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Lisa Ferentz, LCSW-C, DAPA

Overcoming Illness with the Power of Positive Self-Talk

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.

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.

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