Lessons from a Therapist Friend that Can Be Applied to CMT
Topics such as setting goals and being more mindful have been on my mind recently. And that’s not by coincidence.
A few weeks ago, I met with a friend who happens to be a licensed therapist specializing in marriage and family therapy. I had never talked with her about her work, but I thought it would be helpful to get some insight into what she does. I was also interested in seeing if there were parallels between my experiences with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease and what she deals with during her therapy sessions.
This was by no means a full therapy session — just a conversation between two friends. Nevertheless, it was a conversation that gave me many things to think about. Following are a few of my takeaways, along with quotations from Jeanie Chang, a licensed marriage and family therapist associate:
It may be useful to stay solution-focused.
“The patient will come in and tell me about the problem — why they are coming in. Yes, I need to know that. But it will not be the main topic of our session. I’ll say, ‘I understand that happened. Now what are we going to do to help you get past that?’”
My friend, Jeanie Chang, a licensed marriage and family therapist and certified clinical trauma professional, specializes in a specific model of family therapy called “solution-focused.” She described it as a goal-oriented kind of therapy that sometimes places more value on looking to the future than ruminating on past struggles.
I admire the “can-do” spirit this kind of therapy inspires. And although I’m not working through different kinds of trauma like many of Chang’s patients, I’ve taken away some pointers for myself.
For one, the simple act of changing perspective from disparaging myself for my weaknesses to building upon and celebrating my strengths is an act I hadn’t considered before.
Try to be mindful.
“Mindfulness is a practice. It is an understanding of acceptance and awareness combined.”
Mindfulness is something Chang advocates to her patients, because understanding the situation in a level-headed way is oftentimes the starting point to working toward a better place.
With a condition like CMT, I encounter struggles that my able-bodied friends may not be able to relate to. I am clumsier than many. And at times, I get frustrated with myself. But as Chang would say, it’s often important to recognize what you’re feeling so that you can treat yourself accordingly. For example, frustration, and not recognizing my frustration, have sometimes led to a cycle of sloppy performances and bad moods.
What I particularly appreciate about the practice of mindfulness is that it doesn’t just refer to the acceptance of unchangeable conditions such as CMT, but it also refers to the awareness of what I can work on to change my situation.
“As people age, if they say to themselves and sometimes even say aloud, ‘I feel old’ or ‘I’m getting old,’ guess what happens? It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. It becomes easy for others to look at them as old, the person starts acting old, and they start feeling like they are old. That’s how powerful our mind is.”
There’s an adage that you shouldn’t let your disability define you. It’s true, but it’s still an everyday struggle, especially when facing the prejudice of others.
Truthfully, I used to think that “defining yourself” referred to some voodoo-like practice one might use in a pep talk in front of the bathroom mirror before taking on the day. However, I’ve learned that it isn’t just a mental exercise. Defining yourself also encompasses every small action we take to present and brand ourselves to the world — often in spite of the narratives that society may try to write for us.
I had a conversation with a friend from my local Charcot-Marie-Tooth Association chapter about how some folks inadvertently come across as incredibly patronizing when offering help — as if CMT has conquered every aspect of us. But while we can’t necessarily change the internal thoughts others may have of us, we can certainly control how we react and how we educate others to counter that narrative.
Your support network is important.
“I put just as much attention [in my therapy sessions] to the caregivers and maybe sometimes a little bit more. We know [that] what the patient is dealing with is pretty clear. Emotionally, there is a lot surrounding it, but their emotions are very dependent on the people around them.”
My conversation with Chang reaffirmed my belief that friends and family are important, whether in dealing with struggles related to CMT or otherwise. It’s always helpful to have people who will listen in order to understand and not just to find a response.
Don’t underestimate the power of one small change.
“What is one goal that you want to accomplish? And it has to be specific and measurable.”
Ultimately, one of my biggest takeaways from the conversation with my friend was that a defeatist attitude isn’t inevitable. There is always something to do and something to improve. Whether the pursuit is being in a better place emotionally or finding a way to compensate for the symptoms of CMT, the end objective is always more approachable when broken down into smaller steps.
How do these suggestions resonate with you? Please share in the comments below.
Note: Charcot-Marie-Tooth News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Charcot-Marie-Tooth News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Charcot-Marie-Tooth.