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Book: Team Positive - How to Build Support for Someone Coping with a Chronic Illness by Todd Schmenk, LMHC

Book: Team Positive - How to Build Support for Someone Coping with a Chronic Illness by Todd Schmenk, LMHC

categories: Book, Coping Skills, Self-Help, Stress Management, Personal Values, Health Education, Chronic Diagnosis, Wellness, Behavior Modification, Emotional Flexibility, Support Team, Pyramid of Support, Chronic Illness




Todd Schmenk, LMHC

Author Todd Schmenk, LMHCabout this book: This book was written for that moment when you, or someone you are close to, becomes chronically ill. A dread diagnosis of cancer, a debilitating disease like Parkinson's or Crohn's, or any other life-altering challenge which upends the world for all involved once it became known.
This book is about what to do at the initial onset of the challenge (as well as what not to do), how to build a support team (for yourself or for another), and the emotional, mental, and physical self-care skills needed to navigate such a challenging situation with flexibility and resilience.


• Benefits of the Book.
Team Positive is a three-part manual for how to build support for a serious diagnosis.
The first part looks at the immediate effects of getting a diagnosis or dealing with chronic health symptoms before a diagnosis is assigned. The latter often being worse emotionally and mentally then the previous since knowing what needs to be addressed is better than not knowing how to proceed at all.
This section includes suggestions on what to do or say and what not to do or say. It is not uncommon for people to react, unconsciously, to the situation with a wide range of interactions. Some are highly supportive and appreciated, some are negligible and are over-looked, yet some responses, while meant to be supportive, are often painful in what is implied and misinterpreted. Some statements are also just downright mean and not supportive at all.
There are also two techniques introduced which are meant to help alleviate the emotional strain which often accompanies the early stages of dealing with the chronic health challenge. These skills are complemented through out the book, especially in part three, tools for the long haul.
The second part of the book looks at what supports are there, how to build further supports, and how to include those who want to help support. The concept of the Pyramid of support is laid out in a simplified manner, giving the overall structure and labels for each person involved in the support effort. Then these titles are explored in more depth helping all those on the team know exactly what they can expect from the team and what is expected of them.
The two biggest benefits of this section are in knowing where your place is on the pyramid of support and understanding what your role is so that there is little worry about what you should do, whether you are the person with the challenge or one in a support role. Much less anxiety or uncertainty when it is all spelled out for you in an easy to understand format.
The final section of the book presents several concepts and skills for how to manage anxiety, depression, and create greater psychological flexibility. This includes techniques that address physical sensations, emotional states and repetitive thoughts that are often experienced as overwhelming. This section also outlines guidelines for becoming more clear on what truly matters most in your life to help you stay motivated and commit to actions even when moving towards them prove difficult.


• What inspired you to write this book?
I have been wanting to write a book for some time, primarily to be able to hand out as a type of road map or field guide with my patients. Several years back I did begin to make short videos of the techniques, concepts and skills I use in session that were meant to reinforce what was done in session by having a place to review these topics and increase the efficiency of the session. There is a great deal of "treatment" that happens in between sessions which I was aware of and wanted to enhance.
By far though, the greatest influence for me in beginning to write this book came from both my professional experiences in working with those with chronic health issues and those that supported them and my own personal experience with family members. My father was a major influence here in that when he was writing his memoir of surviving cancer, I thought it would have been useful to have some sections in his book that would compliment his more personal viewpoint with some clinical support tools. However, I did not want to detract from his publication or personal experience. Instead, we began in late 2018 to lay out an outline which eventually became this book.
The final influence that inspired me to write this book was the shear number of people that I would run into, specifically those in a supportive role, who were outlining their frustrations and anxiety in having to deal with the challenges associated with a chronic illness. I would often find myself giving suggestions and with the person I was speaking with asking me if I could write it all down for them to review later on. I could only have so many conversations and I can only see so many patients per week. I eventually came to believe that the best thing I could do was to write this book so that I could reach and help so many more people than I could do otherwise given the restrictions of time.


• Who are the primary readers of your book?
This book was designed with three audiences in mind. First was for the person coping with the chronic illness. When first diagnosed there are a flood of concerns and thoughts which make it difficult to judge what one should do next and an anxiety in choosing which one will be most useful in the long run. Plus, there is a hesitancy for people in this scenario to have difficulty asking for help. This book was designed to address these initial questions along with skills and concepts to help through out the whole treatment process and afterwards.
The next group this book was designed for was for those who found themselves in a supportive role. While I do work one-to-one with those how have received a chronic illness diagnosis, I found that I was more often working with those who were in a supportive role. This sub-group is critical in the healing process and I found in working to support them that there were very few resources designed for this portion of the population. The primary concern for all in this group was what should I do or say to support the person I care about or more importantly, what should I avoid doing or saying to be the most supportive. This book addresses this and more.
Finally, although much of the clinical wording for this book was pulled out and may become a small book of its own, this book was written for those in within the helping profession, who like myself, will often find themselves in a supportive role for both those with the diagnosis and for those supporting the that person. It clarifies a solid structure and game plan for the clinician to introduce in making sure that the key components of treatment and support are met.


• How long did it take to write it?
It is hard to note just when I began to write this book. I had begun to come up with quick educational sheets for in between session and for people I bumped into who were facing a chronic illness and I had also created a series of videos that were available online. However, I committed to writing this book starting in November of 2018, when my father and I began to meet online every Friday and began discussing what the book would address, who it would address, and the important components that would need to be included. The actual writing of the book took about nine months once this outline was completed.


• How did you come up with the title?
The title for the book developed out of a comment made back in 2015 when my family all gathered for the Christmas holiday soon after my father had been diagnosed with cancer. It was a very emotionally difficult situation in that in the back of our minds, we were unclear whether this would be the last holiday celebrated together with my father present. At several moments during the gathering, the conversation would move to a discussion about what we were going to do as a team and several descriptions of what everyone was feeling.
At some point, my father stated that he was tired of the gloomy conversation and did not want the holiday to be ruined by such conversations, especially if it was to be his last one. I supported this idea, being an ACT therapist and suggested that we focus on the positives and described how in doing so we were giving us all a gift for the future, even if the outcome was not ideal. My brother, in a joking manner, stated "yes, we can be dad's team positive!". My father liked what was said and from that time onwards, he began to refer to us all has "team positive". Hence the title was born.


• Why did you choose this cover?
The cover went through a series of design stages. I even threw out a bunch of ideas to a small group of friends on Facebook. They all agreed on the color, but there was a wide range of likes and dislikes when it came to the original cover. I also found that the use of photographs was "hard" in viewing, that is sharp and I wished for something with a softer edge. So, I hired an illustrator and she listened to me as I described the aesthetic I was hoping for. She gave me several designs to choose from, but focused in on the one that showed people on a mountain, which was similar to one of the original photos. That image told volumes of what the book was about and was ultimately the one I went with. Never would have imagined that it would take two months to come up with a cover, but in the end, I am glad I took the time to focus on this detail.


• What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The hardest part of writing the book was more so towards the end. Eventually, I was tired of looking at it, reading it, but knew it's importance. I just wanted to get this book out. There was a lot of people asking for a copy of it and several medical groups that were excited by the prospect of such a book. I felt somewhat a need to hurry. The hard part was staying the course so that the book would be the best it could be. Why spend so much time in creating it only to rush it at the end. It was a marathon, but if you choose to sprint to soon at the end, you might damage your end time if you push to soon.
The editing rounds were also difficult in having to go back over each sentence and each paragraph. The book is also only 2/3 the size that the original draft was. There was some difficulty in making decisions on what to cut, but once I realized that I could use this material as bonus material elsewhere, specifically on my blog and the books website, this task became easier to do.


• Did you do research for your book?
I did a lot of research for this book and also believe that this book pulled from all the training and continuing education that I have to do as a clinician. Many of the concepts and tools within this book are a result of this educational process plus the experience of being able to see the results of different approaches. I often spend an hour each evening looking at the latest research in relation to anxiety, depression, chronic illness and even couples counseling. This influenced this book. I am also part of several communities where I exchange ideas, talk through approaches and tools, and play with concepts both in and out of clinical application. I also like to read anything that is new in the fields of neurobiology, counseling, relational frame theory, mindfulness and object-subject theory. All of this heavily influenced my work. A list of the most highly influential resources are noted in the back of the book for further reading if desired.
Also – while I might have researched and found an initial approach to a challenge, such as cognitive defusion, I would also notice how those who tried the technique did better when I made alterations to the idea or, even better yet, when a patient made an adjustment which worked best for them. When this happened, I found that this tool was often a hybrid and worked better for all the rest of my patients as well. In the field, this would be called action research and is responsible for a good portion of the tools presented in the book.
I also have done extensive research and studies when it comes to Integral Theory and its application to psychotherapy. I have dedicated a large portion of my energy on this theory and have dedicated more hours than is required into this field. I used several of the concepts in the creation of this book from selection of the tools to how each chapter was selected and from which perspective that each paragraph focused on.


• Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I never imagined that I would ever write a book unless I had something important to say. Over time, it seemed that in my studies, my work, and my experience that there was a place where I noticed that people needed some assistance and so, the need to write the book became clear. Now that I have done it, jumped the hurdles, set aside the time, I now have a few more specific topics that I would like to explore while writing. In writing, I found that I became more concise, more aware of nuances and subtilties and these discoveries informed my work, making it deeper and richer.
Many of these subtle aspects were truly only available due to the process of writing, of focusing on a specific question or topic as a daily practice. I also began to notice what my patients were not saying, which opened the door to me in allowing me to ask. For example, one topic which eventually made it into the book came up because of something I noticed with a few patients which I then asked about. It allowed them to finally say what was on their minds, even though they were often ashamed of the thought, but it was indeed quite important and that was feeling guilty about actually missing being sick. When they brought it up, it made perfect sense.
It was something I had touched on, but once I was aware of this phenomenon, it became part of my agenda for conversation and letting those I worked with in such a situation (existing treatment successfully) I let them know that these types of thoughts were not uncommon and not to be to disturbed by them. It was because of these conversations, based upon my reflections in the book which then informed and expanded the last section of the book.


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Video 1: Team Positive Book Release
Video 2: Team Positive Difficult Situation




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