Live a bolder life.


Heather Tuckman, PsyD • Clinical Psychologist

Acute & Chronic Illness

The reality is that most people with an acute or chronic illness need to deal with grief in one form or another.

New diagnoses highlight losses, especially expectations about how things “would of” or “should of” been, along with “what ifs” and “why can’t I’s.” Still, others sometimes realize that their illness is beating them up emotionally, even if they are managing the physical aspects just fine. These people recognize that there must be something out there that is better for them than living in limbo; so, we work on attaining acceptance while sustaining the drive for meaningful living.

Sometimes the first time I see someone with an acute or chronic illness is when they realize that they have become “defined” by their illness. In other situations, they may have just received a diagnosis. Other patients are referred by their physicians because they believe that the individual might benefit from talking about their condition in an environment where they don’t have to “protect” others from their fears. Still, some individuals come in because they need to grieve.

Acute and chronic illness often leaves people feeling isolated. These people don’t get to hit pause, so life continues to happen all around them, and sometimes it feels alien when you can’t participate. And that familiar saying, “you just don’t understand,” is often true. Most peers and family members really don’t understand–they may sympathize, they may imagine their own reactions in the given situation, they may truly care and want to “get it,” but they can’t.

While every individual has different therapeutic needs, several kinds of interventions are available. Some examples follow:

  • education about how your illness may affect your mental health
  • stress management and relaxation methods
  • behavior modification to address ramifications of illness
  • understanding the functional limitations and impact of disability
  • coordinating with your physicians or medical team
  • planning and prioritizing for the future
  • non-pharmacological strategies for pain management
  • consultation on appropriate supportive measures, accommodations or modifications
  • assistance with disclosure to others


Working together, I can help you, or the person that you care about, negotiate the nuances of the situation. I can help guide you so you can make some of the important decisions that you may be facing. I can help you set up and restructure your life to manage your illness better. I can help you to set goals for yourself and define your life by your ideals rather than your fears. I can help you access resilience. I can help you redefine purpose.

The key to living with an illness is just that: living with it–living in spite of it, and sometimes it is living the best life you can with the information that you have, even when time is limited. In these situations, I can help you make decisions about end of life choices. I can help support you through this period and even work with you and your family to help you carry out your wishes.

While the symptoms of your condition may be disabling, you get to manage your thoughts, even if you can’t control them, so ultimately you are in charge. When we shift how we think about a situation, how we feel about that situation changes too. This is the power we have–the power to decide what story we want to tell ourselves–even when we don’t have the power to control how illness impacts our bodies.