Therapy for Chronic Illness and Pain
If you are living with chronic illness or chronic pain, you may feel as if your entire life revolves around coping with symptoms. Chronic illness and chronic pain can affect your ability to work, your relationships, your finances, your sleep, your ability to enjoy life, and your relationship with your body.
You may be experiencing increased depression, anxiety, anger, and feelings of loneliness and isolation. You may feel as if no one around you understands what it is like to cope with chronic health problems. You may feel as if your body has betrayed you. Repeated doctor appointments, uncomfortable medical procedures, and the side-effects of medications can leave you feeling disconnected from yourself and your body.
When life on the outside feels unstable, therapy for chronic illness can be a safe and supportive place to be held. My office is a relaxing, calm and nourishing environment, not in a medical clinic. It is my priority to provide a space where you feel safe, held, and supported.
How can somatic therapy provide support for chronic illness and chronic pain?
The method of counseling that most informs my work is called Hakomi. Hakomi is a body psychotherapy method that can be described as guided self-study in mindfulness. During Hakomi sessions we will take time to listen to your body, discovering what messages your body might be communicating through the manifestation of chronic illness and chronic pain.
Chronic illness and chronic pain are patterns that occurs over time. Multiple factors including lifestyle, environment, beliefs, and emotions all contribute to the complex workings of our cells and biology. You may blame yourself for your illness. You may have a sense that negative thoughts, feelings, or lifestyle choices have created an unhealthy environment which over time may have contributed to your illness. Examples may be too much stress, unhealed trauma, internal messages of self-hatred, not caring for your body, remaining in an abusive relationship, or not leaving a job that is harmful to you. It is important to take blame or guilt out of the equation. While it can be part of your healing process to start to look at all of these factors, it is also important to recognize that there is an intelligence underneath all of the choices and beliefs that you have held. Some of these choices and beliefs may be rooted in childhood, the ways of being that you were taught to take on at an early age, that continue to write the script of your life. In therapy for chronic illness, we will bring kindness and gentleness to all parts of yourself, trusting that your body is your greatest teacher through your healing journey.
Do I need to focus on positive thoughts and emotions in order to heal?
Some people believe that in order to heal from chronic illness they need to let go of all negative thoughts, start saying lots of positive affirmations, and only think positive, happy thoughts. It is true that what we feel has a strong effect on our physiology. The field of psychoneuroimmuiology studies the connection between the mind, nervous system and immune system. There are lots of wonderful books about this mind-body connection, such as "Molecules of Emotion," by Candace Pert. Positive emotions such as love, compassion, joy, and peace stimulate the production of endorphins, which activate the rest, repair and healing functions of the body. Studies have shown that watching funny movies, for example, boosts the immune system.
On the other hand, what is most healing is simply to allow ourselves to feel exactly what is true and authentic for us right now. We may be walking around with an ocean of grief or a volcano of anger held inside us, that has not been given permission to be felt or expressed. We may have the belief that feeling these emotions will be overwhelming or will hurt someone. Therapy for chronic illness is a safe space to let yourself feel and express whatever emotions are needing space to be felt. Often what these emotions are longing for is just a safe place to be felt, understood, and expressed. What lies at a deeper place beneath these emotions is a feeling of wholeness and well-being that is authentically positive, loving, and nourishing. From this place you will connect naturally to compassion and kindness for yourself, which will promote healing in your body.
Will somatic therapy help decrease my chronic pain?
Chronic pain such as back pain, migraine headaches, or widespread pain from fibromyalgia are caused by a variety of factors. Repetitive movement, accidents or injuries, inflammation, hormones, and stress are a few of these factors. Somatic therapy can be helpful to help identify what emotions, such as anxiety or anger are contributing to the experience of pain in your body. Through mindfulness, you can learn to become aware of how these emotions are arising in your body and mind. Sometimes just becoming present and bringing loving-kindness to the sensations of physical pain and anxiety will help to reduce their intensity. During somatic therapy sessions you will learn techniques for managing chronic pain, such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, grounding, progressive relaxation, and healing imagery.
What is my background in providing somatic therapy for chronic illness and pain?
My professional qualifications include a Master's degree in Somatic Counseling Psychotherapy from Naropa University, as well as extensive training in the Hakomi method. I have provided individual and group support at a cancer support center called QuaLife Wellness Community. I have also led a mind-body healing program to a group of women undergoing treatment for cancer, where I taught various methods for coping with illness and encouraging the healing response in the body. What moved me the most in these experiences was hearing about the insights and transformation experienced through the journey of healing from cancer. While no one would ever consciously choose to have cancer, I was amazed when I heard, "Cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me." I believe these people were speaking of the opportunity that it allowed them to evaluate their lives and choose new ways of being, to discover deeper resources of love and self-care.
If you are ready to receive support on your healing journey, please contact me today to schedule a 30 minute free consultation.
photos on this page by Jennifer Angelina Petro