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How can therapy help someone who has a chronic illness?

Chronic illnesses are those that last at least one year, require ongoing medical care, or limit one’s daily activities. They include cancer, heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, asthma, HIV/AIDS, stroke, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Crohn's disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, kidney disease, and others. Many adults live with more than one of these conditions. The lifestyle changes these conditions demand, including limitations on relationships, and the stress those changes cause, can lead to anxiety, anger, and sometimes depression. People with a chronic illness have a higher risk of depression than others, and their depressive symptoms are typically more severe.

What do chronic illness therapists do?

A therapist with experience helping people who have chronic illnesses works in connection with medical doctors to develop a personalised plan to manage the individual’s condition. They may, for example, help an individual discover and commit to positive activities that give them a sense of positivity or mastery, among other steps that move them toward feeling greater control of their condition and more confidence in their coping skills, all of which can enable them to ward off depression or anxiety.

What type of therapy is best for chronic illness?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the primary form of talk therapy used to help people who live with a chronic illness. Those with a chronic illness often struggle to cope with often-debilitating medical treatments (such as chemotherapy), as well as doubt, uncertainty and frequently shifting moods. Core principles of CBT, which can be learned in therapy sessions, can empower someone to challenge and reject unhelpful or catastrophising thoughts when they arise. When someone learns to examine their thoughts about their illness, they can better manage its shifting demands and remain more consistently positive.

Can you treat chronic illness with therapy?

While therapy may not directly ameliorate medical symptoms, it can significantly improve the subjective well-being of an individual with a chronic illness. Many experience grief for routines that have been lost, or future plans that may not be feasible. They may also experience changes in mood and on-going struggles with low mood. Research finds that depression, stress, and anxiety can exacerbate symptoms of chronic illness. Research also finds that individuals who face the reality of their diagnosis rather than trying to avoid it and who find ways to take daily, positive actions, experience greater satisfaction and healthier adjustment. Therapy can help with all of these goals.