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Mental Health & Chronic Illness: Therapy Myths

Living with a chronic illness like multiple sclerosis is challenging, not only physically, but mentally as well. For some people, a diagnosis alone is enough to cause considerable mental anguish. Others may get past their diagnosis initially but encounter difficulty later in their life because of the disease. Fear of the unknown, giving up a career or life goals, losing friends, living in pain, fatigue, and even physical changes in our brain, can all have an adverse effect on our mental well being.

Depression is a common and serious MS symptom

With the list of challenges so considerable, it should be no surprise that depression is an extremely common and serious symptom of MS. There are ways to protect and improve our mental health; however, many people are resistant to them because of social stigmas and myths that surround these methods. One of the most beneficial ways to help your mental health is to see a therapist, so I’d like to dispel some of the myths around that, in hopes of improving your chances of seeing one.

Myth: Therapists will just shove more medication at me

After talking to a number of other folks with MS, I realized this is one of the biggest concerns/myths regarding going to see a therapist. Many people with MS are already on a number of medications and dread going on one more. Additionally, many people are fearful of the side effects of antidepressants. Some have also had prior negative experiences with such medication (particularly when prescribed by a non-mental health professional).

Fact: Therapy does not require medication

The truth is, that not all therapists can even prescribe medication. My current therapist is one such person: he is not a medical doctor, he started in social work and later became a licensed counselor. While he did have me consult with a doctor to see if I’d be a good fit for medication, they both determined that I wouldn’t be a good candidate. Therapy does not require medication. While it can be a helpful tool they utilize, it is far from the only solution they can provide.

So, the therapist just listens to your problems?

Even in the media, there seems to be this stereotype of going to a therapist and talking about your life while they simply sit there and listen. I think many people seem to think that you go to and just get things off your chest and that’s it. The truth is, while my therapist does listen to me talk about my life and what’s weighing on me, it is a much more active experience than that.

Coming up with coping strategies and techniques

Yes, I explain to him what’s bothering me and how I feel. However, he does much more than listen, he helps me come up with strategies and techniques to handle my issues. While just talking about my issues to someone is helpful, he is also there to teach me new methods of dealing with those issues. In the same way that a physical, occupational, or speech therapist teaches you tactics to move or speak better, a mental health therapist teaches you new ways to think. It’s all about them giving us the tools and techniques to live our lives better.

Isn’t therapy all about the past?

Another misconception I’ve seen out there is that people think that going to see a therapist is going to involve digging into their whole life and finding some issue from their childhood. While delving into your past can certainly be necessary, most therapy is much more rooted in your current life. I have serious issues about not working anymore, so we deal with that. A good therapist will realize that you are in your current situation because of your illness, and that’s what you need to deal with. Therapy is really more about learning how to move forward, not focusing on the past. Again, real therapy is not what you see on TV.

But I’m not “crazy”

The social stigmas around therapy and depression often make people think that they need to have a severe mental illness to be in therapy. That can’t be further from the truth. You do not need to have a mental illness to see a therapist. In fact, you don’t even need to be depressed. Plenty of people see therapists simply because they are stressed and feel overwhelmed. Even without the impact of living with a chronic illness, plenty of people see a therapist so they can learn better strategies to cope with their everyday life. Let’s face it, we live in a pretty hectic and stressful time. Learning some tips on dealing with that can be beneficial to anyone.

Myth: Therapy is never-ending

It seems a lot of people think that if they start seeing a therapist, they’ll be stuck going for a very long time. That’s also a myth. As I’ve mentioned, you are there to learn and work on strategies to deal with your problems/life. Plenty of people benefit from that and then leave. Short-term therapy is actually very common. Again, back to a physical therapy example, once you’ve learned what you need with a PT, you don’t keep seeing them. That applies here as well. In my own example, I went from seeing a therapist once a week, to now going every other month, and that’s really because I choose to do that because I enjoy being able to talk to someone.

Logistics of paying for therapy and getting to appointments

Another big reason people don’t go to therapy is because they think it’s inconvenient or too expensive. Most insurances will cover a therapist; you simply have to look into your own insurance plan and check. As mental health is being more understood and the stigma lessens, more providers are covering more services. As for inconvenience, trust me, I get it, I don’t drive, so it takes a lot of planning for me to go anywhere. Many therapists will work with your schedule. Additionally, many will now even do sessions via phone or video chat to make it easier for you. Therapy is something where you don’t necessarily need to be physically present in order to benefit.

Therapy myths busted

I hope I’ve helped clarify some of the myths around seeing a therapist. Mental health is a huge area of concern for those suffering from an illness like multiple sclerosis. Seeing a therapist can be a great way to learn how to keep those issues at bay. Seeing a therapist to improve your mental health is no different than seeing a physical therapist to walk better. Therapy is just one part of a total care solution to your illness and belongs there right next to your neurologist, physical, occupational, and speech therapists.

Thanks so much for reading and always feel free to share!

Devin

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