Repeating bouts of anxiety about the state of our physical or mental health is a common reason for seeking counselling. Despite assurances from the medical profession that there is nothing seriously wrong, we find ourselves stuck in a loop of hyper-awareness and fear. How might counselling and psychotherapy help?
What Does Illness Mean To You?
As children, we will have soaked up how to respond to the signs and symptoms of physical and mental illness from the adults around us. Perhaps one or both of our parents were anxious about poor health and we learned to associate sickness and disease with fear. Maybe someone close to us became seriously ill and died. Or sometimes illness and death might have been shrouded in mystery in our family (‘if we don’t talk about it, maybe it will go away…’), avoided to the extent that we had no-one to go to for reassurance and information about what might have been normal bodily functions or minor concerns.
At the other extreme, we may have learnt that being ill was a way – perhaps the only reliable way – of attracting much-needed care and attention from others. Usually just out of awareness, this ‘solution’ to getting our needs met as a child may have stayed with us into adulthood. Whereas in childhood it might have at least appeared to work in a good enough way, as adults expressing our distress or need for contact through ill health comes with a high price tag (our life may be restricted as a result) and is more likely to be counter-productive.
The Perils Of Dr Google
If we find ourselves feeling lost, unsupported, lonely or overwhelmed we might unconsciously channel our distress into concern about alarmingly real physical or mental health symptoms. Here, Dr Google can be very seductive. We search online hoping to get a quick, hassle-free and reassuring explanation or diagnosis. The trouble is that this rarely happens and we can end up frightening ourselves more by reading about serious conditions that may or may not be relevant to our situation.
Is There Something Else Going On?
Often, when people arrive in my consulting room hoping to alleviate anxiety about their health it soon becomes apparent that there is something else lurking beneath such fears. Worrying about bodily symptoms can be an excellent way of distracting us from other feelings – such as grief, or fear of ageing and decline – or perhaps such preoccupations allow us to avoid getting on with important tasks that we don’t really want to do. Such tasks might include:
- leaving home
- settling in to a new environment
- finding or changing job
- changing or ending an important relationship, and
- being true to ourselves
How Might Counselling and Psychotherapy Help?
Whatever our age, the act of seeking comfort and security from others at times of stress is a fundamental and normal human need. The trick might be knowing when we might ably soothe ourselves as fears start to ratchet up, and when we might need to seek help from trusted others. An effective therapeutic relationship with a skilled and supportive counsellor or psychotherapist provides the secure base from which we can explore new ways of regulating our emotions, relating to other people and adapting decisively to life’s challenges.
If you live or work within reach of Brighton and Hove and my approach to psychotherapy and counselling interests you, please contact me via email or telephone 07585 910742 for more information and to arrange an initial consultation. Emailing in the first instance seems to work best.
Copyright Caroline Clarke, Private Practice Counselling and Psychotherapy in Brighton and Hove, Sussex.
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