People with chronic
illnesses encounter psychological challenges, usually
secondarily related to the actual physical cause of the illness.
These could be depression and anxiety. Therefore, one of the missions
of health psychologists is to help people deal with their psychological
reactions to their problems, particularly if the illness has long-term
A stage model has been proposed
of how people react when they realize that they have a serious,
chronic and perhaps life-threatening illness.
* Stage 1 - Shock: This stage occurs when a
person is stunned, bewildered and feel detached.
* Stage 2 - Encounter: This stage occurs when
the person gives way to feelings of despair, loss, grief and hopelessness.
People are unable to function properly and effectively at this
stage. They do not think well, have difficulty in planning and
they are ineffective in solving problems.
* Stage 3 - Retreat: During this stage individuals
often try to deny the existence of the problem or at least the
implications of what the problem means to them.
* Stage 4 - Adjustment: When people reach this
stage they make whatever adjustments are necessary to live with
the reality of the disease.
Patients may try to find meaning
in their experience of illness. They may try to figure
out what they were doing that led to the illness and fix this
behaviour, or they may simply rethink their own attitudes and
priorities, in light of their new perspective. They may then try
to gain a sense of control over the illness and their lives. This
could be the seeking of information, or undertaking in activities
that they believe that will help to restore functioning. A patient
will then restore their self-esteem, by comparing their situations
with those of others in ways that will shed a favourable light
There exists a model known as the
Crisis Model that says that there are 3 sets of factors that will
determine how well a person copes with an illness. These are:
1. Background and Personal Factors: such as
emotional maturity, self-esteem, religious beliefs and age. Men
are more likely to respond negatively to diseases that compromise
their ability to work.
2. Illness-related factors: such as how disabling,
painful or life threatening the disease is. The greater the disability
and threat, the more difficulty people have doping with the illness.
3. Environmental Factors: such as social supports,
the ability of the person to remain financially stable, and the
kinds of conditions in which a person lives.
Healing & Pain
& Interpreting Symptoms