Part of the training in most psychology doctoral programs involves going through your own personal therapy or analysis. There are two main reasons for this: 1) It is important for psychologists to truly understand themselves in every way, especially to recognize issues if they occur when doing therapy, and 2) to experience being on the “other” side of therapy and to experience personally that asking for help from a professional is not a sign of weakness.
Everyone does need support and a supportive network. This does not mean you are weak, but that you are human. People really do need people, as the song goes. This is true whether or not you have, or know, or care for a person with chronic illness. There are, however, differences in the amount and kinds of support people need — and the kinds of support people are able and willing to provide.
Back in the early part of the 20th century a psychologist (Sullivan) stated that children would be okay if they had just one good friend by age 11 or 12. More than one friend was fine, but only one was/is necessary. The kind of support system the patient already has is a very important factor. Do you already have the support of someone you can count on? Not everyone needs to see a professional counselor, social worker, therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist.
How does someone know when they need support or what kind of support they need? How does someone know how to ask for support or help or how to offer it when someone else needs support? There are no blanket answers here, because even with universal human needs, there are innumerable individual differences in people.
When I received my own diagnosis of Pemphigus I did what I would tell anyone to do: I consulted with a professional, and over the years I have checked in every couple of years to make sure I have an objective perspective. Sometimes it feels like jumping through hoops (e.g., just trying to get to the right doctor or treatment) , and sometimes it feels like leaping through “flaming” hoops (e.g., trying to get insurance coverage, etc.). When running the Pittsburgh P/P support group, I realized that for many/ most patients it is most important to reach out when they had their worst symptoms.
How a person will react/ respond to the illness depends on many factors. If you find yourself isolating yourself, tearful much of the time, feeling helpless or hopeless, not enjoying things previously enjoyed or having sleep difficulties (difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, or early morning awakening) those are some indicators that at the very least a professional consult may be critical for the best quality life under what may be extremely difficult conditions.
My belief is that everyone is entitled to feel the best they can under even extraordinary conditions. Sometimes this involves prescriptions of psychotropic medications, psychotherapy, or some combination of both. Some people have a need to discuss very personal and difficult subjects on a regular basis and later need only “booster” checkup appointments. (I am available for emails and phone calls) There is no right answer.
Also, support can come from asking someone to help with basic activities like grocery shopping, cooking or laundry. Some people are better at support through doing, rather than being (there for you).
The IPPF and other groups provide a special kind of connection (a “common bond”) for people (and caregivers) with these illnesses, and innumerable personal relationships and precious friendships have been formed over the years. In many cities and other countries local groups have existed for more than a decade! Kudos to those who are running groups and to those who are in remission and continue to be active in the P/P community.
At the upcoming Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, PA at the end of April, 2010, I look forward to meeting and talking to as many of you as I can. The meeting includes support in the form of information, access to the world’s leading doctors in P/P, and the connection with others. There will be opportunities for breakout sessions tailored to your interests, and do share any suggestions about other topics which may be helpful in the future.
Think about ways you may be able to enlarge your own support systems or reach out to others who may be having difficulties. In the meantime, remember Frank Sinatra’s mantra: DO BE DO BE DO BE DO!