Psychotherapy: Help With Thoughts and Feelings Can Make Life With MS Better

Living with multiple sclerosis (MS) can be challenging, and many individuals with MS require support to navigate difficult days and avoid falling into despair and depression. Personally, I have found psychotherapy to be helpful in managing these emotional challenges, and it may benefit others as well if utilized effectively.

Psychotherapists are trained to assist individuals in discussing their problems, a process that can be both painful and enlightening. When we share our lives with a sympathetic listener, we may discover thoughts and perspectives that were previously unknown to us. A skilled therapist may occasionally ask questions to guide us towards a more productive mindset.

There are various forms and styles of therapy available, and I have personally experimented with many of them, with varying degrees of success. For instance, if I am experiencing hurtful thoughts holding me back, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been valuable. CBT helps individuals identify and modify harmful thoughts that may not be accurate. For example, if I am facing mobility challenges due to MS progression and I begin thinking that I will lose all quality of life, a therapist practicing CBT might label this as catastrophizing – exaggerating the permanence and severity of the situation. They could then assist me in developing a more realistic thought to replace it, such as acknowledging the difficulties but recognizing that I have overcome similar challenges before and can do so again. Additionally, they may help me establish healthier habits, such as limiting exposure to distressing news.

For addressing deeper, long-standing issues like difficulty setting boundaries or chronic feelings of worthlessness, longer-term therapy may be necessary. Although this process may not be pleasant, I believe it is often worthwhile. Removing the limitations imposed by life or self-imposed shackles can lead to a more fulfilling existence.

Therapy can also be conducted in a group setting, which I have found beneficial due to the opportunities to learn from both the therapist and fellow group members. Group therapy may also be more affordable compared to one-on-one therapy.

Couples therapy can provide crucial support for marriages affected by the challenges of living with MS. My wife and I have taken part in three short courses of therapy together. Couples therapists primarily aim to improve communication and establish realistic expectations. The duration of therapy can range from just a couple of sessions to several years, with once-a-week meetings being common. Many people prefer shorter-term therapy due to time, energy, and financial constraints, and most insurance providers are hesitant to cover long-term therapy.

Therapy relationships can also be intermittent, with occasional meetings during times of crisis, such as MS relapses, and breaks between sessions until the need arises again.

In the past, therapy was typically conducted in person, with individuals sitting in a room and engaging in one-on-one discussions. However, nowadays, therapy is commonly conducted via phone or video calls. Personally, I have found phone appointments to be highly effective, as the convenience of not having to leave my home or get dressed is a significant advantage.

When considering therapy, it is essential to assess whether you feel comfortable with a potential therapist and if they seem genuinely interested in your well-being. It is also beneficial if they have experience working with individuals with MS or chronic illnesses, as this reduces the time spent educating them about the condition. Additionally, understanding their therapeutic approach and the expectations they have of you in terms of individual work and preparation for sessions is crucial. Consider the cost of therapy, if they accept insurance, and how much you may need to pay out of pocket. Some therapists accept Medicare or Medicaid, while others may only treat individuals who can afford to pay privately. Sliding scale payments based on income level are often available. Community clinics may also offer therapy at lower rates, often delivered by therapy students, but this may limit the depth of the work done.

To find therapists in your area and gather basic information about them, websites like Psychology Today can be helpful. If possible, choose a therapist who can be reached in an emergency situation, such as if you have thoughts of self-harm.

In today's healthcare landscape, insurance providers tend to prefer medication over therapy as a treatment option. However, while medication may provide short-term relief, addressing underlying issues is crucial for long-term improvement. Personally, I have chosen to avoid medication and occasionally rely on cannabis (where legally available) as a means of temporarily alleviating the burdens of life.

Self-therapy and engaging in spiritual practices can also be valuable in improving our psychological well-being. Various books and websites provide guidance on these practices. It is important to acknowledge that many psychological issues are not solely internal but are influenced by the often chaotic nature of our society, culture, and relationships. Living with MS naturally brings about anxiety, and depression may always be lurking nearby. Therapy can assist us in making changes to our circumstances or relationships, which may be more beneficial than solely managing symptoms, although this is not always possible. Seeking psychotherapy does not imply that there is something fundamentally wrong with you but is rather an act of self-care. Much like physical therapy, periodic therapy sessions can help us continue moving forward and contribute positively to society.

For individuals looking to connect with others living with multiple sclerosis, our MS Facebook Support Group provides a platform for fostering such connections.