Getting Counseling Help -- Our Way!
By J. Kruger
Being ill raises all kinds of issues. Grief, loss, identity and meaning are only a few. Being ill and alone has its own set of challenges, such as isolation, depression and fear. If we are in any kinds of intimate relationship, problems may develop that we never had before. Existing issues may be exacerbated. A lot of ill people experience violence in a relationship with a partner, family member or caretaker. With our low physical and emotional stamina, how can we get the help we need?
First, we do not have to do it the way healthy people do.
Help is available by telephone and that means you can stay in bed or on the sofa and never have to leave home. It also means that you don't have to work with the nearest, unqualified person because that is who is within your physical range. Contact any organization for ill people, including those for MS, AIDS or cancer patients and ask for names of counselors skilled with chronic illness issues. If you can't identify anyone this way, call hospital social workers and ask for a referral.
Next, you can have short sessions whenever needed, probably half hours. You can work on an "as possible" basis rather than a regular schedule. Maybe you can handle one to three short sessions a month. Payment is usually by mailing checks.
If you are experiencing physical or emotional violence, please do not put off getting help. Call several hotline numbers to ask what all of your options are. A big problem for ill people is that shelters are noisy, crowded and stressful. Telephone helpline workers may know of alternatives that you wouldn't be aware of. For example, some religious orders have short or long-term stay retreat houses that are quiet and safe, where no explanation is needed for your stay.
Even if you can't pay anything for counseling or help, there are probably some free services. Call your local or regional mental health association as well as the organizations for ill people and tell them what you need.
Always interview counselors to assess their understanding of how chronic illness affects people. It is free to do this and it is important. Try to find someone who will focus on the present.
A good book for patients and counselors was written by Robert Shuman, a therapist with MS. The Psychology of Chronic Illness was published in 1996 (ISBN 0-465-09534-8) but is now out of print. You may need to request in by interlibrary loan or look for copies online.
If you start sessions but the counselor does not understand your physical limitations or the severity of your illness, don't waste energy. Try someone else. As tiring as it is to start again, it is worse to spend energy that you probably haven't got anyway educating a clueless person instead of getting the help you need.
Please do not give up when you need help. Just think outside of the box about counseling and do it according to your own needs.
It is not unusual for those with a chronic illness to encounter abuse. The National Domestic Abuse Hotime can be reached at 1-800-799-7233.
The National CFIDS Foundation* 103 Aletha Rd, Needham Ma 02492 * (781) 449-3535 Fax (781) 449-8606