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Helping People Coping with Illness

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I can tell you that there are people who tell me they’ve noticed a difference in me since my heart attack almost two years ago. I have noticed it myself. Even though there’s nothing structurally wrong with my heart that hasn’t been wrong with it since before I was born (according to two separate stress tests, the heart attack caused zero damage), I’m a different guy for having experienced it. Those changes are coming to a head now, and I am looking for ways to make myself more like what I was before. I’m getting some guidance from people close to me: one is an NLP Practitioner, and the other is a psychologist who specializes in trauma. I need this guidance because it’s so easy for a person to kid themselves.

The economy is stressing lots of people to the point of strain now, and because strain is a leading cause of various illnesses, the opportunity for we people-helpers to help the physically ill with their emotional and mental challenges is likely to present itself more and more often. You never know when you might have a friend, relative, or co-worker who’s suddenly faced with something bigger than they’re equipped to handle alone.

The Psych Central blog has featured several “coping with illness” articles over the past couple of months. I’d like to draw your attention to three of them.

Breast Cancer Coping Styles refers to a Temple University study on responses to a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Ericksen set out to explore how women respond to a diagnosis of breast cancer shortly after receiving her own diagnosis. She discovered there are four types of responders, including the “take charge” type, each valuable for different women.

And, because breasts are one of the most important Western symbols of femininity and breast cancer receives more attention in the media than other forms of cancer, Ericksen also investigated how the cultural messages women receive about breast cancer inform their journeys.

PTSD Among ICU Survivors references an article from HBNS which reports that one in five ICU survivors experiences PTSD Symptoms.

PTSD can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed life-threatening events, such as serious accidents, violent personal assaults or natural disasters. Symptoms — which include nightmares and problems sleeping, flashbacks, irritability, anger and feelings of emotional detachment or numbness — often extend for months or years after the traumatic event, and affect about 6.8 percent of the general U.S. population, according to National Center for PTSD figures.

The trauma of an ICU stay triggers PTSD symptoms in many survivors and negatively can affect a person’s quality of life after leaving the hospital, the authors discovered.

Family Members Experience PTSD highlights a University of Pittsburgh study on how families of ICU survivors also experience PTSD.

Researchers found that symptoms of anxiety and depression in family members of ICU patients diminished over time, but high rates of post-traumatic stress and complicated grief remained.

“Our findings suggest that family members of patients in the intensive care unit are at risk for serious psychological disorders that may require treatment,” said Cindy L. Bryce, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine and health policy and management at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

One more thing I want to mention is a book which forever changed the way I think about working with people who are facing life-changing events: When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Harold S. Kushner. If you haven’t read it yet, believe me, it’s worth the time and effort. I keep having to buy new copies because whenever I loan mine, it doesn’t come back.

So keep your eyes, ears, and heart open to those in pain, and remember those close to them as well.

Written by Michael DeBusk

November 22nd, 2008 at 4:17 pm

Posted in Articles,Neuro,Psych

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