I want to share a personal experience with you. For the entire month of January, I was stricken with pneumonia. It was debilitating and, at times, frightening. Allergic reactions to medications and the additional challenge of excessive coughing resulting in torn lower abdominal muscles added to my physical and emotional distress. Although I was blessed with excellent medical care, it often felt like one step forward and two steps back. It was a humbling experience. As I continue to heal, there are many takeaways, and I’d like to share an important one with you.

Despite feeling weak and awful, I often stood in front of the bathroom mirror and told myself, “You are going to get through this. You are going to be okay.” That positive mindset was essential. And it reinforced something I have come to see as a necessary component in my work with clients: the need to strengthen and access their inner compassion and a capacity for hope. I have often said there is nothing more powerful than the way we talk to ourselves about ourselves. This is especially true when we are struggling, either emotionally or physically. The narratives we hold and the meaning-making we bring to experiences profoundly impacts subsequent thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and body sensations. In clinical terms, it is the capacity to do auto-regulation.

But I also want to share that there were times when I couldn’t access that inner voice of hopefulness and positivity. The impact of physical pain, sleep deprivation, fear, loss of energy and stamina took its toll. There were fleeting but scary moments when I felt I would never be fully well again. During those times, the support, reassurances, and optimism from loving family, colleagues, and friends were invaluable resources. Their words lifted my spirits and relit the light at the end of the tunnel.

I have often said there is nothing more powerful than the way we talk to ourselves about ourselves.

Lisa Ferent, LCSW-C, DAPA

Again, I related this to my work with clients, reminding me that they often need to lean on and borrow our optimism and hope when they struggle to access it from within. The duality of both internal and external resources for hope and compassion allows our clients to reframe despairing cognitions, bring some modicum of lightheartedness to heavy moments, and hold a positive sense of the future.

Whatever modalities you use, remember that clients also need to know that you are hopeful about their ability to navigate difficult circumstances. Let them know that you believe in their ability to move forward, recover and heal. This is especially necessary when depression, anxiety, physical pain, setbacks and other external challenges make it difficult for them to believe it themselves. In clinical terms, it is bringing co-regulation into the room.

I am so grateful that my lungs are clear and my torn muscles are healing. I still talk to myself with loving kindness, and I still need to hear from the people closest to me that I will continue to get well.

Please work with your clients to help strengthen their inner loving voice and be there for them during the in-between times when they need a safe, trustworthy outside voice to remind them of their resilience and reassure them that they have what it takes to heal.

20 thoughts on "Overcoming Illness with the Power of Positive Self-Talk"

  1. Judith Peres says:

    I love this post and your insights. Hope and positivity are key. My work is with older persons with chronic conditions and it is hard to maintain the hope and positivity when there is no end in sight to the chronic and debilitating pain. It is a heavy lift…especially if one is not surrounded by loving community or have a strong faith/meditation practice. I’m interested in your thoughts gleaned from the moments where you lost hope and how we could help clients with that. Thanks for sharing, Judy

    1. Gerri Baum says:

      Judy, the work you do is noble and critically important. In situations where clients, understandably, can’t access the inner resources of optimism and hope, it’s so essential that we try to cocoon them with external ones. It can come from loving people in their lives, affirmations from books, uplifting music, inspirational stories of people in similar situations who were able to bring positive meaning-making. As we age or deal with chronic illness it’s easy to focus on what our bodies can’t do- it’s helpful to keep redirecting the focus to what we can still do and to practice gratitude for that! – Warmest Regards, Lisa

  2. Sumi says:

    So glad you are doing better Lisa! I love this, people need to hear this especially after the trauma covid has left us feeling.
    Be well and feel stronger everyday!

    1. Gerri Baum says:

      Thank you, Sumi! You are right to suggest that Covid has really taken not only a psychological toll, but a physical one for many people. Whether our clients are feeling unwell from the flu or the sequela of Covid they definitely need our reassurance and support so that they can stay positive and continue to make the right choices around self-care. -Warmest Regards, Lisa

  3. Hillel M Zeitlin says:

    Wishing you a complete, robust healing, and strength to continue your healing work for decades to come.


    Hillel Zeitlin

    1. Gerri Baum says:

      Thank you, Hillie, your warm wishes for continued healing are deeply appreciated! -Warmest Regards, Lisa

  4. Kevin Thorne says:

    Keep on trucking Lisa!!! I’m a true believe that what we think, we also manifest good, bad, or indifferent. May you continue to heal as your’re the heartbeat of the tribe. Much peace and blessings 🌻.

    1. Gerri Baum says:

      Kevin, you are wise to suggest that our thoughts profoundly impact us! Emerson said, “we are what we think all day” I appreciate your blessings for healing! I’m so glad you are in the field making the contributions that you do! -Warmest Regards, Lisa

  5. Mary C Burke says:

    Hi Lisa,
    I’m so sorry you were so ill. I’m so relieved to hear you are doing much better!
    Add me to the list of people sending positive thoughts your way!
    Mary Burke

    1. Gerri Baum says:

      Thank you, Mary, for your kind, good wishes! They are deeply appreciated! Warmest Regards, Lisa

  6. Hi Lisa,
    How scary that had to have been! Thank you for sharing your experience with us and for your gentle words of encouragement. I hope your recovery continues unabated and healing light continues to flow.
    Darla Sinclair

    1. Gerri Baum says:

      Thank you for your kind words and for modeling that in addition to giving our clients encouragement and optimism, we also need to validate the frightening and difficult emotions that they are experiencing as well. Warmest Regards, Lisa

  7. Paul Timin says:

    Dear Lisa.I am shocked to hear of your recent physical,painful and emotional illness.I am so relieved to hear you are recovering and have shared what you learned about positive self talk in your scariest moments of the illness.Sending my love and hope for your return to your students and clients in the near near future.

    1. Gerri Baum says:

      Thank you for taking the time to offer your loving support. Know that I am getting stronger every day and will be there for clients and students for many years to come! Warmest Regards, Lisa

  8. Rona Levi says:

    Lisa….It sounds like you’ve had a really rough time and I’m so sorry. Thank you for sharing the power of focusing on our inner thoughts and feelings about ourselves, ESP when living through physical and emotional challenges. (In her latest book, Michelle Obama shares the power of starting her day in front of a mirror, giving herself some positive self-talk.) I hope you are now recovering well.

    1. Gerri Baum says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Rona. There is great power in giving ourselves affirmations and encouragement in front of the mirror. This is an exercise I often invite my clients to practice. Warmest Regards, Lisa

  9. Debra Morris, LCSW-C says:

    Prayers and best wishes for complete healing. What a difficult and frightening experience, so glad you’re on the road to recovery. Thank you also for sharing your experience. As someone who has some professional, but also personal experience with chronic illness, I am so behind and passionate about your message. With the increased awareness of the brain’s capacity for change/neuroplasticity, as well as our own power to effect these changes, it’s vital to spread these messages for to bring hope and alleviate misery for so many who feel disempowered by chronic illness. I have seen the power of utilizing these messages to triumph a decade ago over a bout with chronic pain, and unfortunately am having to do it again with a chronic vestibular syndrome. But I see the power of having the right tools, of giving myself the right messages, and learning to have compassion for myself and curiosity rather than contempt for the symptoms. Sorry, Lisa, you obviously touched a hot button for me! Just thank you again for your honest sharing of your challenging story, and putting this important message out there.

    1. Gerri Baum says:

      Debra thank you for taking the time to share both your personal and professional experiences with chronic illness. I am so sorry you are dealing with a new physical challenge and wish you well in your ongoing recovery. I appreciate your connecting compassion and positivity to neuroplasticity- an important connection to make! Warmest Regards, Lisa

  10. Benta Sims says:

    Lisa, thank you for sharing your experience. I’m so sorry to hear that you have been through this long and scary month of illness with pneumonia and further health complications. I feel grateful to hear that your body has begun to heal. I agree with you that it is important to connect with our inner loving and compassionate voices. When I was a young adult, I went through a challenging illness. I would sit outside, or next to a sunny window, close my eyes, and repeat to myself, “every day, in every way, I will be well.” Even if I didn’t believe these words, I would still lovingly say them to myself. I wish you continued healing and wellness, every day and in every way. Sending love.

    1. Gerri Baum says:

      Benta, thank you for your loving message. The compassionate self-talk you accessed as a young adult was instrumental in your healing, and knowing how wise and how kind you are, I’m not surprised that you were able to resource yourself in that way! Warmest Regards, Lisa

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