The Voice: Winter 2003

The Voice

Kevin Eames helps people learn to live with diabetes

by Sally Jongsma

Dr. Kevin Eames is using his professional expertise, research interests, and personal health experience to help people with diabetes. Eames’s presentation “Living with Diabetes: Stress, Grief, and Coping” shows people with diabetes how to think more positively about their lives and their future.

“Adjusting your thinking can ease stress and its resulting negative effects on health,” says Eames, who is a professor of psychology at Dordt College and has diabetes himself.

People with diabetes suffer from depression at three times the rate of the general population. Scientists are not sure if this is partly a hormonal result of the disease, but whether it is or not, the depression needs to be addressed, says Eames. He tells people that it is perfectly legitimate to grieve about having a chronic illness. “Your view of yourself, your lifestyle, and your future have all dramatically changed,” he says.

The key, though, is not to ignore it or pretend it isn’t there, but to think about the illness in a more healthy way. “Unhealthy thinking patterns distort how we think about reality—especially with diabetes,” he says.

Eames gives his fellow diabetics a way to think “accurately.”

“This is not just positive thinking. Such an approach could be harmful, because it is important for people with diabetes to recognize the seriousness of taking care of themselves. It is when the disease becomes almost the single focus of thinking that depression results.”

Through a format developed originally by psychologist Albert Ellis, Eames urges his listeners to go through a thinking process that helps them look at how they are thinking and feeling, what specific events or situations have caused that response, and what they might be able to do to change it in some way. He is interested in helping people regain some sense of hopefulness and control over life circumstances that they can change, to help them see again that although diabetes is not curable they may be able to live a relatively normal life free of life-threatening complications if they adhere to a regimen.

Eames became interested in these issues several years ago during therapy sessions with several clients who were diabetic and dealing with depression.

“As I listened to people, I started hearing similar things,” he says. Other people’s struggles mirrored some of his own. He believes that the kind of cognitive therapy he is suggesting—therapy that teaches people how to learn certain skills that can make a difference in their health—is very beneficial. It helps them look ahead, not simply to the past. It helps them see they can make choices.

Since stress leads to higher blood sugar levels, which creates more stress, a vicious circle begins if something doesn’t intervene, says Eames. He hopes to help people break this cycle by continuing research on further coping resources that can help them better manage their stress and their disease.