The Importance Of Psychotherapy In Dealing With Chronic Illness
Living with chronic illness can sometimes be as taxing mentally as it is physically. A November 2001 report published in the Western Journal of Medicine found that about 25 percent of patients with chronic illness also have significant psychological symptoms. But many people feel as though they’re being a burden by sharing their thoughts with others, so they simply bottle these emotions up.
Regular psychotherapy sessions are not only helpful in managing chronic mental health problems, but can also be useful in addressing the long-term symptoms of chronic illness. Read on to learn more about the benefits of psychotherapy and what you can expect during these sessions.
What To Expect In Psychotherapy
Support: A therapist can serve as a proverbial shoulder to cry on and your sessions with them are designed to be a safe space to share uncomfortable thoughts. A good therapist will be both compassionate and empathetic. They understand that temporary emotional support is sometimes all you need for a particular session.
Agenda setting: Are you hoping to begin accepting or understanding your illness? Learn how to manage it? Develop a support system? Your therapist will help you identify your goals for both the individual session and your long-term plan so that you can focus on what matters most to you.
Self-monitoring: Your therapist may give you a series of tasks, or “homework,” to complete outside of your sessions. These are usually simple exercises such as a keeping of a diary of when severe physical symptoms occur or recording mood fluctuations. Not only is that data useful for a therapist to have, but it can also spark discussions about how you can more effectively manage your illness.
Family counseling: It’s important for family members to better understand the nature of your illness. Learning how they can best communicate or be helpful can greatly improve your relationship with them. Therapy sessions give both sides the chance to share thoughts and concerns that they may not normally feel comfortably expressing, but these conversations are necessary to ensure that everyone is moving forward in a positive manner.
How Can Psychotherapy Help?
Changing distressing thoughts: Patients with chronic illness can sometimes develop inaccurate beliefs that are damaging (i.e. “I will always be sick,” “I’ll never find a treatment that will work”). Identifying these beliefs, understanding the underlying causes of them and learning how to modify them can help alleviate mental distress.
Improved mental outlook: There’s no doubt that a negative belief such as “Nothing I do to treat my illness will work” produces a negative snowball effect. The sadness from this belief can lead to an avoidance of activities, which in turn can spark further depression and lower energy levels. Correcting these negative patterns of thinking both lowers stress levels and improves your overall mood.
Improved physical health: Improvements in mental health also translate to benefits in physical health. Stress and depression can cause a decrease in daily self-care such as poor diet, lack of sleep and attention to hygiene, which can ultimately weaken the body’s immune system. Removing these triggers is beneficial across the board.
Does Insurance Pay For Psychotherapy?
Insurers are not required to provide psychotherapy or mental health benefits, but the vast majority of health plans do. Mental health care is also covered on any plan purchased under the Affordable Care Act. A law passed in 2008, known as the mental health parity law, additionally mandates that mental health benefits can’t have more restrictive requirements than physical health benefits.
However, your mental health care is still subject to out-of-pocket costs including copays, deductibles and co-insurance. Your insurance provider also reserves the right to deny certain forms of medical health care.
Obtaining Psychotherapy Without Insurance
If you lack health insurance or have limited financial means, there are still plenty of low-cost and even free ways to obtain counseling that will be helpful for you:
Community mental health centers: These centers offer affordable services that may even be free, depending on your income. They will ask about your level of income and then determine on a sliding scale how much each psychotherapy session will cost. Patients without a steady income are usually excused from paying.
Colleges and universities: If you’re a student, your college or university may offer free or low-cost psychological services. The only downfall is that your choices may be limited to a handful or even one therapist on campus
Research studies: Psychological research projects and similar clinical studies typically offer psychotherapy sessions that may even include medication. Participants are also usually compensated financially for their time.