Parkinson’s disease, as with many chronic illnesses, will affect you both physically and mentally. It is important to realize that you are not alone; and if you feel you need help coping, you should consider counseling.

The decision to seek counseling is an important step. Too often, people don't get help because they feel guilt, shame, or embarrassment. By deciding to get help, you have made a choice to feel better and to improve your life. Counseling services should be chosen with care to meet your needs. Working with a trained mental healthcare provider and your doctor, you can develop the right treatment plan.

Where do I start?

First, you and your doctor should review how you and those around you are coping with your illness. It is very important to realize that the physical symptoms and disabilities caused by Parkinson’s disease can have a major impact on your health and mental outlook, as well as the mental health of those around you, including your family, friends, and co-workers. It is important that your Parkinson’s disease be under the best control possible.

The biochemical changes occurring in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease can lead to depression. Therefore, depression is a real part of the disease, as much as is tremor or slowness of movement. Depression can lead to a loss of self-esteem, increased dependence, and social limitations. In some patients, medical treatment of the depression is necessary.

Your doctor might recommend referral to a mental health provider who will conduct an "assessment," a or a review of your mental health. The assessment is done by a person trained in mental healthcare. Specialists in mental healthcare can include family therapists, social workers, psychologist, psychiatrists, and other professionals. (Your healthcare provider can refer you to the appropriate mental healthcare professional.)

The assessment is used to diagnose the problem and determine the best treatment. You will be asked to describe why you want counseling, any symptoms you have (emotional, mental, and physical), and your medical history. You might be given a question-and-answer survey.

What happens after the assessment?

Once you complete the assessment, a treatment plan can be developed. At this time, you and your counselor can discuss:

  • The best type of counseling.
  • The best setting for counseling (counselor's office, outpatient clinic, hospital, residential treatment center).
  • Who will be included in your treatment (you alone, family members, others with similar problems).
  • How often you should go to counseling.
  • How long counseling might last.
  • Any medicines that will be needed.

What are the types of counseling?

The following list briefly describes common types of counseling. These can be used together or alone, depending on the treatment plan.

Crisis intervention counseling

In cases of emergency (such as initial despair over diagnosis), the counselor will help you get through the crisis and refer you to further counseling or medical care, if needed. These services are provided by community health agencies, help lines, and hotlines.

Individual counseling

You meet one-on-one with the counselor. Counseling often takes place in the privacy of the counselor's office. This type of counseling works well when problems come mainly from you, and your thinking patterns and behaviors. In addition, some problems are very personal and difficult to confront with others present. If you are experiencing depression, anxiety, or grief in dealing with your Parkinson’s, this approach might be appropriate.

Family therapy

A diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease can affect your entire family. If you are the primary provider in the home, there can be financial strain. If you are a homemaker, there might be a need to make some adjustments in the distribution of chores. These everyday strains, combined with the emotional effects of dealing with a chronic illness, have an enormous impact on the family dynamic.

Family therapy can help your family members resolve issues among each other. It can also help them adopt ways to help another family member better cope. Your family members can learn how actions and ways of communicating can worsen problems. With help, new and improved ways of communicating can be explored and practiced.

Group therapy

In group therapy, you join a group and discuss your problems with others. The sessions are guided by a trained counselor. Members in the group often share the same problem, but not always. The group session provides a place where people can confide with others who understand their struggles. They also can learn how they see themselves and how they are seen by others. Members gain strength in knowing that they are not alone with their problems. Group therapy is useful for a variety of problems.

Long-term, residential treatment

The person receiving therapy lives at a treatment center. The length of stay can vary, depending on the treatment program and progress of therapy. A program can last more than a year or just a week or two. Settings include hospitals, home-like structures, and clinics.

The person focuses mainly on his or her problem and getting well. Other activities — such as work, school, family, and hobbies — take a backseat to treatment. In most programs, the person receives counseling daily and participates in regular group therapy. Additional counseling after residential treatment has been ended might be needed.

Self-help and support groups

These include a network of people with similar problems. These groups usually meet regularly without a therapist or counselor. There are self-help groups for those coping with Parkinson’s disease. Talk to your healthcare provider or social worker for information about organizations in your community.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/10/2011.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy