Group Helps Those Coping with Chronic Illness
MADISON – Chronic illnesses affect not only an individual's health, but every aspect of his or her life from the emotional to the spiritual to the physical. It can be a struggle for many – with feelings of isolation, stress, even fear. A relatively new group at University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics is intended to help individuals navigate the sometimes choppy waters of life with a chronic illness.
The twelve-week group, "Creative Coping with Chronic Illness" is led by UW Health psychologist Heidi Beckman, PhD. Dr. Beckman began offering the sessions in early 2008, in response to requests from physicians for a class to help patients dealing with a variety of illnesses.
"The group is open to adults dealing with a chronic illness," said Dr. Beckman, "such as people with neurologic conditions, diabetes and other endocrine issues, multiple sclerosis or fibromyalgia."
The sessions meet Mondays from 11 am-12:30 pm and are ongoing. Patients can join at any point during the series after completing an initial evaluation with Dr. Beckman.
"The evaluation session is mostly background gathering, helping individuals determine whether they feel like they are a good fit for the class. And, we identify a health-related goal of what they'd like to accomplish in the course of the twelve weeks, such as 'to become a more active participant in their health care,' for example," explained Dr. Beckman.
Participants are held accountable for their goal through weekly reports on what they are doing to accomplish it. For the group to be successful, individuals should be receptive to new ideas from other group members, open to sharing their experiences, and willing to commit to the process.
"Basically, the more you participate in the group, the more you'll get out of it," Dr. Beckman said.
The twelve sessions address different aspects of living with chronic illness, including self-care, stress reduction, relationships, learning to work more effectively with your medical-care team, getting the most out of medical visits, alternative treatment modalities, positive thinking, and the healing power of joy and gratitude.
Each week, the group addresses a particular theme and examines how it relates to their own personal situations. Group members are encouraged to offer solutions to each other, or sometimes, just support each other.
"There's something powerful about sitting in a room with other people who are also dealing with chronic illness," commented Dr. Beckman. "You don't feel so alone. Even if the person next to you is dealing with a different illness, there are common themes. Together, individuals can reach out to another and find support from others who understand what they are dealing with."
During one previous group there were several participants at roughly the same place in life who really bonded even though they had very different illnesses, shared Dr. Beckman.
"Sometimes bonds can form between group members and it can be a lasting form of support," she added.
If patients need additional, private support outside of the group setting, Dr. Beckman and other members of the UW Health Department of Health Psychology are available for clinic appointments as well.
Dr. Beckman noted that many insurance companies will cover participation in the class. Patients should check with their insurance company, however, for details.
A new "Creative Coping with Chronic Illness" class is forming. Patients interested should call (608) 263-6522 to schedule an initial evaluation with Dr. Beckman.
Date Published: 08/06/2008