How can Psychotherapy help with Physical Health Issues? Are you struggling to manage a Long Term Health Condition? Do you worry about physical symptoms? Are you a parent or a carer of someone with a health condition? Then read on...
The link between our physical and psychological /emotional well-being is generally widely accepted. If you think how we react physically to emotional triggers - tears when we are sad or happy, heart racing when we’re excited or anxious, butterflies in our tummy when we’re nervous - it makes it clear. We also might recognise that when we’re ‘run down’ we are more susceptible to infection or pain.
The link between the physical and emotional goes further. Living with a long term health condition can make us prone to depression or anxiety, and having depression or anxiety can also make it more difficult for us to look after ourselves well. Additionally, if we are anxious, we may focus on physical sensations in a way which can make us think there is something terribly wrong, and that can make us even more worried. Health anxiety is a specific problem in itself, and can be helped by psychotherapy. It is important to rule out medical conditions by seeking appropriate medical advice, but where there are unexplained symptoms, they can often be improved through psychological treatment.
In terms of living with a physical health condition, either as an individual or as a family member sharing the concerns of someone with a health issue, then then emotional demands can be felt on many levels.
Long term Health Conditions & Diabetes
If you have diabetes, the emphasis on food, diet and ‘blood sugars’ can make many aspects of life feel more difficult and restrictive, leading to a resentful sense of needing to comply or fit in with things (including treatment), or to a kind of ‘rebelliousness’, which only works against us and exacerbates health issues.
You may feel frustrated by your difficulty with ‘control’, with keeping your blood sugars within a healthy range, and you might worry that others, including your health care team, get frustrated as if somehow you’re ‘failing’ to look after yourself. Feelings like this can contribute to, (and stem from), poor self-esteem. The need to manage the condition is really important because of the range of long term effects of ‘poor diabetic control’, and it may also be that the early care you experienced, either in childhood within the family, or as a result of needing hospital or medical care, has impacted on how you now care for yourself as an adult. If you are still in your childhood, these stresses may be much more current. Therapy can help unravel the often unconscious patterns of self-care that get repeated out negatively so that with more awareness you can do something differently for yourself. In this way therapy can help to improve your physical and your emotional self. Previous patterns can, and do, change.
If you are a parent of a child with diabetes, or other health condition, it can be hugely stressful to cope with, and particular difficulties often emerge around adolescence - a time of transition towards adulthood, and a time when it is naturally important for the child to assert themselves and find their independence. The teenage years are often characterised by natural rebelliousness. Whilst this is normal, it can make for extra conflict where ‘rebelling’ against ‘authority’, medical or parental care, is at play. The worries for parents can go through the roof with a sense of needing to ‘control’ their son or daughter – which exacerbates problems on all sorts of levels. If you are a parent of a child with health stresses, therapy can help untangle the issues and assist in seeing a way forward. Therapy can also make the more difficult and challenging times, that much more bearable.
If you can relate to anything described here, then perhaps therapy could help. Talking with an experienced therapist with knowledge of the physical aspects of health can be a way of taking control of things and help empower you towards a healthier self, and can also help if you are a carer or parent to cope with the challenges within the family.
Cal Nield is a UKCP registered Psychotherapist (Cognitive Analytic Therapist), having an MSc in Mental Health (Psychotherapy). She is also an accredited Clinical Supervisor in CAT
see also frequently asked questions about diabetes, and diabetes uk careline