The concept of sex differences/gender differences has made it’s way into health care in three areas.
- Women metabolize medications differently than men.
- Medical symptoms indicating illness, especially heart disease, present differently in women than men.
- A woman’s physical health is intricately interwoven with hormonal changes that occur throughout the lifespan and these have psychological ramifications. In addition a woman’s needs for relationship and connectedness influence her physical and psychological wellbeing.
Awareness of these differences has contributed to the creation of specialties in treating women’s health issues.
One of the specialty areas is recognition and treatment of the impact of stress and unresolved emotional dynamics on a woman’s health. Another way of saying this is that there is a connection between life experiences and physical symptoms. Our life experiences, especially in early childhood and adolescence, create our belief systems, attitudes, feelings, thoughts. These “contents of the mind” translate into biochemical messages that effect the body. There is also a reciprocal relationship in that our body experiences affect our cognitive, emotional and relational functioning. This is the premise of mind/body medicine: the mind and body are interconnected.
The critical attitudinal change in women’s health care is recognizing the importance of treating the whole woman, not just the symptom that she brings into the consultation room. This means assessing life style, stressors, emotional state and coping resources. Many of the issues that women bring into doctor’s offices can be helped with the combination of a good physician-patient relationship, follow through on recommended medical intervention when needed, and teaching about the importance of a balanced lifestyle.
Creating and maintaining balance in a woman’s life is the key to health maintenance and healing. This is done by the conscious practice of eating well, exercising regularly, getting sufficient sleep, sustaining good relationships, as well as practicing mindbody skills such as relaxation breathing, meditation, guided imagery, yoga, self hypnosis.
There are times, however, when there are no physical findings to support the presenting symptom or when a woman is non responsive or minimally responsive to medical intervention. This is a sign that a woman needs to investigate what else is contributing to the persistence of her symptoms. This is best done in conjunction with a professional who specializes in a psychotherapy modality that integrates psychodynamic, couples, family and cognitive behavioral psychotherapies and mindbody medicine. Some of the presenting problems that may be helped by with this approach include:
- Gynecological conditions such as issues with one’s menstrual cycle, endometriosis, recurrent urinary tract infections
- PMS, Menopause
- Reproductive issues – infertility, pregnancy loss, postpartum depression
- Sexual Difficulties
- Chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pelvic pain, vulvodynia, interstitial cystitis
There are a myriad of experiences that can stress and at times overwhelm a woman’s coping capacities. These include:
- pregnancy loss
- pregnancy difficulties including anxiety, depression, mood changes
- postpartum depression
- relationship difficulties
- struggles in the realm of sexuality and sex
- health challenges
- the multiple transitions characterizing the middle and later years of a woman’s life span
A psychotherapy consultation provides a safe and nurturing setting in which a woman can be helped to sort out what may be contributing to her symptoms as well as identify and assess which treatment options will best facilitate her healing and health.