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How counselors improve patients’ physical health

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When you think about the word “counseling,” you might also think of mental health. While counseling can certainly have a positive impact on mental health, many people don’t realize that it can also affect their physical health. Below, we explore how counselors can enhance patients’ physical well-being and ensure their clients live healthy and happy lives.

Increased access to counseling

One of the most positive impacts of the rise of telehealth services is the increased access people have to counseling. Instead of requiring them to visit offices in person, counseling can now be done from wherever clients are most comfortable, whether that is their home or somewhere else entirely. The counseling process is less overwhelming and daunting as a result, and sometimes, even people who refuse to visit a counselor in person are more amenable to the idea of online services. As a result, more people across the country are seeking care for their mental and physical needs.

To take advantage of the opportunity telehealth offers, not just to their own practice but also for their clients’ overall well-being, counselors must be well-versed not only in technology but also in their area of expertise. Online CACREP counseling programs, such as the one offered by Walsh University, aim to address both these needs. Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredits programs designed to provide aspiring counselors with all the skills and knowledge they need to thrive. Walsh University’s online Master’s in Counseling delivers the choice of specializing in one of three specializations, including clinical mental health counseling, school counseling or both as a dual degree. All these programs can be completed online, allowing students flexibility as they study.

Here are some of the ways counselors can help their clients:

Stress reduction and management

There are many reasons counseling might be a good choice for you. Stress reduction is one of them.

If you feel stressed at times, you aren’t alone. Millions of Americans around the country are struggling with the same issue. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, the country is currently facing a mental health crisis on a large scale. There are a few reasons for the increased stress people are feeling, including COVID-related problems such as losing loved ones and losing valuable social support. Still, at the end of the day, the “why” is somewhat less important, especially because counselors are here to help. No matter the reason behind the stress you’re experiencing, counselors can work with you to address the root cause and get you back on track for a healthy, happy life.

Stress reduction and management are crucial because stress can have a direct impact on physical health. It can affect the musculoskeletal system, the respiratory system, the cardiovascular system, the endocrine system, the gastrointestinal system and the nervous system, among others. Your risk of chronic illnesses rises as your level of sustained stress does, and there are shorter-term problems such as pain and bloating. The health issues related to stress are wildly different from one another and can span a variety of different systems. Still, the important note is that stress is directly related to physical health.

Counselors have the knowledge to help you reduce and manage the stress in your life. They teach coping skills designed to minimize the pressure their patients feel and work to address the root cause of the anxiety. If your stress stems from losing a loved one, for example, counselors will work with you to recognize the connection and change your perspective, along with the tools you use, so that you are better equipped to handle this trigger. This allows counselors to impact their clients’ physical health directly and immediately.

Behavioral change and healthy habits  

Most people have a few bad habits. That’s a normal part of life; for many, the issues are relatively small and inconsequential. For others, these habits and behaviors affect physical health in a variety of ways. One of the biggest of these is physical health. Some people struggle to change their lifestyles to promote good, long-term health, leading to physical issues such as obesity. The effects of obesity can be devastating, and it often affects all the systems we discussed in the section above. Poor health affects your life in many ways, from your mental health to your skeleton and everything in between.

Counselors can help clients change their behaviors in several ways and develop healthy habits that can do wonders for their physical health. Exercise and diet are the two areas where counselors have the most significant impact on health, although certainly not the only ones. We are all aware that exercise is important to your health for a few different reasons. Not only does it allow you to manage your weight, but the sheer act of exercising can have a significant impact on your mental health, too. This, in turn, leads to sustainable lifestyle changes that will benefit your body and mind for many years to come.

Diet is an equally important factor in physical health. It is also one of the most difficult to change, with many people needing help finding the motivation to plan their meals, purchase the ingredients for those meals and then cook the meals promptly. Instead, many opt for takeout or other similarly detrimental food solutions. This can lead to poor overall health, including a lack of the nutrients needed to sustain a healthy life.

Counselors are the perfect people to help their clients adopt healthy habits. They understand the difficulty their clients face with motivation. They can help them find the motivation necessary for lasting change and provide them with the knowledge they need to maintain healthy habits even during times of great stress.

Chronic illness management

Chronic illnesses pose numerous challenges to your physical health, and not all of them are related to the disease or condition itself. This kind of medical issue impacts the way that you see yourself, your place in society, your relationships and your plans for the future. You might not be able to do the things you love to do the way you used to, for example, and these changes can easily lead to depression and stress. While these reactions are understandable, they can also hurt your physical health. When compounded with the physical struggles you are already experiencing from the chronic illness in question, depression and stress can wreak havoc on your health.

Counselors can help their patients recognize and address these issues to promote good health. They do this in a few different ways, including providing the following types of therapy:

  • Resource therapy
  • Psycho-education therapy
  • Skill-building therapy
  • Symptom relief therapy

Resource therapy allows counselors to help their clients find resources. This includes doctors, clinics, health centers and even social services that can help them through their daily struggles as well as the long-term physical effects of chronic illness. Psycho-education therapy, on the other hand, focuses more on improving a client’s knowledge about what is happening to their physical health. This kind of therapy combines information about individual psychology, neurobiology, emotions, relationships and many other areas that can help people cope with the changes they experience in their bodies. When you have knowledge about the changes related to your chronic illness, you are likely to experience less stress and fear of the unknown, both of which can impact your physical health.

Skill-building therapy helps people learn the skills they need to communicate with other people effectively. This is crucial when living with a chronic illness, as long-term separation from other people can have severe consequences for overall health. One of the most serious of these is an increase in stress that you are unable to let go of because you don’t have the social support you need. Finally, symptom relief therapy helps people deal with the disruptive or painful symptoms that affect their everyday lives. Panic attacks, for example, can be notoriously difficult on the body, and they are closely related to severe illness and the stress it brings. Counselors can help their clients find and address the root cause of the issue.

Adherence to medical treatment

You might not realize it, but one of the main issues people deal with regarding their physical health is accepting medical treatment and adopting the suggestions providers make. Sometimes, people with diabetes refuse to change their eating habits to help improve their overall health, for example, or fail to make taking either insulin shots or similar medications an important part of their day. As a result, physical health continues to suffer over time.

Adhering to medical treatment can be difficult for a few different reasons, not the least of which is the significant lifestyle changes some treatments require. In general, many people dislike change and are happy to live within their routines and habits. Sometimes, this puts them in direct opposition to their medical provider’s advice and hinders their efforts to address their illness or other health problems and regain their health. Motivation is a key factor in overcoming this resistance; counselors are experts in this area. Working with clients to recognize the importance of their medical provider’s advice is one of the primary ways that counselors help boost motivation and, in turn, increase adherence to medical treatment.

Health education and awareness

Sometimes, we simply don’t realize that something we’re doing is unhealthy. This is especially true when we grow up in households where those habits are commonplace. Physical health education counseling is designed to help people understand why some of their behaviors might be detrimental and how they can change their behavior to promote good health.

One of the biggest hurdles people face is understanding the link between physical health and mental health. When your mental health is suffering, your physical health will inevitably follow. The reverse is also true. Even if you have excellent mental health at the start of a serious health journey, it will likely deteriorate as the stress and pain your body experiences increases. Both psychological and physical health must be aligned to live a lifestyle that genuinely promotes an overall sense of well-being. Counselors are an important tool for good physical health because they are perfectly poised to provide their clients with the knowledge they need to manage their overall health. Health education counseling is also beneficial when it comes to promoting holistic health.

Holistic health focuses on improving physical, mental, spiritual, social, and emotional health simultaneously and follows the idea that all of these factors are equally important to good physical health. This area of medicine utilizes aspects of many different cultures, religions and disciplines. Consider it a health approach that affects the whole person, not a specific symptom. When combined with health education counseling, holistic health has the potential to transform lives and emphasize healthy living.

Conclusion

From skill acquisition to chronic illness management, counseling enhances physical health in many important ways. If you are interested in entering the field and helping clients of your own, keep the information above in mind and look for programs that emphasize them. Once you secure an excellent education, you’ll be ready to change the world.

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