Chronic medical conditions come with a wide range of adjustments, ranging from the physical and practical to the social and emotional. Certainly those that are life-threatening bring a great amount of psychological consequence. But those that are not life-threatening can also diminish quality of life, especially when symptoms of the condition disrupt social interaction or confidence. For example, a new survey of patients with severe psoriasis finds that, for 50% of these patients, fear of what others think has a greater impact on their lives than the physical elements of the condition itself. A quarter have been diagnosed with depression (with one-fifth of those cases have been directly attributed to the skin condition). And 63% of the patients reported lowered feelings of self-worth because of their condition.
These figures document that psoriasis’s emotional impact is a very real part of living with the condition, yet it’s not something that most patients feel comfortable talking about. Less than one third “feel able to communicate openly” about the disease’s impact on their life, and fewer than half have spoken with their healthcare provider about these concerns. Earlier this year, dermatologists were surveyed, and only 1 in 5 thought that minimizing psoriasis’ psychological impact was an important part of managing the condition.
This disconnect expands well beyond psoriasis. Dozens of medical conditions, both chronic and temporary, can impacts a person’s confidence in social situations or comfort with their appearance. While therapy and counseling cannot alter the physical symptoms of a medical condition, therapists can help patients learn healthy ways of dealing with the psychological fallout. But it needs to start with awareness in the doctor’s office. Medical practitioners must recognize the emotional impact of a condition and be willing to refer patients to a counselor, therapist, or other mental health professional equipped to address the non-medical elements of living with a medical condition.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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