To recover from illness: prioritise self-care, choose the right thoughts and nourish well.

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Life takes a turn when illness hits. While often times, illness comes and goes without much disruptions; there are times everything has to stop and life has to change drastically for recovery to happen. The illness I had recently belongs to the latter. I have a persisting lung haemorrhage that will recur upon physical exertion, and I have triggered a big episode this time round. Weakness runs through my body, stamina depletes, life has to slow down for weeks. I’m walking on eggshells, not knowing when the next relapse is. I’m lucky to have made the choice to slow down.

At this moment, I am still in the journey of recovery. I have trudged this journey long enough to derive some meaning as to what this illness has shown me. I believe every life experience has a meaning for us, and for such specific life-changing events, the meaning is huge. As I reflect on this meaning, I grow a little wiser.

Illness signals self-care. Put ourselves first, priorities needs to be readjusted.

I believe that illness hits when we neglect our needs for too long. Our needs to be rested, be nourished, be listened to, be cared for emotionally, be seen and be balanced. Such neglect happens, priorities get readjusted even without us knowing it. Illness is a sign for us to reconnect with ourselves and listen to what really matters to us. True recovery happens the moment we stop, reflect and re-prioritise ourselves to the forefront.

Illness gives a myriad of thoughts, choose the thoughts that empowers and gives hope.

When this big episode happens, just like the previous episodes, I had an onslaught of negative thoughts that weren’t so helpful to my recovery. When illness sets, our thoughts can have a life on its own. I have thoughts like, “why me again?”, “this won’t ever go away, no point trying”, “my body is just too weak for anything”. These thoughts were not helping – they took hope away, put me in a victim mindset. And I know that psychophysiologically, these thoughts impede my healing.

I began to choose and create positivity, by starting with myself. Someone really close to me reminded me to work through gratitude, and said “think of the things that are happening well for you right now”. I did that and began to realise that things are actually getting better, albeit minor episodes of relapse. I began to garner hope that things are turning out well. At the same time, I grew more sensitive to others’ pain in their own versions, compassion began to grow within me. They were afraid, tired, confused and unsure, just like me. It hit me when I realised that at the most fundamental level of living, we are all the same. That gave me strength to trudge on because they didn’t give up either.

Illness often needs wholesome food for recovery. Food and rest comes together.

Rest is the time for the body to reconstruct and repair itself, food is the building blocks for this process. When I was really ill one day, a meal that was well-prepared made a tremendous difference compared to a shoddy meal. Nutrition matters, and it can be felt from the inside out. Ensure our food has high levels of growth and repair nutrients. Couple good food and rest, re-prioritise our personal needs and shifting to a positive mental state, the recovery process will be amped up to a higher frequency.                                               

Original writings by The Realist, inspired by encounters in professional work in life coaching, physical therapy and PhD research.

Life Coach, Counsellor, Psychologist or Psychiatrist: Which one to approach when distressed?

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Mental distress is a human experience that can range across a wide spectrum. It can be a depressive episode that comes and goes regularly, a relationship argument that triggers anger issues, or suicidal attempts to end all the struggles right now. When a person is struggling with such distress, it can be confusing to know who to approach to resolve these issues. In my work, I have seen clients who have sought each of these professions, and they turned out very differently, with horror and success stories. Hence, I write this post to highlight the differences between each of these professions, in the way they are trained, and the likely approaches they adopt to help. Share this post with people whom you know will benefit from this knowledge.


1.Psychiatrist / GP – The Medical Professionals

This is the most common go-to I see in my clients. When someone is in psychological distress, such as anxiety, insomnia, depression, they see a doctor, thinking that psychological and physiology can be treated the same way – through medications. Psychiatrists are trained first as doctors, through a typical medical degree, and specialised into mental health. The primary mode of treatment from the medical system is medications, such as antidepressants and mood stabilisers.

Pros: Medications are highly effective in reducing psychological distress on a biochemistry level. This approach is highly suitable when an immediate treatment is necessary, such as to prevent drastic self-harm or suicide. The medications increases the concentration of “feel good” hormones that balances the activity of the brain, so negative thoughts and behaviours get reduced.

Cons: Medication are just temporary stop-gap measures, with possible chances of forming dependency and addiction. I have clients experiencing severe mood swings and insomnia once the medications are reduced, which is not surprising because medications does not change the internal cognitive and emotional processes. The same patterns of thinking generating the distress will still happen once the biochemistry is reverted.

Indeed, research has shown that interventions using medications and therapeutic sessions have significantly higher improvements and less relapse rates, as compared to using medications alone.

I believe that a psychological distress is contributed by both biochemistry and dysfunctional patterns of thinking. And once formed, these 2 factors self-perpetuate into a negative spiral. Hence, the best way forward is to include therapeutic sessions. The latter three professionals are trained to provide these therapies.


2.Psychologist – The Scientist-Practitioners

My doctorate is in the field of psychology. Psychologists are first trained as a scientist of human experience, then a practitioner to help. Most psychologist have no practical experience in helping during the undergraduate years. Their orientation is to approach a client as a scientist-practitioner, and will be unethical to practice any therapy that has not been supported by science.

Pros: Any strategies adopted by a psychologist are backed by science and has been tested with many subjects. The chances of treatment success is high. Treatments are also highly based on scientific approaches, where pre and post-intervention assessment scores are systematically obtained and compared to determine treatment success.

Cons: Many psychological experiences cannot be generalised. What is supported by science may not work on the specific client. Under a psychologist, the client can only be treated with strategies that work on the majority of the population. There is a chance that the client can be better helped with an alternative therapy, which is hard to research on and so cannot be adopted by the psychologist – which encompasses many useful therapies other professions use (e.g., Hypnosis, NLP and Narrative Therapy). Counsellors and life coaches, as elaborated later, are not confined by these requirements.


2.Counsellor – Past & Present Orientation

Counsellors are getting to mainstream psychology. Counsellors are trained primarily as experiential practitioners, and less of being a scientists; hence, they are more flexible to attend fully to a client’s experience without the red tapes. They focus on helping an individual come to terms with life challenges by focusing on the past and present. They have wide access to many different approaches that have shown treatment success, which may or may not include those adopted by psychologists. Counsellors also treat milder levels of distress, such as time management, confidence, forgiveness, as well as tougher distresses, including mood dysfunctions and relationship problems. GP/psychiatrists and psychologists are more inclined to treat at-risk and near-clinical cases.

Pros: Counsellors provide a more personal touch to the treatment process. Some of my clients detest to the process of scientific measurements because those numbers do not represent how they really feel inside. A change in the numbers did not necessary make them feel okay to be let off the therapy. Some clients prefer a more personal approach.

Cons: Counsellors focus heavily in the past and present, including heavy exploration of the past. My experience as a life coach demonstrates that the conversation about a past problem is very different from the conversation about a positive solution-focused future. I have clients who relate to me counselling experiences that were so invested in past abuses, that they left the session not knowing how to move forward. And over time, it becomes a negatively geared therapy process. Life Coaching provides the “what now from here?” answer.


2.Life Coach – Present & Future Orientation

Life coaching is my preferred profession because I believe true treatment success has to be one that is unrestricted and authentically personal. It has to also include invested growth elements so that the clients not only improved from a -5 to 0, but also from 0 to +3. The client will leave being a stronger and more resilient person.

Life coaching has most of the skills and therapeutic knowledge a counsellor has. But a life coach focuses on creating a positive future, from a distressed past and present. The focus on moving forward is intense, and the client will be consistently challenged to be empowered. A frequent question we use is “knowing all these are happening or have happened, what is one small step you can take right now to change your future?”. Life coaching is a thoughtful and challenging process because the client has to truly show up authentically and start climbing up the rut.

Another key strength of a life coach is that we produce clients who can eventually self-coach. I see most clients not more than three sessions, with efficient treatment success, and little relapse rates because they know how catch themselves as they realised they are slipping.

Pros: A truly empowering and personal therapeutic process to restructure the thoughts and emotions to be more functional, without needing the use of medications.

Cons: Life coaching is not suitable for highly unstable or clinical clients, with a thick traumatic past.


Mental distress can be seen as mild or severe, and its treatment approaches can be taken from the medical or therapeutic processes. Also, both biochemical and psychological processes have to be accounted for, if applicable. Depending on what a client is experiencing, the right professional has to be selected to obtain the best care.

Share and spread this knowledge, and raise the global awareness.

Original writings by The Realist, inspired by encounters in professional work in life coaching, physical therapy and PhD research.