What do Chronically Ill Teens Experience?
If your teenager is living with a chronic illness, then you know your teen feels different. The limitations your teen faces vary from other teens, but there are things in common. Every chronically ill teen we’ve worked with at TTOC hates feeling “other” than peers. Each young man or woman wants to do what other teens are doing without limitation. CBT for chronically ill teens can help alleviate some of this emotional pain.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helps with this. Chronically ill teens need to find the precarious balance between doing as much as is possible while not pushing too hard. If your son or daughter pushes too hard, then they can experience a physiological setback. This is more isolating. If your teenager spends a majority of time trying to think about how to prevent a flare-up of physical symptoms, their life becomes entrapped to careful rule following instead of freely enjoying the moment.
How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Help Chronically Ill Teens?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (usually called CBT) leads your child to challenge his or her self-imposed emotional and sometimes physical obstructions. One chronically ill teenager I had as a client had come down with POTS and EDS as a 16-year-old. She had formerly been the life of the party, the most energetic, and the most athletic of her friends. Because she could no longer sustain the energy needed to play those roles, she completely withdrew from her social circle. We used CBT for chronic illness to challenge her belief that she was “only a valuable friend if I can entertain everyone.”
Another young woman was dealing with a physical problem that caused her to feel dizzy and faint. Because of this, she developed a fear of going out in public if she wasn’t in a seated position. I can 100% understand how this happened to her; I would fear it too. However, she underwent treatment, which stopped the fainting. However, the dizziness continued. Whenever she felt dizzy, she feared fainting to the point where she wasn’t going out with friends at all. The social isolation became depressing. We used CBT to challenge her fear of feeling dizzy. Once she faced that fear, she started socializing more, which led to increased joy.
CBT Increases Mental Flexibility in Adolescents
CBT can increase your chronically ill teenager’s mental flexibility. Oftentimes teens want to do things the way they did them before they got sick. However, this is no longer possible. Your teenager has to learn to still participate in as much as possible, but it is okay to modify activities. We challenge all or nothing black and white thinking patterns about life. Your teen can likely do more than he or she thinks. Rarely, I see a chronically ill teen who consistently overdoes it. Usually, the effort to control flare-ups and miserable symptoms causes your teen to pull back farther than is necessary. For example, rather than no longer seeing friends, why not have friends come to the house to watch a movie? There are a lot of ways to do part of something.
For your teen, partially participating does a lot to keep up joy, connection, and overall mental health. If these are better, then your teen is more likely to retain some level of physical activity. As you can see, this improves overall health.
Chronic Illness and Chronic Pain Aren’t Easy for Teens
At TTOC we know having a chronically ill teen isn’t easy. We know this isn’t what any of you signed up for or how you wanted life to go. We agree that it stinks, and we wish you weren’t facing this. However, learning first to accept the unacceptable and then to live life as fully as possible is the best option your teenager has right now. CBT can help with this.
Please feel free to reach out with questions. While we don’t pretend to have all the answers, we might have a few things that can improve your teen’s quality of life. Read more to find out how.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT