Do you face a chronic pain or health problem which is causing you mental distress? I may be able to help. I’m a clinical psychologist in London experienced in helping people with the psychological problems which result from pain and poor health. Freedom from discomfort and pain is one of the most basic human needs, so when we face illness and pain, we find it difficult to meet our other needs, we get other problems, and our quality of life as a whole goes down. Fortunately, even when our bodies are sick or in pain, our minds can influence what we think, feel and do about the signals our bodies send us. By refocusing our attention, changing our attitudes, relaxing our bodies, and problem solving how to cope more effectively, we can minimise the effects that pain and illness have on our lives.
Below I describe my Journeybuilding™ Approach to managing health problems. Psychology of Health Problems from A to F and Psychological Help for Health Problems from A to F. Read on to discover how your mind may be not helping you manage your health problems, and how I can help you learn to manage your mind in therapy, so that you can manage your health, and your life, better.
The Psychology of Health Problems from A to F
The body and mind influence one another in an ongoing circular pathway, which can be vicious or virtuous. See if you can spot your own pattern in the pathway running from A to F. I can help you in therapy to clarify each step on the path, and take different turns so that you end up in a better place.
Antecedents and Activators…include health problems like: asthma, anemia, arthritis, cancer, coeliac disease, coronary heart disease, Crohn’s disease, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)/myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), diabetes, fibromyalgia, HIV/AIDS, industrial injury, multiple sclerosis, and tinnitus. These health problems produce symptoms such as pain, fatigue, breathlessness, discomfort, loss of sensation, incontinence, and physical disability.
Beliefs and Biases…triggered by health problems and their symptoms can include: rumination on causes, anticipation of future problems, a sense of incompetence and exclusion, victimhood, pessimism, negativity, defeatism and fatalism about the outcome.
Challenges and Concerns…generated by health problems and our beliefs about them include managing the symptoms of health problems and maintaining as normal a life as possible. However, to these challenges we may add: sadness, regret, and disappointment about the past; distress, lethargy and frustration about the present; feelings of powerlessness, self-pity, unworthiness, disgust, shame and humiliation about ourselves; guilt about unpaid debts to others; and anxiety about the future.
Decisions and Defences…our minds use to cope with health problems may sometimes be unhelpful, including: denial that there is a problem, hypervigilance for symptoms, dissociating from our bodies, blaming others, remaining passive, over-dependence, demandingness towards others, indecisiveness, rebelliousness against helpers, fantasy, and suicidal thoughts.
Expressions and Effects…of these decisions that may also be unhelpful, include: inaction, concealment or dramatisation of symptoms, failing to seek medical advice, disengaging from or hostility to helpers, and non-cooperation with or non-adherence to treatment and medications.
Follow ons…from these negative effects can include poorly managed disease, worsened symptoms and reduced quality of life, difficult relationships at home and work, grievances, isolation, litigation, and depression. These outcomes then become new activators in an ongoing vicious cycle of poor health. ^Top
Psychological Help for Health Problems from A to F
Psychological help for health problems begins with the recognition that even physical problems have a psychological component. Our brains influence how our bodies respond to pain and illness by adjusting the immune system, triggering hormones, tensing muscles, changing postures, and thinking about how we can cope in response. In therapy I can help you learn to use your brain to channel those influences to good effect.
Changing Antecedents and Activators…
A first task when you suspect a health problem is to face the possibility and seek help. That begins with identifying the pattern of symptoms and possible triggers, then presenting that information to doctors in a way that they can hear and process it. I can help you to: accept that you may have a health problem, work out how to effectively monitor your symptoms, and take action to present your case well to the medical system. Later when you have a diagnosis your doctor may suggest ways you can stop triggering symptoms. I can help you find the willpower to stay away from tempting trigger situations.
Changing Beliefs and Biases…
Finding out as much as you can about your health problem will help you access the right care. But you’ll need to guard against both unrealistic optimism and unnecessary pessimism. I can help you weigh the risks and opportunities to find that middle ground. You may find yourself tempted to take a negative view of yourself, the world and your future. Therapy can help remind you of your strengths and reinforce your belief in your ability to cope.
Changing Concerns and Challenges…
Health difficulties and negative beliefs about them can lead to a rush of negative emotions. I can help you find ways to manage those feelings, adjust your priorities and set realistic goals to aim for in managing your health problems. Pain can be a particularly difficult challenge to bear. However, by learning to relax and breathe whilst remaining mindful of pain, you can more easily accept it and find the mental space for more rewarding things in your life. And by becoming calmer you may improve your body’s immune and endocrine responses, thus further reducing your symptoms.
Changing Decisions and Defences…
Health problems and the pain they bring are our natural enemies, but to contain and overcome them we need both strength and cunning. Support from others with the same problem can be invaluable, as can advocacy from patient groups. I can help you engage with those groups, and use the material they provide. In therapy you can learn to problem-solve improvements to your quality of life, take sensible decisions about which course to take, and accept more calmly what must be.
Changing Expression and Effects
We all need to continue to do things whilst we’re ill and in pain. Important routines of daily life, work, and treatment need to keep going. I can help you maintain that rhythm and adhere to treatments which you have decided will help you. By acting as your coach I can rouse you out of apathy, encourage you to engage with people who can help you, and maintain your relationships with others in difficult times.
Health problems and pain put strain on other parts of our lives, which can cause us further difficulties. I can help you talk through and manage those further difficulties in therapy. But I can also help you reward yourself each time you cope better, so that you build habits of resilience and self-belief to carry you through your difficulties. ^Top
How successful am I? Read what some of my clients say about me here. Or if you have a chronic problem with health or pain, and you think it’s affecting you psychologically, why not contact me using the form on the right. I’ll be happy to talk to you about how I can help.