Why I Sought Therapy With a Trained Psychologist

Mary Shaniqua avatar

by Mary Shaniqua |

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People often tell me that I make living with sickle cell disease look easy. It is not.

Whenever people make these types of comments, I always think that because I was born this way, I don’t know any other life — not really. For the most part, I have grown up learning how to cultivate the life I want around this disease.

However, due to the fluctuating nature of sickle cell, I am always learning. Things I could once do, which had little to no impact on my body and energy levels, later caused me problems. So, I am constantly trying to understand my body as best I can and make the necessary adjustments in my life.

This includes identifying when I require professional assistance — not only with my physical health but also my mental health. I believe a holistic approach to well-being is important for everyone, but even more so for those battling an underlying condition.

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Recovery From a Sickle Cell Crisis Requires Attention to Mental Health

Living with sickle cell means we can become extremely sick and even spend significant periods of time in the ICU. When we are fortunate enough to get better, we are often expected to return to life as normal, despite going through something so traumatic. I have always found this extraordinary. How can I be expected to continue living my life as normal after standing at death’s door?

I have found that my body does not forget trauma. I seem to experience severe crises around the same times of year. For example, I was hospitalized in April and May of last year, and then again last April and May. This is a recent example, but I identified the pattern years ago. It was clear to me that the trauma of being sick must have lingered in my mind or body, so I decided to seek psychological treatment.

I was concerned about three things when selecting a therapist. Firstly, I needed the therapist to have a working knowledge of sickle cell. Secondly, I wanted a therapist who would understand my racial struggles as a Black woman and the importance of my Christian faith in the way I analyze my life and make decisions. Finally, I understood that I would need to have a very open relationship with my therapist. I would need to be brutally honest, so I wanted someone who would understand me and make it easy to build a trusting relationship.

Fortunately, I was able to secure a professional who had a full understanding of sickle cell and specialized in treating hematology patients. Although my therapist was neither Black nor Christian, she was understanding and experienced in dealing with patients who were both. These qualities made it easy to select and accept my therapist.

I began cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in 2016. The U.K.’s National Health Service defines CBT as “a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave.” My therapist and I chose CBT because studies have shown that when combined with standard medical treatments, CBT can help sickle cell patients better manage distress caused by the condition.

After five years, I have experienced many benefits. I have become better at dealing with the psychological distress that results from sickle cell, and I have found more suitable ways of navigating my worries, both present and future. I’m learning how to best cope with my illness and be in control of it, as much as is possible, anyway.

Therapy has helped me feel empowered to make decisions about my treatment options. It has been a neutral, judgment-free zone for me to explore my thoughts, and it has enabled me to manage family and relationship issues and understand how different behaviors affect my health and life.

Challenging my unhealthy thought processes has been a steep learning curve — but it’s allowed me to change the way I feel about my health struggles.

Have you tried CBT or other therapies to help you cope with sickle cell? I invite you to share your experiences in the comments below.


Note: Sickle Cell Disease 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 Sickle Cell Disease News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sickle cell disease.


Merrill Hodge avatar

Merrill Hodge

I was encouraged by your article. How do your parents cope? What are some things that they do when you are in crisis mode? My daughter is 24 and has sickle cell. I know the struggles that you are experiencing.

John Moore avatar

John Moore

My 22 year old son is just starting CBT counseling. Sickle Cell (SS) Anemia has put him through the ringer! He is starting to climb out of the deep depression the disease had put him in. We tried a bone marrow transplant, but it was unsuccessful. He was in despair for quite awhile after that. I am hoping this new therapy technique will help him get back on track to living a life that is fulfilling & rewarding. Whatever happens, his mother & I will be there with him. Thanks for this article.

Mary Shaniqua avatar

Mary Shaniqua

Thank you for your comment John, we sickle cell patients go through so many trying and traumatic challenges - though it is rarely recognised and referred to as trauma. As such it can be quite difficult to get to the realisation that therapy could potentially be beneficial. So many things I thought were the norm or the way things were to be - were actually trauma responses/ defence mechanisms due to the trauma I had experienced. I hope your son finds CBT helpful as he navigates this disease.


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