When to Seek Treatment for Psychological and Emotional Distress Part 3: Coping With Severe Distress

Rick Wirtz Health Guide
  • If you are suffering through the distress of an illness or its treatment, and your suffering has escalated to unmanageable levels, what do you do? The first step is to bring it to the attention of your treatment team – your doctors, nurses, etc. Ask them if what you are feeling and thinking is typical, or if they think that it may be more of a problem than most people go through. They probably have seen so many people that they will know very quickly if what you are experiencing is common or not. 


    Usually your treatment team will make recommendations about psychologists, social workers, counselors, or psychiatrists that they have worked with. If you have never been to see any of these professionals, it might be a good idea to set up an appointment with someone that your doctor has a good working relationship with. That way the communication is likely to be much better between the mental health provider and your doctor.

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    The psychologist’s role will be to assess how you are feeling and how long you have been feeling that way. This will allow them to establish a working diagnosis that will help create a treatment plan. The initial assessment is likely to be 60 – 90 minutes in length depending on the setting where the professional works. By the end of the assessment, the mental health professional should have at least some basic idea of your condition and be able to tell you what the next step in the process might be.


    Often times all that is needed is the opportunity to talk about what the illness and treatment mean to you. This helps to identify the worries and fears that may be at the heart of the physical symptoms you have been suffering – sleeplessness, loss of appetite, tearfulness, etc. At other times, when the distress is so severe that you are having trouble functioning on a day-to-day basis, medication may be needed. The most commonly prescribed treatments in these types of situations are antidepressant medications that work to reduce or alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. These are not addictive and usually can be taken just once a day. These antidepressants can also be supplemented with anti-anxiety medications. While they are very effective they can also lead to dependence if not taken as the doctor prescribes. More often than not, both psychological treatments and medications are used together when medication is needed.


    When psychological distress is reduced to manageable levels everything is easier – daily functioning, coping with the illness, and treatment. Get the help you need. You deserve it!




Published On: April 09, 2007