Counseling for Patients with Chronic Illness

Dealing with a chronic illness or medical condition goes far beyond the physiological and medical challenges it poses. Chronic illness can strain your view of yourself, your relationships, your place in society, and your plans for the future.

Chronic illnesses are distinct from acute disease in that they last for a long time. Chronic illness and disability are both physical realities and social constructs. Sometimes medical and social norms don’t match a person’s physical experience. This means that any chronic illness list will necessarily exclude some diagnoses and some symptoms. Some chronic illness examples include:

  • Autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 1/juvenile diabetes
  • Metabolic disorders such as diabetes and polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Chronic pain conditions such as osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia
  • Progressive disorders such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder

In order to help individuals with chronic conditions deal effectively with adjustment to illness, counselors often employ a variety of interventions that have been shown to be useful in decreasing anxiety, fostering social support, and reducing symptom severity. Behavioral and cognitive-behavioral techniques are the primary interventions used. These approaches are often focused on symptoms, identify factors related to a particular problem, and attempt to modify the factors that cause or maintain the problem. These strategies have been found to be effective in enhancing an individual’s compliance with medication and other health routines, helping with symptom control (e.g., pain management), and increasing a sense of self-efficacy, or an individual’s sense of control over his or her own life and disease. Some of the specific techniques used in these approaches include relaxation training, biofeedback, differential attention, goal setting, and positive practice.

A journey of a thousand miles… begins with a single step.

– Lao Tzu