It can be done, but how?
March 22, 2010 9:13 AM   Subscribe

I'm interested to know how people with chronic illnesses keep it from interfering with their professional lives. I have Crohn's Disease and am training to be a psychologist. How does having an illness affect your ability to see patients or clients, keep a schedule, and have a professional business etc.?

I'm 25 years old and have been diagnosed with Crohn's disease for about five years. I recently had surgery to remove part of my intestine, prompting a long absence to recover.

This, and the health problems that preceded my surgery have made me wonder how my health will affect my ability to see clients when I have my own practice. Having to see clients hourly when I may need to use the restroom for long periods of time, or urgently despite the fact that I'm talking about something important with a client are some of my main concerns. Also, I'm likely to have to cancel clients to illness (rarely, but more often than those without a chronic illness) due to taking medication to suppress my immune system, which makes me more susceptible to colds and flus.

I'm sure there are tons of people out there with health problems that interfere with their jobs to various degrees. How has your health problem affected your life, and what adaptations/changes have you made to accommodate this?
posted by gilsonal to Health & Fitness (4 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Put yourself in a position to schedule yourself adequate breaks between clients (even if you're at an agency placement and don't have much control over your own schedule, there will be some way to work this out--talk with your clinical supervisor if you need some help to make it work within your context). If/when you're in private practice, this part is a piece of cake, because you're entirely in control of your own schedule (but it may get complicated when your afternoons/evenings get full, and working people need after-work times... consider working Saturdays maybe!). Also, consider whether you may be able to do phone sessions, even while you might be out of the office ill. When I first started out, I scheduled 45-minute sessions back to back pretty often, but that just plain doesn't work out well for me with chronic back pain. Now I ALWAYS leave 15 minutes between, to stretch, to just breathe a little, to do notes, whatever--to leave some time to de-stress and refresh my brain.

Be up front with clients when they start therapy, and let them know that you have a medical condition that may sometimes lead to interruptions/reschedulings. Most people will be very understanding, and will be cool about it if you need to reschedule a session, if they already know the reason ahead of time. In this same vein, because you are probably going to be prone to have more negative side effects when stressed, do a good job of setting boundaries and practicing self-care. :)
posted by so_gracefully at 9:25 AM on March 22, 2010

I can't tell you how my chronic health problems would affect someone such as yourself, but I can tell you how I've tried to adapt my professional life as an academic to my issues.

I have Trigeminal Neuralgia - it is a chronic pain condition that sometimes renders me unable to drive or leave my bed. Usually it is not so bad, but I do suffer quite a bit of chronic pain.

The first thing is that I guess I've just accepted it as a part of my life, and instead of viewing it as something that interferes with my life, I accept it as one more thing I have to deal with in my daily doings. This means that I try not to get upset when it stops me from doing something I want to do - like go to a conference or lecture.

Secondly, I try to explain to anyone that my condition might impact (for example, a professor I'm TAing for, or a co-author I'm writing with) what is going on BEFORE something comes up. I try to be up front about it. I say look, some days, very rarely, I'm just not going to be able to be here due to this condition. Its not often, but it happens. People generally seem pretty accepting.

Third, I try to make sure I leave sufficient flex time in my schedules such that, if something comes up, I can move things to adapt quickly. I try to never leave things to the last minute, because if I do, inevitably something happens. This includes timing for appointments.

Fourth, and finally, I always make sure to explain, and be up front, to any employer or client or co-worker, why I'm so sickly, and what is going on. But at the same time, I always try to make sure they understand that it is not a personal failing of mine that I am sick - and to always confront people if they begin to treat me as a bad person because of my illness. Its no more my flaw than having red hair or green eyes is a flaw, and none of it makes me less of a qualified professional or moral person than them.
posted by strixus at 9:26 AM on March 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

In my opinion, higher education and especially professional degrees and certificates can be absolutely critical to a person with a chronic health condition. With a professional degree, you will have more flexibility compared to a 9 to 5 worker. Flexibility is key.

Are there times of the day in which you have less need for the bathroom? You might be able to schedule your clients during those times of the day.

Are you interested in working in a group or clinic setting? That might be something to try.

Because of your own experiences, you might find that you are more accessible to people than other therapists. For example, you might be more accessible to your clients via phone and email. This might be useful to people generally, and in the event that you need to cancel or re-schedule a particular session. You might appreciate better other people's chronic illnesses. Your situation may offer you strengths as a therapist.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:45 AM on March 22, 2010

I work for an agency where 51% of our total workforce must have a disability. One of our peer advocates is a young lady who has Crohn's disease. She has a pretty awesome job in terms of flexibility and whatnot, but she does miss a significant amount of work. She is very respected among her consumers and colleagues though, and she has literally hundreds of people she works with across dozens of fields and circumstances.

She makes it work, although a good portion of her job is helping people learn how to make it work. Reasonable accommodations and whatnot.

Please feel free to MeMail me, I'm sure she'd be willing to chat w/ you. :)
posted by TomMelee at 10:12 AM on March 22, 2010

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