One of my passions in my psychotherapy and counselling practice is mind/body health and how our emotional experience influences our physical health. I enjoy working with clients with chronic or serious illness from a wider perspective than perhaps offered in the medical setting. One criticism of the mind/body paradigm however, is that suggesting our personality traits, thoughts, and unresolved issues contribute to illness in the body ‘blames’ patients for their misfortune. I take a different view.
I believe the key is differentiating between ‘blame’ and ‘responsibility’. Blame is generally thought of as being responsible for something occurring through fault or wrongdoing. It is inherently negative in connotation. Responsibility by contrast, more expansively includes concepts of empowerment, having some control, or ability to influence a given situation. Responsibility counteracts helplessness. In this way, having responsibility for one’s illness is a vastly more positive attitude than feeling blamed or indeed having no control over the situation at all.
I encourage clients to foster their sense of responsibility in facing illness by exploring the wholeness of their experience –both the physical and the emotional and spiritual dimensions. There is plenty of first-class research that confirms the positive impact of addressing these aspects of self in life-threatening illness (I recommend reading Mind Body Health for further information).
Not only has research shown patient empowerment and responsibility to dramatically impact outcome, it importantly positively impacts quality of life even when that life may be coming to an end. When patients connect with unresolved issues in their lives this can lead to greater meaning becoming apparent from a seemingly random illness. Finding meaning in adversity subsequently leads to personal growth and greater wellbeing (see my previous post on Life threatening illness as a soul journey). Whether we like it or not, illness is a part of self. When practitioners are reluctant to assign any responsibility for illness to the patient, it has the potential of denying parts of the patient’s self that may need to be known and integrated. I believe this takes away a rich opportunity for healing.
Counselling and psychotherapy therefore play a vital part in a person’s journey through illness. A therapist who can hold the potential of meaning-making, growth, and healing through such crises offers their client the best possibility of restoring wholeness at a time of dis-integration.
- Responsibility is greater than blame
- Responsibility gives us a sense of control and influence
- Illness is a part of self whether we like it or not
- Exploration leads to integration, integration leads to healing
I offer counselling for serious illness and work with many clients facing situations such as cancer, chron’s disease, psychosomatic illnesses and infertility, helping them to explore their illness from an emotional and spiritual perspective.
If you think therapy could help you, I would love to hear from you. Please call for an appointment at my Wimbledon counselling practice, 0796 9501 888.
Ref: Karren, K.J., Smith, N.L., Hafen, B.Q., Jenkins, K.J. (Eds.), (2010). Mind Body Health. San Fransisco, CA: Pearson Education Inc.