a chronic health condition can be challenging, both physically and emotionally. The impact of chronic illness extends beyond the physical symptoms, often affecting mental health, relationships, and overall wellbeing. Psychologists can play a helpful role for people with chronic health conditions, but it might not be clear why. In this blog post, we hope to outline how the impact of chronic illness can affect all aspects of an individual’s wellbeing, and why seeing a psychologist can be a meaningful addition to medical interventions to ensure that you are able to live well amongst the challenges that come with illness.

Psychologists can help with the emotional and psychological aspects of chronic illness, promote resilience and a focus on values, and enhance overall quality of life. Here are some ways they can provide that support:

1. Emotional Support and Coping Strategies:

Chronic health conditions can come with a lot of emotions – from seeking a diagnosis, to making sense of what a diagnosis might mean for your future, and working through the daily challenges, medical appointments and treatments, and changes that you might need to make to how you lived life pre-illness. Psychologists can provide a safe and supportive space for people to express and process these emotions, providing connection and support without judgement. They provide dedicated time and space to stop and focus on what all these changes are like for you, and can help you to navigate feelings of grief, loss, anxiety, depression, or frustration that may arise. Psychologists also work collaboratively with people to develop effective coping strategies and resilience-building techniques tailored to each individual and their specific needs. This gives you tools and techniques for making sense of your emotional experience out in the real world, and into the future.

How Psychologists Can Support People with Chronic Health Conditions / Sydney City Psychology

2. Adjustment and Making Sense:

Coming to terms with a chronic health condition often requires a process of major adjustment. Psychologists assist individuals in understanding and making their own meaningful sense of the impact of their condition on their lives, and the ways in which they can still focus on activities that relate to their unique values and interests. Psychologists can provide guidance in managing changes, setting expectations, and fostering a purposeful mindset that doesn’t minimise the challenging aspects of a chronic illness. Rather, psychologists help people to consider how they might still be able to focus on what matters most to them, while also coming to terms with the changes outside of their control.

3. Pain Management and Symptom Control:

For individuals with chronic pain or other distressing symptoms, psychologists can collaborate with healthcare teams to develop comprehensive pain management strategies. They employ evidence-based techniques such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and emotion and body focussed approaches to address factors influencing pain perception, develop pain coping skills, and enhance symptom control. Psychologists may also incorporate relaxation techniques, mindfulness practices, and biofeedback to promote effective pain management.

4. Health Behavior Change:

Many chronic health conditions come with a lot of changes to how you might have otherwise done things day-to-day. It might be remembering to take medication daily, changes to diet or exercise, monitoring particular symptoms on a regular basis, or learning about how your behaviours impact your health in a brand new way each day. Psychologists play a crucial role in helping people to make these behaviour changes effectively. This includes setting realistic health goals, skills for adherence to medical treatments, and developing strategies to overcome barriers to these changes. Psychologists also address factors such as motivation, self-efficacy, and resilience, empowering people to actively participate in their healthcare and make informed decisions that work best for them based on their values and preferences.

How Psychologists Can Support People with Chronic Health Conditions / Sydney City Psychology

5. Communication and Relationship Support:

Chronic health conditions can impact relationships with family, friends, colleagues, and caregivers. Psychologists can help with effective communication strategies, navigating changes in roles and dynamics, and they can offer relationship support. They also address concerns related to caregiver burden, family functioning, and help individuals foster supportive networks for emotional and practical assistance.

6. Planning and Difficult Decision-making:

Some chronic health conditions come with a challenging prognosis for the future. You may be facing a future where the expectation is that symptoms will worsen over time, and there may come a time when you won’t be able to make decisions about what happens in the advanced stages of illness. A psychologist can work with you to face the most difficult aspects of your diagnosis, and to support you to have the conversations and undertake planning for the time when your health declines. This includes planning for end of life care, thinking through prioritising what matters most to you in the later stages of your life, and help with having these conversations with significant others if needed. These can be painful and anxiety-provoking facts to consider, so psychologists can walk with you through that process of planning and decision-making..

Conclusion:

Living with a chronic health condition can be a complex and demanding journey. Psychologists offer invaluable support, helping people address the emotional, psychological, and social aspects of the illness. This includes work on behavioural changes that can come with chronic illness, as well as emotional sense-making, values-alignment, planning and decision-making that can be challenging to navigate alone, and pain and symptom management over the long-term. They are well placed to help individuals with chronic health conditions, their carers, the family, as well as couples therapy support for making sense of a diagnosis within the confines of a relationship.

Remember, with the right support and a comprehensive approach to healthcare, people with chronic health conditions can lead fulfilling lives, maintain meaningful relationships, and cultivate psychological resilience despite the challenges or the prognosis.

We are here to support you to live well, no matter the circumstance. Our team includes clinical psychologists with experience in body-based therapies and the intersection between chronic physical health conditions and mental health, as well as a GP who has a special interest in chronic pain and chronic illness. Together, we can come up with a comprehensive plan to bring clarity back to your day-to-day.  Reach out today to book some time with us.

How Psychologists Can Support People with Chronic Health Conditions / Sydney City Psychology