Adjusting to life after acquiring a disability can be challenging, especially if you feel like there’s no one you can talk to who understands. We take a look at what therapy options are out there.
COMING TO GRIPS
Acquiring a disability is life-changing, not only practically or physically, but also emotionally and mentally. Some people describe coming to terms with an acquired disability as “grieving” as they mourn for the life they once had. If a disability was the result of a traumatic event this can heighten the feeling of grief even more. You may feel like you’re not the same person you once were, or have lost a sense of control or purpose in your life. If these feelings bottle up, they can manifest as serious mental health issues, like depression or anxiety.
If you’re feeling at a loss, lonely, withdrawn, or helpless, then talking about your feelings will help you process your emotions. Talking therapies are a way of dealing with your mental health and state of mind. Once a taboo subject, therapy is becoming increasingly popular as society focuses on improving mental health services and awareness. Therapy doesn’t necessary mean lying on a couch and telling a psychologist your deepest secrets; instead it comes in all shapes and sizes.
The best known talking therapy is counselling, when you speak one-on-one with an expert about your situation and how you’re feeling. Counselling is recommended for people who need professional help coping with a current crisis, such as anger, bereavement, and the onset of illness.
While you and your councillor might set goals or make an action plan to help you cope, most people say that just the act of talking can improve their mental health. Talking to a stranger rather than family or friends, means that there’s no baggage attached to the conversation and you can speak openly in complete confidence.
Renee Clark, a counsellor based in Glasgow, says that therapy can be hugely beneficial for anyone, but especially for those with newly acquired disabilities. “People’s experiences of friendships and social life can vary after a newly acquired disability,” she tells us. “Friends could be unsupportive, struggle to understand, disappear or be replaced by new friends. People’s social lives sometimes change as things they used to enjoy doing, like going out socialising, are no longer appealing.”
Disability activist Shona Cobb experienced this change. Shona has Marfan Syndrome, a genetic condition which began to affect her when she hit puberty, and as a result, she sought counselling. “I wanted to go to counselling as I’d been struggling with anxiety and depression for a long while,” she says. “I was struggling with chronic pain, feelings of isolation and struggling to move on from previous events in my life.”
Shona went to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which works to change negative behavioural patterns. “I finally felt like someone was really listening to me, giving me some of the validation that I needed. It felt like I was talking to a friend most of the time.” CBT is often recommended to people who are dealing with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or obsessive compulsive disorder, because you and your therapist sets goals to aim towards.
While it can be productive to chat one-to-one with a medical professional about your situation, it can also be helpful to get to get some perspective. Group therapy has the option of being anonymous, and involves a group of people with the same problems or issues meeting with a therapist.
Not only can it be helpful to get feedback and support from people in a comparable situation, but it’s also something social and can be a way of meeting other people with acquired disabilities. Realising other people have similar situations, feelings and concerns can vastly improve your mental health. Renee emphasises: “sharing in a group can be healing and teach you about yourself to propel you forward.”
Other types of group therapy can involve people you know. Family therapy can help explore relationships which can change if one family member acquires a disability. It can help people open up in a safe and structured environment as the therapist helps everyone communicates. Your siblings or parents may be coming to terms with your disability in their own way, and therapy can be a way for the family as a unit to process mental strain.
While more and more people are seeking support, therapy still remains a taboo subject. Some people think that asking for help can be seen as weak, that something is wrong with them. However, Renee believes the stigma is changing: “People are sharing stories in public,” she tells us, “and the aim is to normalise asking for support.”
Renee hopes that with more people speaking openly about their mental health and counselling, the misconceptions about therapy will be eradicated. While therapy might not be for everyone, it can be a tool for opening up your anxieties and processing your emotions, especially after going through a life-changing event like acquiring a disability. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help and your mental health will thank you for it.