Spoon Theory: Changing the Way we Look at Chronic Illness!

Does it ever feel like you could use a “spoonful” of energy – a little boost of support and encouragement to get you through the day? If you suffer from a chronic illness, you’ll probably be familiar with the wide variety of challenges that arise on a daily basis. Many of these are internal. Therefore, explaining the symptoms and personal experiences related to such illnesses is no easy task. Luckily, however, Spoon Theory can help us in this regard. In this article, we cover the concept of Spoon Theory and how it is helping people around the world cope. Read on to learn more.

Spoon Theory: What Is It?

After struggling to appropriately explain the personal experiences related to her chronic illness, Christine Miserandino shared her story with a friend. Her illustration has now become known as Spoon Theory. This theory explains the realities that individuals living with a chronic illness have to deal with. Two examples of such realities are the constant need for conscious decision-making and having limited energy for completing daily tasks.

Christine went on to explain how generally healthy people use up their energy in various ways. However, the difference that individuals living with a chronic illness live with is the continuous need to make conscious choices regarding how to spend their (limited) amounts of energy. She uses spoons to demonstrate this (hence the name “Spoon Theory”). Healthy people have an endless supply of “spoons”, whereas individuals living with a chronic illness may not have this luxury. They need to plan their day in specific ways as the progression of the day and the tasks that they need to perform are linked to a decrease in the number of “spoons” (or units of energy) they have.

Basically, Spoon Theory is a metaphor that explains how daily tasks are directly connected to energy levels in individuals with chronic illnesses.

What Does “Spoonie” Mean?

The term “Spoonie” refers to someone living with a chronic illness. This includes illnesses such as lupus, fibromyalgia, depression and many others. Some defining characteristics of these illnesses are the invisibility of their symptoms which makes it difficult for other people to recognize the challenges of living with such conditions. In general, “Spoonies” have to live their lives in a very intentional manner as they usually have fewer “spoons” than tasks at hand. Thus, they have to intentionally decide how to progress through their day without expending all of their energy. Alternatively, they need to find ways of coping with the least possible amount of pain and fatigue.

The term “Spoonie” is not entirely negative, though. It has brought many people comfort and allowed for “Spoonies” to connect and interact about their personal struggles. The hashtag “Spoonies” is growing across social media platforms, which presents the opportunity for increased unification among those who live with chronic illnesses. It has also allowed for increased support and encouragement structures; and very importantly, awareness about what it’s like to live with a chronic illness. Ultimately, it has inspired a more open dialogue among all types of people which further encourages a combined sense of understanding.

How is Spoon Theory Used in Therapy?

Spoon Theory can be used as a visual representation of how to complete tasks throughout the day. It can be used to demonstrate and explain that people living with a chronic illness may need to adjust their way of life, rather than thinking that they can’t live a “normal” life.

Many people may be subjected to feelings of guilt associated with not being able to accomplish everyday tasks. Spoon Theory can help alleviate this pressure by showing people that they should not feel guilty, but rather understand that this is how their bodies work. This may ease the negative effects of living with a chronic illness and, therefore, using Spoon Theory in therapy can be very helpful.

How Does Spoon Theory Suggest the Mind Works?

Spoon Theory suggests that living with a chronic illness affects the way in which the mind interacts with daily tasks. It explains that living with an invisible illness means having a limited capacity to complete tasks. This means that the decisions that may seem simple to healthy people aren’t quite as simple for people living with a chronic illness. There is a constant battle within the mind centered around deciding on how to proceed through the day to achieve everything necessary whilst not expending too much energy.

Spoon Theory suggests that the mind works in a way that incorporates the restrictions which the physical body may impose on it. Constantly making calculated choices to alleviate the load of day-to-day tasks. These choices are ultimately formulated around the idea of using their “spoons” to get through a day in the most effective way possible.

How Can Spoon Theory be Used to Cause Change?

Spoon Theory not only allows for improved discourse between sufferers of chronic illnesses, but also enhances the discussion between sufferers and non-sufferers as well as health professionals. This increases the general understanding surrounding invisible illnesses which may help to ease some of the stress caused by them. Friends and family of individuals living with a chronic illness may be more willing to help out as a result. Altogether it can spark major positive changes in the lives of many people around the world.

Spoon Theory can be positively applied in a broad manner, but it can also create the possibility for change on an individual level. It may help to alleviate feelings of guilt associated with not being able to accomplish as much as you initially wanted to. Further, it could empower those living with chronic illnesses as they no longer have to suffer alone. They can appropriately plan their tasks using this simple, yet effective method of understanding themselves and their capabilities better.

Does Spoon Theory Work?

The simple answer? Yes. It helps fight the social isolation faced by many chronic illness sufferers. Moreover, it is an easier way to explain the reality of such illnesses to others who do not fully understand the choices and challenges that “Spoonies” face every day. A metaphor such as the Spoon Theory provides a visualization of their daily struggles which makes it much easier for others to comprehend what they are going through. This way they don’t have to complexly explain what it’s like.

What Kind of Concerns is Spoon Theory Best For?

Spoon Theory is best for increasing awareness and improving people’s understanding around what it’s like to live with a chronic illness. It incorporates the experiences of all types of chronic illnesses, such as lupus, fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis as well as depression, autism, and anxiety. Some of these illnesses are thought of as being faked and Spoon theory can help others to learn that the struggles faced by people with chronic illnesses are all too real.

Spoon Theory Critique

Although Spoon Theory is a great way to demonstrate what it’s like to live with a chronic illness, some may argue that this simple analogy doesn’t quite capture their unique experience. Additionally, people may not know how many “spoons” they have every day. They may have a completely restful day and still not have enough “spoons” to get through it. On the other hand; they may have a very stressful day, but manage it fine. In the end it’s a very subjective experience that can’t always be explained by simply referring to units of energy!

Sometimes, Spoon Theory may be misinterpreted by many people who do not live with a chronic illness. They may downplay the realities of these situations by appropriating the language to explain their lack of energy on some days. This softens the ability to accurately describe what those who are chronically ill go through; ultimately decreasing the effectiveness of Spoon Theory.

How to Find a Therapist

You should find a list of therapists in your area by completing an internet search. Another option would be to seek out a referral from your general practitioner (GP).

What Should I be Looking for in an LMHP?

It’s important to look for someone who is a licensed mental health professional. You should look for someone whom you can open up to easily and build up a sense of trust with.

Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist

Which professional boards are you registered with?

What are your strengths as a therapist?

Have you been in therapy?

Where did you get your degree?

How long have you been seeing clients?

How many sessions do most clients attend?

What are your rates?

Will my health insurance cover your sessions?

Find a Therapist Now

If you feel like you simply don’t have enough spoons to get you through the day, why not use the tools that you have at your disposal to get all the support you possibly can? Fortunately, in this day and age, finding help online is much easier than ever before. Online platforms such as ThriveTalk allow you to connect with a fully trained and licensed mental health practitioner from the comfort of your own home.

Use Your Spoons Wisely!

Living with a chronic illness comes with its own challenges. However, as Christine Miserandino stated, it doesn’t need to be seen as a purely negative experience. You can live a happy and functional life by simply learning not to waste too many of your spoons!

author avatar
Angel Rivera
I am a Bilingual (Spanish) Psychiatrist with a mixture of strong clinical skills including Emergency Psychiatry, Consultation Liaison, Forensic Psychiatry, Telepsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry training in treatment of the elderly. I have training in EMR records thus very comfortable in working with computers. I served the difficult to treat patients in challenging environments in outpatient and inpatient settings
Scroll to Top