Having an acute medical illness not only impacts a person’s physical self but also the emotional side of health. To help understand what type of emotional impact acute or chronic medical illness can have on someone and for tips on how to cope with the illness, I have interviewed psychotherapist Andi Berry.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I am a registered and Board Certified Art Therapist, a licensed professional counselor in the state of Oklahoma and Wyoming as well as a Nationally Certified Counselor. I received my undergraduate education at Scripps College in Claremont CA, studying art and psychology. Later in life I returned to graduate school at the University of Oklahoma where I received a Masters in Human Relations and my training as an Art Therapist. My career path allowed me to work for many years as a professional photographer and as a ceramics teacher and clay artist. I believe that my years in photography and clay have helped me become a far better counselor than I would have been if I had not done these things previously. Photography taught me to be observant of the smallest details in humans and to watch hands, faces, and non-verbal language. It also taught me to wait for the “defining moment.” Clay work taught me that practice is everything and that mistakes often provide the most beautiful and fortuitous solutions to problems. Additionally, clay work is frequently a collaborative process and it taught me the power of multiples.”
What type of emotional impact can an acute or chronic medical illness have on someone?
“Many issues come under the heading of the emotional impact of an acute or chronic illness. These include but are not limited to: depression, anxiety, grief, increased physical problems in other areas of health, coping with fatigue, finding a way to be hopeful but not to live in denial, coping with ambiguity, living with depression, wondering why and how this happened, questioning if you really have what the doctor diagnosed, wondering what it will take to beat the disease, wondering how to parent when you are ill or how to be a caregiver for another person while you yourself are ill, finding ways to parent a child with cancer, dealing with a changed body image, facing sexual and reproductive health issues, reassessment of values and beliefs, changing friendships and other relationships, wondering about genetic components to your illness, dealing with finances, struggling with the frustration of insurance companies, having to revisit past issues of personal trauma and grief, coping with medical phobias, and addressing end of life planning and care.”
How can someone cope with the emotional side of acute or chronic medical illness?
“The first thing a person should do is be honest with themselves about how they are feeling and how this illness has affected their life. Then they should speak with their medical doctors about these issues; MD’s need to know what you are experiencing as they treat your illness. Your doctor may refer you to speak with a mental health professional to help you address some of your issues. A MD may also suggest that you consider psychotropic medications for relief of symptoms such as anxiety and depression.
When you are dealing with a major disease you will experience dis-ease, this does not mean you are suddenly crazy. Experiencing pain for a sustained time is demanding on the body and mind, it changes us. You can care for yourself in several ways. Take a bit of time to learn about your medical condition and gain information from credible sources. Learn about and try to practice “Sleep Hygiene.” Take some time to journal or write about your experience or try to find pictures that depict your feelings. If you are inclined grab some art materials and try to express the same in images or form. Practice relaxation, centering prayer or guided meditation. These all have been shown to help interrupt the pain and anxiety cycle. Be patient with yourself and others. If you feel that you could benefit from more support I encourage you to seek out a mental health professional that specializes in medical issues.
If you choose to seek support from a counselor or mental health professional ask questions when interviewing them to be sure that they specialize in medical counseling, it is a very specialized field and has distinct differences from other mental health counseling. A medical counselor will help you gain new skills and coping strategies such as relaxation and self hypnosis to interrupt the pain signals. He or she will give you a safe place to release the fear and anxiety. Once you have addressed the initial issues you will to be able to address other analogous issues such as but not limited to medical phobias, the stresses of parenting with an illness, sexuality and reproductive health and end of life issues. This process can last for a short time ‘” a few meetings, or for a long period of time, based on your needs. You should check with your insurance to find out coverage. Sometimes medical counseling services that are prescribed by your MD will be covered by your medical insurance and not under mental health. Check with your insurance for specifics.”
What type of professional help is available for someone that is having a difficult time coping with the emotional side a medical illness?
“There are a lot of ways to find professional assistance. If you are dealing with cancer, ask about oncology counseling at the cancer center you are associated with. All accredited cancer centers have some emotional support. For cancer there are many online and phone resources. Two great places to start are American Cancer Society (cancer.org) and Cancer Care (cancercare.org). To find a competent oncology counselor you can contact the American Psychosocial Oncology (apos-society.org). Other medical illnesses have good resources as well. Another way to find a good counselor is to use a search engine such as The American Counseling Association, The National Board of Certified Counselors, The American Art Therapy Association, and Find a Therapist or Psychology Today. These will help you locate a credentialed professional in your area and identify their specialties. You may find additional help through support groups offered locally or online.”
Thank you Andi for doing the interview on how to cope with the emotional side of acute or chronic medical illness. For more information on Andi Berry or her work you can check out her website at
http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/6243666/how_to_cope_with_a_life_threatening.html?cat=5″>How to Cope with a Life Threatening Illness
http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/5983052/how_to_adjust_to_chronic_illness.html?cat=72″>How to Adjust to a Chronic Illness
http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/7803550/tips_for_overcoming_the_emotional_pain.html?cat=5″>Tips for Overcoming the Pain of a Physical Illness