When we think of disease, we often limit our thoughts to the physical effects of disease on the body. We must not forget the emotional consequences that chronic diseases and long-term treatments have both for patients and caregivers and which require psychological support. Being affected by a disease also means dealing with:
- the loss of bodily integrity;
- a different perception of body image;
- reduced autonomy in carrying out daily activities;
- a state of dependency on physicians, family members and the State;
- (in some cases) the acceptance of death.
The psychological effects of each of these points on the patient must not be underestimated.
Recognizing an invisible disease
Chronic patients are continually faced with challenges posed by their condition and may struggle emotionally, feeling angry, frustrated, confused, or may suffer from depression or anxiety. It is important to recognize these emotional states early on and seek proper psychological support in order to prevent patients and their families from experiencing a downward spiral that may lead to abandoning treatment. For this reason, emotional and psychological support is fundamental for therapeutic success, which involves more than just taking drugs as prescribed, but taking care of a patient’s overall well-being.
Psychological support during treatment
Psychologists have an important role in fighting chronic diseases. First of all, the psychologist must unite everyone involved in the patient’s treatment- family members, physicians, nurses and anyone else involved in the treatment plan, encouraging them to listen to the patient, while keeping in mind his or her personal background and emotional state in order to develop empathy and more effective communication.
Yet how can a psychologist help the patient? Firstly, the psychologist helps the patient process and accept the disease. Once this important step has been taken, the psychologist helps the patient to develop strategies that allow him or her to live a full life despite the disease. The psychologist works together with the physician from the onset of treatment, asking about the patient’s emotional, psychosocial and personal difficulties. The psychologist determines how to manage stressful situations, evaluates the patient’s flexibility towards new roles and situations and ascertains what resources may be drawn on. The psychologist also offers support for caregivers, so that they are not overwhelmed by stress or feelings of isolation.
Psychological support is one of the most important aspects of personalized services, such as Patient Support Programs, which are offered to patients and caregivers at the clinic, at home or from a distance. In addition to pharmacological treatment, a truly effective plan of treatment that can improve a patient’s quality of life must include effective psychological support.
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