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BLOG: Coping with a Medical Diagnosis and the Importance of Seeking Professional Counselling

Receiving a medical diagnosis, whether it be life-altering or life-limiting, triggers a cascade of emotions that can be challenging to navigate and process alone. 




This blog explores the importance of counselling in managing the emotional complexities of a medical diagnosis, highlighting the significance of not burdening loved ones with the weight of these concerns.


While the support of family and friends is invaluable, seeking professional counselling becomes crucial in managing the emotional rollercoaster effectively. Professional counselling also ensures that the emotional burden is shared with someone equipped to provide the necessary support.


The Burden on Loved Ones and the Limits of Informal Support Systems:


  • Limited Expertise:  Family and friends, no matter how well-intentioned, may lack the professional expertise required to address the emotional intricacies that accompany a medical diagnosis.  Counsellors are trained to provide specific interventions tailored to the individual’s needs.


  • Objective Perspective:  Counsellors bring an objective and unbiased perspective to the conversation.  Unlike family and friends who may be emotionally invested, counsellors can offer impartial guidance, helping individuals gain clarity and make informed decisions regarding their emotional well-being and care needs.

  • Preservation of Relationships: Relying solely on loved ones for emotional support can strain relationships.Friends and family may find it challenging to navigate the emotional complexities of the situation, leading to misunderstandings and conflicts.  Counselling provides a buffer, preserving familial and social bonds during difficult times.

  • Unintended Emotional Burden: Loved ones undoubtedly want to offer support, but they may not possess the skills or knowledge to address the depth of emotional distress associated with a medical diagnosis. Friends and family may also be struggling with their own emotions relating to your diagnosis and sharing your intense emotions with them can unintentionally burden them, leading to feelings of helplessness and frustration. 



The Role of Professional Counselling: 


  • Confidentiality and Non-Judgmental Space: Counsellors provide a confidential and non-judgmental space for individuals to explore their emotions. Confidentiality is a cornerstone of counselling, and this secure environment encourages open and honest communication, fostering a sense of trust and safety that may be difficult to achieve within personal relationships.

  • Empowerment and Resilience Building: Through counselling, individuals can rediscover their inner strength and resilience. Counsellors work collaboratively with clients to set achievable goals, helping them regain a sense of control over their lives. This empowerment is essential in fostering a positive outlook and proactive mindset.

  • Grief and Loss Processing: A medical diagnosis often brings a sense of loss – loss of health, job, independence, financial security, or future plans. Counselling provides a space to process and navigate the grieving process associated with these losses, helping individuals find meaning and acceptance in their changed circumstances.

  • Coping Strategies: Counsellors are trained in a variety of therapeutic techniques designed to address the emotional impact of a medical diagnosis. These strategies go beyond the scope of general emotional support and empower individuals with tools to cope effectively.

  • Emotional Release: Counselling offers a structured environment for emotional release. Through guided discussions and therapeutic interventions, individuals can express their feelings without fear of burdening their loved ones. This emotional release is crucial for processing grief, fear, and other intense emotions.

  • Preventing Caregiver Burnout: Loved ones often become caregivers, and the emotional toll of supporting someone with a medical condition can lead to caregiver burnout. Counselling helps distribute the emotional load, preventing burnout and preserving the well-being of those providing care.


Types of Counselling Techniques:

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT): CBT is a goal-oriented therapeutic approach that focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns. It helps individuals manage their emotional responses, foster a more positive outlook on their situation.


Mindfulness Strategies: Mindfulness is the practice of cultivating present-moment awareness without judgment. It involves paying attention to thoughts, feelings, and sensations in a non-reactive manner. In the context of medical diagnoses, mindfulness techniques are powerful tools for managing stress, enhancing emotional well-being, and fostering a sense of acceptance.

Person-Centred Therapy: This humanistic approach emphasises empathy, unconditional positive regard, and genuineness.Person-Centred therapy allows individuals to explore their feelings in a non-judgmental environment, promoting self-exploration and personal growth.

Existential Therapy: Existential therapy helps individuals explore the meaning and purpose of their lives in the context of their medical diagnosis. It encourages a deeper understanding of one’s values and priorities, leading to a more meaningful existence.



A valuable therapeutic approach that can be particularly beneficial for individuals facing life-altering or life-limiting medical diagnoses is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).  


Let’s explore how ACT can contribute to the counselling process in such situations.


Understanding ACT:  ACT is a therapeutic technique that combines aspects of CBT with mindfulness strategies. It emphasizes acceptance of difficult thoughts and feelings, the importance of being present in the moment, and committing to actions aligned with one’s values. In the context of medical diagnoses, ACT can be a powerful tool for fostering psychological flexibility and enhancing the quality of life.



Key Components of ACT:


  • Acceptance:  ACT encourages individuals to accept the reality of their situation, including the emotional challenges that arise. ACT equips individuals with skills to confront challenges rather than avoid them, and to manage uncertainty that often accompanies medical diagnoses. It doesn’t imply resignation but rather acknowledgment of what is, allowing individuals to redirect their energy towards meaningful actions.

  • Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a central component of ACT. Practicing mindfulness helps individuals stay present, observe their thoughts and feelings, without judgment, and cultivate a more compassionate relationship with themselves.

  • Diffusion: ACT teaches diffusion techniques to help individuals detach from distressing thoughts.By seeing thoughts as passing events rather than absolute truths, individuals can reduce the impact of negative thinking patterns.

  • Values Clarification: Identifying and clarifying one’s values is crucial in ACT.  This process helps individuals connect with what truly matters to them, guiding their decisions and actions even in the face of health challenges. ACT empowers individuals to maintain focus on what brings joy and meaning to their lives, promoting an enhanced quality of life despite health challenges.

  • Committed Action: ACT emphasises taking meaningful, values-driven actions. Despite the difficulties posed by a medical diagnosis, individuals can identify and pursue actions that align with their values, fostering a sense of control, purpose, and fulfillment. 


CONCLUSION:


In the face of a medical diagnosis, the decision to seek professional counselling cannot be overstated.  It is not only an act of self-care but also a considerate choice that alleviates the burden on loved ones. 


By seeking support from a counsellor, individuals not only safeguard their personal relationships but also equip themselves with the tools needed to navigate the emotional complexities of their unique situation. 


The integration of counselling becomes paramount in empowering individuals to face the challenges of their medical diagnosis with resilience and grace, helping them emerge with a sense of strength and empowerment.


If you've received a medical diagnosis, reaching out for counselling is a crucial step –  you don't need to go through it alone. 


Maryanne Zarth

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