Coping with severe diseases

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Psychosomatic medicine is rooted in the idea of a mind-body connection, which believes that what a person experiences emotionally and mentally can affect his or her body. The medical community now fully recognizes the value of psychotherapy: today, state of the art Western clinics offer patients complementary counseling or psychotherapy if they have to deal with severe diseases like cancer, genetic diseases, Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular diseases and other serious disorders, or if patients require difficult surgical procedures. Often, therapeutic counseling is also offered if someone has to deal with infertility, psychosomatic illness, allergies or other burdening physical problems where psychological factors might play a part.

Psychotherapy has been shown to improve compliance and reduce fears and phobias related to treatment procedures. It can further help reduce anxiety and depression and improve communication with the physicians. Observational studies evaluating the psychosocial status of patients with severe diseases like cancer even showed that patients with low levels of social and emotional support, or that suffered from chronic depression were more likely to die from cancer. Studies by the American oncologist Susan Levy, for example, demonstrated that breast cancer patients that had poor adjustment and lack of social support had lower natural killer cell activity (natural killer cell activity predicts disease progression and disease recurrence).

Since some results of similar studies have proved too insignificant, there are still lots of research to be done to find out about the exact correlation of emotional well-being and physical recovery when having to face disease. However, as complementary counseling or psychotherapy during treatment and recovery can improve quality of living remarkably and contribute to a more balanced emotional state, this kind of support should always be considered as an important part of a holistic treatment approach. Way too often, patients recovering from surgeries or severe diseases develop depression or anxiety, and often enough it is on us – good friends or relatives – to help them do the necessary steps to regain their mental wellbeing and strength as well.

Live the happy life you planned! Richard L. Fellner, a psychotherapist trained in Vienna, Austria, is head of the Pattaya Counseling Center in Thepprasit Soi 6 (Khopai) and offers consultations in English and German languages (after making appointments at 0854 370 470).