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Chronic HealtH Concerns
What it is: The CDC estimates that 6/10 adults in the United States experience chronic illness (CDC, 2022). Chronic illness is a broad umbrella encompassing several diagnoses including heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes. It is also estimated that 20% of adults in the United States experience chronic pain (CDC, 2020). While chronic health and pain conditions are not psychological disorders, psychological factors may contribute to a person’s ability to adjust to diagnosis, manage pain and lifestyle factors effectively, and/or create a full and meaningful life with their illness. Pre-existing mental health concerns (e.g., depression or anxiety) may also predate and interact with the chronic pain conditions to reduce an individual’s ability to be resilient to the new or ongoing health stressors.
Most therapists have general techniques to help with health (e.g., sleep, healthy eating) or resiliency (e.g., anxiety reduction, hope building) behaviors; however, some individuals may benefit from additional specialization to best fit their therapeutic needs. When an individual is seeking treatment specifically for the psychological impacts of a chronic health condition, an exacerbation of a pre-existing mental health condition due to changes in physical health, or has such a complicated physical health picture that increased medical knowledge and coordination of care is essential, a health psychologist may be particularly beneficial. The American Psychological Association recognizes health psychology as a subspecialty of psychology that considers biological, social, and psychological factors that impact health and well-being (APA, 2014). Health psychologists specifically seek to understand the interrelationships between these factors in order to help individuals make changes to increase health management and overall well-being. Health psychologists are more likely to have in-depth knowledge about specific health conditions, the effects of the conditions and the medical interventions on psychological health, and experience interfacing with multiple physical health professionals as part of their practice. Treatment targets often include adjustment to diagnosis, developing robust and adapted coping strategies, and/or behavioral modification to increase effective health management (e.g., increasing physical activity; smoking cessation).
Associated Concerns: Anxiety or stress, mood disturbance, obsessions or compulsions (often related to health anxiety), substance use disorders, traumatic experiences
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