FAQs: Using Psychology in Coping with Serious Illness
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DR. Michael Shery, clinical psychology
2615 Three Oaks Rd. Cary, IL 60013
www.carypsychology.com 847 275
8236 (24 Hrs); firstname.lastname@example.org
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FAQs: Using Psychology in Coping with Serious
Q. How important is it to treat the mind as well as the body during a
A. When people are ill, it's important to deal with the illness on the
physical, emotional and spiritual levels. If you treat just the body, you short-change yourself.
We don't know exactly how the mind/body connection works, but we do have
biochemical evidence that there's a connection.
Q. What are some areas where psychology can help those patients diagnosed
with a serious illness?
A. There are six areas where psychology can help:
- finding the best fit in medical interventions
- forming a support group to help the patient
- dealing with the needs of family and friends
- reducing the side effects of medical treatments (like chemotherapy)
- managing pain
- helping patients cope with the "after-illness experience."
Q. How has psychology helped with specific
Psychological interventions are helping gay, HIV--positive men better deal with their
diagnosis, using stress management techniques, social support and body relaxation training. The interventions are
intended to counteract the fact that, for some people, finding out that they are HIV-positive may lead to social
isolation and poor coping strategies that could suppress the immune system.
Psychological interventions can help
before and after heart attacks. Brief psychological counseling before medical procedures produces shorter stays in
the critical-care unit, less emotional distress and shorter hospital stays. And after heart attacks, group therapy
for recovering heart patients improves psychological well-being and cuts the death rate in the first three years of
recovery. In addition, research has shown that two hours of psychological counseling per week for seven weeks
reduces by 60 percent the rate of rehospitalization for heart patients.
Cancer patients who have psychological
interventions have shown an improved quality of life as well as improved their physical health. Targeted group
therapy and relaxation training have been shown to improve patients' moods, lower their emotional distress and
improve their ability to cope with their illnesses.
Psychologists can also help medical
teams identify the best transplant candidates. Psychologists are extensively involved in assessing who is most
capable of dealing with the required medical regimen. Psychologists also intervene with those who are weak on such
skills, but who can develop them through behavioral change strategies and support.
Q. Why is it so important for patients who are diagnosed with a serious
illness to deal with their feelings at an early stage?
A. Being upset about having a serious illness is perfectly normal and
Patients need to feel a sense of mourning, loss and fear -- all of that is
reasonable. The goal is to let them experience it and move through it then they can emerge stronger and are more
likely to manage their negative emotions. If they feel they have to cover up every negative emotion, they can't get
beyond those feelings.
Q. What is the first reaction most patients have when they have been
diagnosed with a serious illness such as cancer?
A. The first reaction with cancer is a fear for loss of life. 'Cancer equals
death' is the first thing people go through. Am I going to die? After that issues begin to differ for each person
on what happens next. What treatment do I undertake? How do I make a choice? Will it be effective? What else can I
do to conquer my illness?
Q. There are many options available as to what treatment patients should
have. How can talking with a psychologist best prepare them for making that choice?
A. Overall, talking to a psychologist is an empowering process. Sometimes
patients have to fight for what they want. Sometimes they need to push a bit. Most patients are uncomfortable
pushing and asking questions because they're not the expert and it feels disrespectful.
Also, psychology is helpful for coping with the side effects of treatment.
Some people give up chemotherapy, even though it may threaten their life, because they can't deal with the side
Too often, a patient's psychological needs throughout the treatment regime
are not taken into account. Making an educated choice with the patient means weighing both their psychological
needs and their medical needs.
Q. How can psychology help people to manage their
A. Psychologists can help people manage their pain by giving them language to
describe the pain both to themselves and to physicians (is it shooting or numbing pain, for example) and can
suggest helpful medications or use hypnosis as a pain management intervention.
Q. How are friends, family and loved ones affected by a personís serious
A. Serious illness can affect the whole family, not just the patient.
Psychology deals not only with the patient, but also with his or her aging parents, children, spouse, or friends
who are involved with that patient's treatments. The stress on a partner is enormous -- they're taking over the
other person's role, the financial burden, the burden of children, while simultaneously containing their own
feelings. The stress on the caretaker cannot be understated. And children feel stress too. Parents mistakenly
assume that theyíre hiding the illness from children in the family, but children often know when something is
The aging parents also are affected. Their child is dying. They may be in
their 70s and their child may be 40, but it's still their child. There are many, many people affected when someone
is seriously ill.
Q. Some believe that after that last physical therapy treatment, the
illness is gone. Isn't it true that the battle is really just beginning?
A. The rest of the world may want the patient to go back to normal after the
treatment is over, but the survivor of a serious illness will never return to who they were. They may still be
upset, anxious and worried. They've lost the protective umbrella of being under physician care. They're afraid
they'll have a recurrence or they are left with bodily disfigurement. They're not back to themselves. They need to
be reintegrated into the world. Psychology can help long after the physical therapy is over.
Q. Are there any positives that come out of dealing with a chronic
A. One study shows that dealing with a serious illness such as cancer can
make people reassess their lifeís priorities and get a better sense of who they are.
Adaped from a roundtable discussion featuring: Sandra Haber, PhD, a
psychologist in private practice in New York City, an associate clinical professor of psychology at the Derner
Institute at Adelphi University and a fellow of the American Psychological Association; Michael Antoni, PhD, and
Neil Schneiderman, PhD, of the University of Miami; and Mary Ellen Olbrisch, PhD, of Virginia Commonwealth
Dr. Mike Shery is the director of ACRS and is a licensed clinical psychologist.
He has practiced clinical psychology for approximately 24 years and is
affiliated with almost all health plans, including: ValueOptions, Medicare,
Cigna, Cigna Behavioral Health, United Health Care, Aetna, First Health,
Healthstar, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, ComPsych, Magellan Health, HFN,
Tricare, Humana, most union local plans, most school district plans, Unicare,
ChoiceCare, CAPP, Multiplan, Mental Health Network, Managed Health Network, PHCS,
PPONext, Humana Military-Tricare, United Behavioral Health and Beech Street.
He is board certified as a specialist in professional counseling by the
International Academy of Behavioral Medicine, Counseling
and Psychotherapy. He a member of the American Counseling
The office is located in Cary, IL, near Crystal Lake and Algonquin, northern
Kane County and in southern McHenry County. In select cases, phone consultations
are available for those who don’t live locally>
To make an appointment>
New Patient Registration or to learn more about the psychological
services he provides call him at 1-847-275-8236 (24 Hrs).
To make an appointment, schedule yourself now;
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