Georgianna Dolan-Reilly, LMSW

Georgianna Dolan-Reilly, LMSW

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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The Spoon Theory: An Explanation of Coping with Invisible Illness

By Georgianna Reilly, LMSW
SJS Staff Writer

Often as social workers we work with individuals who have invisible illnesses, who suffer from either physical or mental barriers that limit what they can get done on any given day. For many, that symptom of fatigue is a big factor. Whether it be a result of Fibromyalgia, Crohn’s Disease, Lupus, or the side effect of medications fatigue can be a big hindrance to how an individual manages their day. This is a form of invisible illness, one that many cannot understand because it isn’t obvious and they’ve never felt it.

Well, thanks to Christine Miserandino of  there is a simple theory which can be used to describe what it is like to go through life with such a barrier, that being the Spoon Theory. In my practice with youth, I have found this theory incredibly helpful in discussing the finite nature of energy and other resources that some individuals have.

Christine, in an exchange with a curious friend, describes life with Lupus and fatigue as follows “I explained that the difference in being sick and being healthy is having to make choices or to consciously think about things when the rest of the world doesn’t have to. The healthy have the luxury of a life without choices, a gift most people take for granted.

Most people start the day with unlimited amount of possibilities, and energy to do whatever they desire, especially young people. For the most part, they do not need to worry about the effects of their actions. So for my explanation, I used spoons to convey this point. I wanted something for her to actually hold, for me to then take away, since most people who get sick feel a “loss” of a life they once knew. If I was in control of taking away the spoons, then she would know what it feels like to have someone or something else, in this case Lupus, being in control.”

I suggest that you read this article, and perhaps use the Spoon Theory itself in action, if you work with any population who experiences fatigue, or other barriers to daily living.

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