Good to Talk?

I grew up watching Charlie Brown cartoons as a small child. As a (fairly pretentious) adolescent I watched a great many Woody Allen films. And a few years later I got completely obsessed with The Sopranos.

So forgive me if I’ve been misled by TV and popular culture about the importance of therapy in the USA! But certainly, in the UK it’s not all that common – or at least not in my social circle.

Coupled with my classic English reserve, add in a large dose of MALE PRIDE, and you have the perfect recipe for playing my cards close to my chest. Or maybe for developing a stress-related ulcer.

After my last relapse my doctor recommended that I do a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Up until that point I was sounding off about my MS to my wife and my closest family members – which I guess is only natural but not entirely fair!

At my first session my therapist didn’t even say all that much. Again TV and Films had lied to me – I was expecting her to lean towards me, chin in hand, asking, “And how did that make you feel?”

But I got nothing.

Now I’m someone who is not exactly “backwards about coming forwards”. So I just filled the silence for 45 minutes – about my inadequacies (perceived and otherwise), my fears for the future of my family, work, anger-management – the works.

And it was amazing – but the main thing I got from it was the freedom that I was laying it all out for someone who wasn’t directly affected by it all. My wife, my parents, my brother, my closest friends – they all KNOW (pretty much) what’s going on in my head, but there’s not all that much they can do about it. And if I just sat down and held forth about my “woes”, I’d end up feeling terribly guilty.

Also, y’know – other people have their own problems too.

My therapist gave me a safe space where I could let rip, a space that was just for me, and which didn’t completely depress the people who I love.

The other great thing about CBT is that, as well as being a talking therapy, it’s also one which can have practical outcomes. At the time of my sessions, my main concerns were about my walking and a fear of losing my footing or control of my bladder. So each week she would set me homework – small tasks which stretched me a little more each week.

This was all a long time ago but the process and its lessons are never far from my mind – not least because the issues we discussed continue to be the ones which plague me to this day.

(I should say that I think this is a problem with my mental resolve and willpower rather than a problem with CBT)

But I can see that any successes I have had and continue to work towards have a grounding in this therapy. CBT is like any therapy in that it’s not for everyone but the UK MS Society has found that it can particularly effective when helping people to adjust to a new diagnosis of MS.1

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