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Continuing Education for Therapists Passionate about Working with Chronic Illness, Serious Medical Conditions, and Disability

I've worked with mental health therapists in the past and I always have to bring them up to speed on MS, what it is, what it can potentially mean, and the unpredictability of it. You know, I can't imagine how much, further along, we would be if they knew all that when I met with them the first time. Because I have felt like I'm providing education to begin with and the filter there forward. ... But gosh, you'd be way ahead of the game if you could find somebody who actually understood [MS] right out of the gate."

Kathy Reagan Young, FUMS Episode 99, February 8, 2022.

Prevalence of chronic illness and disability in the United States

Chronic illness is very common in the United States. In fact, about 1 in 4 adults live with a chronic illness. Serious and life-threatening medical diagnoses are also more common than we would like. A few examples: approximately 40% of individuals will be diagnosed with cancer and greater than 5.7 million Americans are admitted to the ICU each year. And there are many more acute injuries or illnesses that impact individuals each year from stroke to miscarriages to car accidents. That means that there are a lot of people out there who are dealing with a serious or chronic medical condition on a day-to-day basis.

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, about 1 in 5 Americans has a disability. While living with a disability does not in and of itself create mental health challenges, the social model of disability suggests that it is the way society is structured that creates difficulties for people with disabilities. For example, a lack of accessible transportation or housing can make it difficult for someone with a disability to participate in activities or work, which can lead to isolation and depression.

The impact of physical conditions on mental health

It should come as no surprise then that serious medical conditions, chronic illness, and disability are accompanied by increased rates of mental health diagnoses. Research suggests that individuals with chronic medical conditions are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges than those without physical challenges.

While prevalence rates vary depending on the diagnosis, according to the CDC up to 50% of individuals living with these challenging medical diagnoses will experience a depressive episode in their lifetime, and approximately one-third will experience diagnosable anxiety. The reasons for this are complex and varied, but some include the physical symptoms of the condition itself (e.g., pain), the psychological response to the diagnosis (e.g., fear, uncertainty, grief), and the social impact of living with a chronic illness or disability (e.g., isolation, financial stress).

A need for more specialty trained mental health professionals - and a way to find them

The problem is that many mental health professionals were trained to manage the emotional experiences that develop from psychiatric illness. They were not trained to understand and treat the emotional challenges accompanying physical health conditions. As a result, people with physical health conditions often find it difficult to get the emotional support they need from mental health professionals.

One woman living with a rare medical condition described her experience trying to find a mental health professional who could help her deal with the emotional challenges that came along with her diagnosis. She said,

I went through three community therapists. They all said they didn’t understand my medical condition and didn’t know how to help me.

She eventually found her way to an academic medical center with a therapist who specialized in working with people with chronic illnesses, but it took a lot of searching to find someone who could understand and help her with the unique challenges she was facing.

Further, there is a lack of trained mental health professionals with the knowledge and training to support people living with disabilities. Like with many marginalized groups, there are often unconscious biases that can be held by therapists about disability. A few examples include beliefs that disability is always accompanied by mental illness, that people with disabilities are not capable of leading happy and fulfilling lives, or that therapy is not effective for this population. These biases can get in the way of providing quality care. It also makes finding a disability-informed provider challenging.

This is why we started Find Empathy.

Our mission is to make mental health easy for people and families living with challenging medical conditions, chronic illnesses, or disabilities.

We are approaching this mission in the following ways:

Free Directory of Medically-Informed Therapists.

We are building the largest directory of therapists who have experience and training in working with people with medical challenges. If you are a therapist that has experience and expertise in these topics, visit FindEmpathy.com and click "Get Listed" to list your practice for free in our directory.

Collaboration

We are working with some of the leading patient and provider organizations in the country who support people with chronic illnesses, medical conditions, and disabilities. We are collaborating to create continuing education and training opportunities for mental health professionals, as well as to grow our directory for the benefit of patients, families, and referring medical providers.

white woman with brown hair smiling and holding a mug looking at her computer

Blogs and Resources

We write articles and create resources for therapists and mental health professionals on how to work with people with medical challenges. We also write articles for people living with chronic illnesses and disabilities about how to find and work with a therapist, as well as techniques for managing unwanted emotions.

Education and Training

We offer education and training via our bi-monthly podcast for therapists who want to expand their skills in working with this population. The podcast is free to listen to, but we charge a fee for continuing education to help support the costs associated with creating all of our patient and provider resources.

We currently provide continuing education for psychologists, social workers, and licensed professional counselors.

A note for therapists looking for a niche (or want to add one).

I have already shared that physical conditions can be accompanied by more frequent or intense emotional challenges. So there is a strong need for more therapists to specialize in health. However, beyond this need, patients want your support. Now more than ever, they are looking for providers who truly understand both their emotional needs AND the condition they are living with. This is a challenging, rewarding, and necessary niche that could use your expertise. Our continuing education delves deep into each diagnosis. You will learn from people living with the medical condition, researchers, and mental health professionals like yourself. Learn with us. Create a new niche. Expand your practice.

Help us make mental health easy for people living with challenging medical conditions

If you are a mental health professional passionate about working with people living with serious medical challenges (or want to be), we invite you to join us in our mission!

  • Take advantage of our continuing education opportunities for therapists and get your CEs with us. Our library is constantly growing, so be sure to check back often or join our mailing list (below) to stay informed about our latest news and offerings.
  • Subscribe to the Find Empathy podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • List your practice in our directory (it’s free!).
  • If you are a patient or family member living with a chronic illness, serious medical diagnosis, or disability, we invite you to use our directory to find a therapist who can understand and support your unique needs.
  • Follow us on social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, TikTok and Instagram).
  • Therapists can also join our free Facebook group, Let’s Talk About Health Psychology. This is a growing community of mental health professionals who are committed to supporting people with medical challenges.

If you are interested in collaborating with us or have any questions, please contact us at info@findempathy.com.

At Find Empathy, we are passionate about working with people living with serious medical challenges. We believe that everyone deserves quality mental health care, and our mission is to make it easy for them to find it. We are proud to be a resource for both patients and providers, and we invite you to join us in our mission!

Meghan Beier, PhD

Meghan Beier, PhD

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