Chronic illness

Chronic illnesses are health conditions that persist for a long period of time, often throughout a person’s life. Such illnesses generally have complex causes and lead to impairment or disability (1). The likelihood of experiencing chronic illness increases as we age.

Chronic illness can impact significantly on people’s lives; it can alter the way a person sees the world, changing how they think, feel and behave. Some may additionally experience chronic pain or mental health symptoms as a result. Chronic illness can restrict our ability to participate at school or work, affect our relationships, or make it difficult to go about other usual activities.

Generally, chronic illnesses do not resolve by themselves and can need substantial ongoing treatment. This in itself can also be a cause of stress. However, with the right treatment plan in place, which may include therapy, it’s possible to have a better quality of life.

Examples of a chronic illness

Chronic illnesses can be physical or psychological in nature. Some examples include:

Prevalence of chronic illness

Chronic illnesses are relatively common. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 3 in 5 Americans are living with a chronic illness of some kind. In addition, 2 in 5 adults have two or more chronic illnesses (2).

Research suggests that the effects of chronic illness vary by gender. For example, one study reported that females have a higher rate of hospitalization than males for asthma. Males have a higher hospitalization rate for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease, in terms of mortality rate (3).

It appears that there is a relationship between chronic illness and mental health problems. People who are experiencing chronic illness may be at increased risk of mental health challenges. However, there is also evidence to suggest that mental health problems such as stress or depression are associated with an increased risk of chronic illness (4).

Common challenges experienced by people with chronic illnesses

Chronic illness can affect us in so many different ways, physically, psychologically and socially. Some examples of the challenges faced by people with a chronic illness include:

Mental health and chronic illness

Living with chronic illness can be distressing. It impacts on a person’s relationships and ability to go about their usual daily activities. Some people experience intense emotions, many of which are normal and reduce over time. Others may experience mental health challenges. Common experiences include:

What to do if you’re experiencing a chronic illness

The treatment of chronic illness often involves a team of practitioners from different health professions addressing a combination of physical, psychological and social factors. Treatment often includes education, psychological therapy and medical interventions. Consult with your health care provider about a combination of these options:

Chronic illness: Therapy types to consider  

Therapy can be an important part of a treatment plan for chronic illnesses; it addresses the psychological consequences of what is often considered to be a purely physical or medical problem. There are many effective types of therapy that can help improve your mood and quality of life. Common approaches include:

What to look for in a therapist for chronic illness

There are several factors to keep in mind when selecting a mental health professional, including:

Education and credentials

Look for a licensed mental health professional with experience and specialized training in chronic illnesses. Many therapists, such as health psychologists, have a particular interest and specific training in treating chronic illness. They will often include this information in their biographies so that it’s easy for you to find when searching for a therapist.

Personal fit

It’s important to find a therapist with whom you feel comfortable working. The trusting working relationship between you and your therapist, known as the “therapeutic alliance” can have a huge impact on the efficacy of therapy. Many people with chronic illness struggle with the feeling that nobody understands what they are going through. It’s particularly important that you are working with a therapist you trust and helps you to feel that they do understand your experience.

Talk in advance

The best way to judge how you might feel about your prospective therapist is to ask for a preliminary phone call (you can do this with our vetted Zencare therapists). Most therapists will be happy to oblige. This gives you the opportunity to ask about:

Try to speak to a few different therapists before making your mind up.

Find the best chronic illness therapists near you

Find therapists who specialize in chronic illness on Zencare, below. Search by insurance, fees, and location; watch therapist introductory videos; and book free initial calls to find the right therapist for you!

New to therapy? Learn about how to find a therapist here.

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