Multiple Sclerosis and Emotional Counseling

Before I had MS, I never thought I’d seek the help of a therapist. My life was pretty normal and nothing was so stressful or overwhelming that positive thinking or a good night’s sleep couldn’t cure. I knew some other people who were in therapy and/or taking antidepressant medications. For one reason or another, they had to seek counseling to sort out their problems, whether they were family-oriented, job-related, or from plain old organic depression.

Then I became the first out of my cohorts to develop a chronic, serious medical condition, otherwise known as MS. I became the one who people commented about: “How’s Jen doing?” “Has Jen been feeling okay lately?” And I suspect: “Do you think Jen will be okay? Do you think there will be a cure for her before she gets too bad?” This alone could send anyone into therapy.

When I was 34, my multiple sclerosis attacks became more serious, as I experienced a long bout with double vision, was unable to drive for 6 weeks, had many struggles making it to my part-time, low-stress library job, and was getting acclimated with doing injections and suffering from their side-effects. The job of do-it-yourself therapy came to an end as I realized the need for emotional counseling. This is what I discovered:

  • The odds of having MS and needing an antidepressant are great. Multiple sclerosis can cause situational as well as organic depression. Coping with a chronic, life-altering disease can be depressing, and taking a disease-modifying medication (interferon drugs particularly) can add to depression. Interferon meds— Betaseron, Avonex, and Rebif— are proven to lower serotonin levels (the physiological cause of depression.) Add to this the possibility of acquiring MS lesions in areas of the brain that monitor mood, and there are overwhelming odds that depression will set in.
  • There are various types of therapists at our disposal. A psychologist, a PhD-holding professional, can counsel patients and offer psychological feedback. A counselor, a professional with a master’s degree in psychology, is another type of therapist. Social workers, with master’s degrees in clinical social work, also counsel patients and have access to many community resources for further help. I have been in counseling with a social worker for over 2 years, after first seeking the help of a psychologist. I found the latter type to be more interested in the psychology of my problem, whereas the social worker gives more practical, everyday advice.
  • Psychiatrists, who have the reputation for being the most highly-educated psychological professionals, now usually just prescribe medications. They have gotten away from the counseling and tend to “check in” with patients and see how the antidepressants/anxiety meds are working. Something to do with what insurance companies will presently pay them.
  • Therapy can be as much as a few times a week or once every couple of months. I initially went once a week, then I cut it down to every other week. I went once a month during the easier times, then once every couple of months, and now I’m back to once every couple of weeks as I sort out this most recent multiple sclerosis relapse/setback.
  • Counseling is covered by most insurance plans. I pay the same copay as I would for a primary doctor’s visit. However, there are sometimes caps to how many visits a person can have for a one-year time period. It’s important to check with your insurance provider.
  • Counseling helps me vent my frustrations, anxieties, and goals to an unbiased ear. This is the counselor’s job, whereas my loved ones sometimes need a break from the MS woes. Being unbiased, the counselor can also give practical advice. She isn’t swayed by emotions, and will help me make objective plans and figure out new strategies.
  • Therapy is not for everyone. I find it cathartic, much like writing for this blog. Others might not feel this way. It’s an individual decision, just like deciding to take an antidepressant or any other medication. If you are suffering from anxiety or depression, it might be a good idea to seek counseling, though, because you don’t have to suffer. It’s your decision. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama states in his recent book How to Practice the Way to a Meaningful Life, “Please adopt whatever might assist you. If you do not think it would be helpful, just leave it alone.”

4 comments

  • i hear ya. i just recently started to see one myself. therapy can be a wonderful thing but also lots of hard work.

  • Jen

    Sometimes I really don’t feel like going (to be honest), but I usually feel better afterwards. My social worker will even do an over-the-phone session if I’m feeling lousy. All in all, I’m glad I go. I’m actually going again tomorrow, and I will probably complain about our health insurance!

  • Michael

    I am presently doing my internship in clinical mental health counseling and am interested in understanding what has been found to be the most helpful to MS clients. I am studying and working toward certification in EMDR as well as I find it an effective help to those in trauma. Do you have some advise for me as I begin to see these wonderful people with MS. I want to provide a support to them in their journey.

  • Jen

    Hi Michael–

    I have been away from this blog, so I am just now reading your question. Good for you for working with such an interesting and varied population. I think two of the best things you can do to be of service for MSers is to listen to them and try not to judge— experiences vary so much among patients and some symptoms can sound completely wacky— and to figure out ways for them to thrive BEYOND the condition. Many will languish due to loss of hope. Patients need to feel that they have purpose, so help them to find this,

    Good luck!

    Jen

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