A terminal illness refers to a condition or disease that cannot be cured and is likely to cause death. It can also be referred to as a life-limiting illness.
Terminally Illness Treatment Therapy
Rarely is a terminal diagnosis initially met with acceptance and peace. It may lead the patient to question what they are told. When receiving a terminal diagnosis, there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” way to feel. Initially, sometimes people feel numb, experience a state of “shock,” or may even remain very matter-of-fact and calm. However, as time passes, they may begin to experience a wide range of emotions.
Emotions can range through the whole emotional gamut; you may experience fear, sadness, anger, denial, sadness, helplessness, resentment, frustration, and acceptance. Whatever you may be feeling, you do not have to go through this challenge alone.
Terminal Illness and the 5 Stages of Grief
A terminal illness diagnosis can bring forth very challenging times for a person and their loved ones. When a person is diagnosed with a terminal illness, they may experience Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s 5 Stages of Grief. Grief therapy may become a critical component while coping and navigating through this new reality. Psychotherapy may provide you with adequate support, help you manage and process your emotions while moving through the five stages of grief.
The 5 Stages of Grief are not linear and do not have to come in any order. Moreover, the patient may experience the stages more than once. The 5 Stages of Grief are Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Sadness, and Acceptance.
Receiving a terminal diagnosis is one of the hardest things we can experience. Initially, denial can help a person cope with loss. During the denial stage, reality hasn’t fully settled. It may seem like your life has changed instantly, and it is usual to start wondering how life will continue moving forward; you may even think that the news you received about your diagnosis was incorrect. It may take some time for your mind to adjust. It may also lead to isolation while you try to understand what’s going on.
However, denial may help you survive the emotional pain of a terminal diagnosis while trying to process your new reality. It’s challenging to face our mortality and know that life will end. Denial helps you pace your feelings of grief so they don’t become overwhelming. It’s like a natural defense mechanism that is protecting you and saying, “Hey, there are only so many things I can handle at one time; we are going to slow the pace a bit.” When denial begins to fade, processing and healing begin.
How Terminal Illness Grief Therapy helps During the Denial Stage:
- Denial can oddly provide an individual with a slight sense of optimism regarding their condition. Providing grief psychotherapy can help a person process and understand their situation, options, and emotions during this stage.
- Grief psychotherapy can also help individuals going through this stage decrease isolation and spend meaningful time with family and friends.
Anger may set in when the shock wears out. It commonly happens when you start adjusting to the new reality. You may have thoughts that this is unfair accompanied by feelings of anger. You may think things like “I’m a good person, why is this happening to me?” It is possible to look at others and blame them as the reason for your grief, and you may also redirect anger towards close family members and friends. It is hard to believe that something like this could ever happen to you. If you are a person of faith, you may become angry at God. However, anger is a normal emotion and a part of grieving. Although facing and feeling your anger is complex, the anger will eventually subside.
Experiencing terminal illness may feel as if someone pulled the rug from right under you – it might lead to a feeling of being lost and without footing or grounding. It might feel as if you disconnect from reality, but you can use anger as a way to bring yourself back. Terminal illness can make you feel alone, but anger may make you feel connected to other people again. You can envision anger as a force that binds you to reality.
How Terminal Illness Grief Counseling helps During the Anger Stage:
- Grief psychotherapy provides a safe and non-judgemental space for you to express your anger.
- Grief counseling helps you understand that anger is a normal emotion and helps you navigate its challenges.
Bargaining is that stage where you may try to bargain for your desired outcome. For example, if you are a person of faith, you may catch yourself saying, “God, if I’m healed, I promise I will go to your place of worship every day, help the sick, and give more charity.” Or, if you’re not religious, you may catch yourself saying something like, “If I become healthy, I make a promise to myself to become kinder and contribute more to humanity.”
You may try to avoid grief by thinking that there is the possibility of changing the future through negotiation but this may also bring feelings of regret and guilt. You may begin to go down the rabbit hole of “what if” statements – What if I never picked up a cigarette? What if I wouldn’t have missed my yearly check-ups? What if I had chosen a healthier lifestyle sooner?
How Terminal Illness Grief Counseling helps During the Bargaining Stage:
- It’s normal in this stage to question things, negotiate, and experience feelings of guilt. Grief psychotherapy in this stage helps a person process their thoughts and feelings while validating their voice.
Entering the depression stage is normal when diagnosed with a terminal illness. It is the time where the dust begins to settle, and you see the reality of your situation, knowing that there will be a definite end and realizing that you will no longer live the life you now know. However, overwhelming sadness is an appropriate response. Facing your mortality and the inevitability of death is hard to handle and warrants profound emotional reactions. Nonetheless, depression may help pave the way for acceptance. Depression can be an essential step in grieving; it may help ease emotional attachments from the situation.
Depression can include many complex emotions and behaviors, which can have an overwhelming effect on your ability to function daily. Sometimes it may feel like depression will never end but you can move though this stage. However, depression is a natural response to a very challenging circumstance and reality.
How Terminal Illness Grief Therapy helps During the Depression Stage:
- Speaking with a psychologist about your grief and depressive symptoms may help you process and gain a deeper understanding of your feelings to overcome this stage.
- A psychologist who works with patients enduring loss and grief can help you deal with symptoms of depression that affect your daily functioning.
Acceptance does not mean being passive or indifferent. It does not mean that you have given up. It might seem like it because you are not battling through this stage as hard as you did in the other stages. However, acceptance is an empowered and active choice where you choose not to be governed by your disease. Emotions begin to stabilize, and you move forward with a new outlook. In this stage, you begin to accept the reality of death, but instead of thinking something like, “It’s okay that I am going to die,” you think, “I’m going to die, and it’s okay.” Accepting it is a step towards changing your life and making modifications. You may find that this stage is full of adjustments and readjustments. Sometimes you may feel as if your disease is ruling your life because of all the new adjustments you must make, but in reality, by making adjustments, you are showing your illness that it’s not stopping you – you can live your life, you’re just going to live it a little bit differently.
How Terminal Illness Grief Therapy helps During the Acceptance Stage:
- Even though the stage of acceptance is considered by many to be the “final stage,” the stages of grief are typically not linear, and a person can experience each stage multiple times or not experience one of the stages at all. Working with a psychologist may help you manage the ups and downs in thoughts, attitudes, moods, and behaviors.
Of note, although the Kubler-Ross Model may be a reliable guideline, there are many ways to deal with grief and everyone processes grief differently.
Terminal Illness and Effects on Mental Health
Grief is a normal response to terminal illness – you are grieving the loss of life as you knew it and facing the loss that is to come. Frustrations, mood changes, and distress may occur frequently. Grief symptoms may manifest in different ways. These are some common symptoms associated with grief:
- Problems Sleeping
- Feelings of Detachment
- Feelings of Frustration
- Feelings of Guilt
- Isolating from Family
- Isolating from Friends
- Unusual Behaviors
- Uneasiness and worry
- Anxiety and nervousness
- Low Energy or Fatigue
- Change in Appetite (Loss or Increase)
- Aches and Pains
- Questioning Life
- Questioning Beliefs
- Overwhelming stress
- Difficulty concentrating
How Can A Psychologist Help Someone Grieving a Terminal Illness?
A psychologist with grief and loss experience can help support you if you’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness. A person with a terminal condition may experience various and complex emotions. A psychologist can work with you to help sort through those emotions and provide beneficial coping strategies.
Terminal Illness Treatment and Psychotherapy
Therapy and prescription medication are the most popular methods for treating grief.
If your doctor or psychiatrist feels it’s appropriate they may prescribe medications, such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, or medications to help improve your sleep. Moreover, medical treatment frequently benefits from psychologists because psychologists help the patient work through their emotional and psychological needs, such as preserving dignity and accepting end-of-life.
Therapy may help you endure grief. You may participate in individual therapy with a psychologist experienced in helping others with grief and loss, join support groups or bereavement groups to work through the grieving process.
Terminal Illness Treatment Therapy in Florida
If you feel overwhelmed by grief or loss, you don’t have to face it alone. Dr. Carolina Raeburn, PsyD can provide you with support and guidance through your grieving process.
Hello, I’m Dr. Carolina Raeburn, a licensed Clinical Psychologist with a subspecialty in neuropsychology in Miami. I help people with emotional concerns, adjusting to life changes, or those who want to improve their quality of life. I offer coaching and bespoke psychotherapy for individuals and couples, providing cognitive behavioral therapy, depression treatment, anxiety treatment, panic attack treatment, stress management, as well as help those going through life changes, such as grief and loss, chronic and terminal illness, injuries, retirement, perfectionism, and much more.
If you have any questions about my services, please feel free to reach out through the contact form. Or, if you’re ready to start your path to a better tomorrow, please make your appointment today.
*All the information published in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Any information provided here is offered in generic form. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns.