Does psychotherapy help treat type 1 diabetes?

Mr. Eliot LeBow, CDE, LCSW
Endocrinology Diabetes & Metabolism

Yes! There are even some of us who have created psychotherapy practices solely to help people living with diabetes. A type 1 diabetic has to be flexible, always prepared to change what they are doing on a moment's notice. It can be very traumatic and frustrating. 

It is very traumatic living with diabetes, knowing at any moment you can make an error and land in a diabetic coma from a low blood sugar. Having to accept a possibly shorter life span. Whether it is because a person is struggling to manage the day-to-day tasks or a person is dealing with complications, it is best to get emotional help to allow for acceptance. 

One of the interesting facts and most problematic is that most people who were diagnosed prior to age 17 years old have some level of attention deficit disorder (ADD). This is due to damage to the frontal lobe caused by shifting high and low blood sugars during brain development in a child with diabetes. This damage impairs intelligence, attention, processing speed, long-term memory, executive functions, and self-monitoring. ADD creates poor self-esteem and can impact all aspects of self-care. Psychotherapy can help effectively manage both the diabetes and ADD.  

High blood sugars can trigger depression, and depression causes poor motivation to control one's diabetes management, in turn causing higher blood sugar. This process is an endless cycle if left alone. Going to a therapist can help you turn that around. 

Higher levels of anxiety, fear and guilt come along for the ride. In the here and now, diabetes management is like having a second job. If you have ever had 2 full-time jobs, you probably can relate to some of the emotional stress and anxiety living with diabetes comes with.

Fear sets in even if you have no complications, and for some people, those thoughts become a consistent part of everyday life. The phobia of low blood sugar is very common and causes individuals with diabetes to deliberately keep their blood sugar levels high and that will increase depression. Therapists are great for helping people reduce their fears and manage their lives better as a result.  

Psychotherapists help facilitate growth and change in their clients. So clients with diabetes can find those answers and come to acceptance around living with chronic illness. It's not easy but it is a lot easier with someone to talk to without bias or judgment. 





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