Psychotherapy with Medically Ill Patients: Hope in the Trenches

Psychotherapy with Medically Ill Patients: Hope in the Trenches

by Tamara McClintock Greenberg

Working with clients who are medically ill not only requires us to learn more about the seemingly distant and disembodied relational aspects of medicine, but also forces us to confront painful existential realities on a daily basis.
Psychotherapists who work with medically ill clients often feel adrift between two seas. One ocean is the fast-paced world of medicine, in which we, as medical consultants, must efficiently develop complete answers to complex questions. The other ocean involves the deep and dark undertow of emotions: our clients are often dealing with terrifying bodily limitations and unknown outcomes. As therapists, we are called upon to integrate and understand the hypomanic world of medicine, while helping our clients tolerate the unfair and arbitrary aspects of illness and, more ominously, the inevitability of death. Though providing psychotherapy to these clients can at times feel overwhelmingly tragic, it is the solace we are able to offer those beset with illness and death that makes the work so gratifying and meaningful.
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Copyright © 2010 Psychotherapy.net. All rights reserved. Published July, 2010.
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Tamara McClintock GreenbergTamara McClintock Greenberg has a psychotherapy practice in San Francisco, CA, where she sees adults. Her specialties include: relationship issues, aging and medical illness. As an associate professor of psychiatrity at the University of California, San Francisco, Greenberg's writings focus on health psychology, psychoanalytic psychology and the integration of the two. She has extensive local and national speaking experience to both medical and psychological audiences. She supervises and teaches in the Bay Area in the areas of the culture of Western Medicine, psychotherapy, psychoanalytic psychotherapy and medical consultation. She is the author of The Psychological Impact of Acute and Chronic Illness: A Practical Guide for Primary Care Physicians and Psychodynamic Perspectives on Aging and Illness. Her website is tamara-greenberg.com.
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CE credits: 1
Learning objectives:

  • Learning Objectives:
  • Describe the challenges of working with medically ill clients.
  • Identify the ways in which the culture of medicine impacts the practice of psychotherapy in a medical setting.
  • Identify common reactions and experiences of therapists working with medically ill clients.
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