A real life health pyschologist speaks

By | 27 July, 2011

We hear a lot about diabetes research – mice being cured, islets being transplanted – but what about the other side of research. The bit looking at the practical side of how we deal with diabetes? Chloe Redshaw has been playing at being a pancreas for 20 years and is also studying for a Masters in Health Pyschology. We tied her to a chair and tortured her until she agreed to answer our questions about what she does.

Why did you decide to go into health psychology with a focus on diabetes?

I’ve had type 1 diabetes for 20 years and have had times of extreme difficulty with not just coping with self-care routines and glycymic control, but the psychological aspects of having diabetes. Feelings of denial, anger and sadness have all been a part of my journey to reach acceptance of my condition. I have had times where despite my best efforts to adhere to treatment regimes proposed by my healthcare professionals, my diabetes has still appeared to me at times to have a mind of its own.

All this has led me to believe that optimal control of diabetes is not just about administering the correct insulin, eating the correct food and monitoring my blood sugars, but the way I view myself as a person and how I view my diabetes as a condition. [The other reason I was so keen to interview Chloe is that I think she is spot on about this and so few people talk about it – Alison]

Ah, so diabetes…it’s all in your head. Discuss.

It would be foolish for anyone to suggest that diabetes (of any type) can be purely controlled by one’s own mind. However, we as humans are not robotic being purely driven by biological mechanisms. Our lives and our diabetes control are a result of an interaction of the biological body, the environment and our thoughts, feelings and personalities. A key example of this is stress. We all encounter situations that cause stress in our everyday lives and we all have a biological response that can cause increase in blood sugars. However, the way we respond and deal with these situations in our mind mediates this interaction between a situation and our biological response.

You’ve done some research into gender differences in diabetes. Obviously you’ll have discovered that women are superior, but other than that what did you learn?

This was specifically in adolescence, though I would be interested to also review the work done in adult diabetics. A prominent part of adolescence is gender identity formation. The review aimed to highlight the particular issues asthmatic and diabetic adolescents face and how they differ amongst males and females. These issues were found to be; social identities, personal feelings of self and representation of illness, talking about their illness with their peers, sport/exercise, diet, diabulimia, treatment regimes, conflict and sense of control. Gender does appear to impact substantially on the experience and management in adolescents with a chronic illness. Interventions and care should have considerations for how boys and girls respond and deal differently with their illness and the impact this can have. [So the research says we should be treating patients as individuals rather than putting them all through the same sheep dip, couldn’t agree more – Alison]

You went all modern and looked at whether text messaging reminders and encouragement to teenage diabetics made any difference. Did it?

Text messaging interventions proposes a way to integrate a diabetic health intervention into current adolescent culture.  Studies ;

4 thoughts on “A real life health pyschologist speaks

  1. Tim

    An excellent interview – thanks Chloe! I don’t think it’s any secret that Shoot Up is a huge fan of looking after the diabetic mind as well as the diabetic body and that it’s a hugely neglected area of long-term chronic care.

    In my view research, like Chloe’s, that objectifies the harm that can be caused by poor physiological support (or, indeed, the benefits of good physiological support) is one of the most important areas of diabetes-related research at the minute. But, hey, what do I know – I’m merely a patient! 😉

  2. Cecile

    @tim: I gather this “physio” vending the “physiological support” you have in mind will massage your head…and I’ll remember to trot off to the psychotherapist next time I strain a muscle 😀

    @diabeticpsychologist: So I should give my Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder a big kiss for enabling me to maintain both exemplary HbA1c & glycaemic control… 🙂 (it would be interesting if you could weave in a place to indicate what kind of therapy one follows to see if pumpers are happier than penners)

  3. Spike Jones

    Nice interview to see. Thanks @alison

    @diabeticpsychologist Ye gods! I thought it would be a few questions, not pages. That said, happy to help the cause ;-D


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