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When it comes to managing diabetes, the first things you think about are insulin, diet and exercise.  Trailing closely behind are emotions and stress – both of which can have a huge impact on blood sugar numbers.  Finding a way to cope isn’t just about “getting by;” it’s about achieving good mental health that will lead to better diabetes management.  

We don’t think twice about consulting our endos on how to manage diabetes effectively.  Wouldn’t it make sense if we consulted a therapist about the emotions and stress that unavoidably come with diabetes?  And did you know there are therapists who specialize in treating patients and families affected by diabetes?

Wendy Satin Rapaport, LSCW, PsyD, has been working with patients with diabetes for most of her professional life.  A clinical psychologist and an adjunct professor at the Diabetes Research Institute, Dr. Rapaport strongly advocates that a psychologist or therapist be part of the diabetes health care team. 

“Counseling is essential, and it is as important as taking care of yourself (or your child) physically,” she stated in her book When Diabetes Hits Home. “As a colleague of mine and I wrote in Diabetes Forecast many years ago, you don’t have to be crazy to see a therapist, but sometimes you have to be crazy not to.”

There’s often a stigma attached to therapy.  Some people might think that if you’re seeing a therapist, you must be suffering from a deep depression or mental illness.  However, the reality is that people seek out counseling or psychotherapy for various reasons – and there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of in doing so.

In A First Book for Understanding Diabetes, it states that every newly diagnosed family should meet with a behavioral counselor to discuss feelings. The author acknowledges that it is important for all family members to share how they feel, and to work together to learn how diabetes fits into their lives.

Beyond diagnosis, a counselor can help families get through challenging life stages.  Given the relentless nature of diabetes, embracing the role of a therapist is a crucial step in alleviating some of the burden.

In the publication Clinical Care (The Psychologist in Diabetes Care), evidence showed that “psychological and behavioral factors significantly affect the course and outcomes of diabetes.”  As such, the findings were that “psychological treatments may be used to improve adherence to the diabetes regimen and, more generally, to develop sustained pro-diabetic lifestyles.”

Mark Heyman, a psychologist who also lives with diabetes, said, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked ‘Is there really a need for that?’ or ‘How hard can having diabetes really be?’ It’s no secret to anyone who has diabetes that living with the condition can be really tough – and that the biggest challenges are often mental.”

He suggests that you ask yourself a few things…

     1) Are your struggles affecting your ability to manage your child’s diabetes?

     2) Is diabetes having a negative impact on your relationships? 

     3) Is the stress of living with diabetes making it harder for you to do the things that are important to you?

The reality is diabetes presents a significant challenge, not only for the person with the disease, but also for those around them. Feelings of depression and anxiety are common and can significantly affect how you manage this disease.

Bottom line…therapists can play a valuable role in managing diabetes and the emotions surrounding it. 

Sources: Diabetes Research Institute Foundation; Insulin NationWhen Diabetes Hits Home by Dr. Wendy Satin Rapaport; A First Book for Understanding Diabetes (The Pink Panther Books)Clinical Care

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