You are not broken. You are breaking through. —Alex Myles
I have worked with many individuals affected by illness as a mental health professional. Their stories are ones of adversity and growth. Each of them has had to face incredible hardship as someone living with an illness or caring for someone diagnosed with an illness.
Often times, I find myself wishing that these clients knew how much their stories were interlaced with signs of strength, power, determination and will.
It turns out, other therapists working with individuals affected by illness also wished their clients knew what they did from listening to their stories. The following therapists have provided insight from their own practices for you.
Their wish (and mine) is to provide you with the hope that someone is in your corner during the challenging times you are facing. Feel free to share this compiled wisdom with others who may find value in the words of these therapists.
What is the one thing you wish your clients affected by illness knew?
“I wish that clients affected by illness knew that they too can build a tolerance for the pain and difficult feelings. It is a skill—just like any other—to be able to make a space for difficult feelings like frustration and sadness. It can be possible for people who are very ill to build their acceptance and tolerance of the tough parts of illness, too. It is amazing to see this takes place in the individual psychotherapy process. It is inspiring to see clients progress in this way, to levels that they did not ever think would be possible.”
Kathleen Courtney – Psychotherapist
“There is life after being diagnosed with a new disability. It may be hard to see that in the beginning or even right now, but being hopeful and exploring options, ideas, and opportunities as they arise may help you move forward in a slow and steady way, one day at a time.”
Davina Tiwari – MSW, RSW, CSFT
Social Worker, Meaningful Independence
“Illness is not just working towards physical healing and wellness, it is also about self-compassion, acceptance, and acknowledging grief and bereavement. It is about mental health wellness, emotional wellbeing, and spiritual connection. These all take time and commitment but are possible in living with illness, chronic pain, and chronic disease.”
Ilda Caeiro-Azzam – MSW, RSW
“There will be good days. Bad days. And, in-between days. You are not alone.”
Debbie Berlin – BSW, MSW, RSW
“Clients teach me a lot about visible and invisible disabilities and how others process or perceive them. They teach me about how the way our systems and structures are often set up in a way that does not provide the accessibility and flexibility needed for those dealing with an illness. As an ally, I am always working to try to advocate for a more inclusive and caring world. Small steps do count.”
Vicki Bonanno – MSW
“You can experience chronic pain/illness and still be ok. It doesn’t have to define who you are. You can change the way you relate to it.”
Ari Shapero – MSW, RSW
“Your stories that make up your being (including those surrounding your experience with illness) hold many opportunities. They are available to help you deal with the past, be in the present and dream of your future. Bring those stories to light one at a time to find their true power. During illness, you continue to have access to your strengths, learnings, and dreams.”
Gabrielle Fecteau – MSW
“I wish that people living with acute or chronic illness and their caregivers knew how incredibly challenging it is to deal with the uncertainty that comes with a diagnosis (along with everything else). I wish they could relax their expectations of themselves and accept that what they are doing is ‘good enough.’ Finally, I wish they – along with everyone else! – could cultivate self-compassion when they feel overwhelmed and learn to be gentle with themselves.”
Jennifer Finestone, MA, CCC, RDT
One thing I wish people to know living with chronic illness is that it is not the end. In fact, I have met and seen many people create a beautiful, fulfilling, and rewarding life not only in spite of their chronic illness but also because of it. In many ways my life has been enhanced as a result of living with a chronic illness and yours can be to.
Amy Hamilton, MAC, CCC
Thank you to the therapists that took the time to answer our question: What is the one thing you wish your clients affected by illness knew? Without them, this valuable collection of wisdom would not have been possible.