Fight the Stigma: You’re Not Nuts if You See a Shrink!

Birgit Bauer
Written by
Birgit Bauer

Let me be clear. I see a psychologist. And I’m not nuts. Not at all.

When I received my multiple sclerosis diagnosis, it was too much to handle. Not only did I have to deal the news, but also to the reactions of my friends and loved ones.

My world had turned dark, and thinking about the future was a roller-coaster ride of negative emotions. I was caught in what felt like a world of terror, and finding the exit was not going to be easy. For me, it was too hard to do on my own, so I was advised to see a psychologist.

Despite the dark time I was going through, I was hesitant, consumed with age-old prejudices, and the perception that anyone who goes to see a psychologist is practically nuts. But, in the end, the magnitude of what I was dealing with won out over my hang-ups, and I decided it couldn’t hurt to try.

My Experience

I went to a psychologist for a trial visit and learned something very important: my psychologist did not push; he was neutral and simply listened. It was a balm for my soul. As time went on, I continued my learning process and started to change the way I thought about my MS. Once I accepted the fact that MS is an ongoing challenge that is not going away anytime soon, I was able to let go of my negativity and find peace.

More visits brought more clarity and I was able to push past my old feelings and explore new horizons. I worked gradually to develop a thicker skin against the pity attacks and verbal derailments that had previously tormented me. To put myself into focus was also new for me. For a long time, I did not know that I actually had the power to speak up, because I was worried of being labeled egotistical or silenced when I voiced that something wasn’t good for me. Today, thanks in part to work with my psychologist, I am true to myself and can keep my emotional stress in check. By opening myself up to the possibility of therapy, I was able to demolish old psychological burdens and find new paths.

Handling Stress

Psychotherapy, or therapy (as it commonly referred to), can be especially helpful for people with MS working on stress management. Learning how to prioritize and decide what’s most important in our lives, and what we need to be well is a necessary skill.

For me, therapy was a great way to learn strategies to cope with stress. For example, it was hard for me to learn to withdraw from certain situations. I was worried to say ‘No’ to things and disappoint people. Therapy helped me to understand that saying ‘No’ can be good, and allows me to protect myself. And now who likes to say ‘No’? Me!

It’s Not Just My Opinion…Researchers Agree!

The advantages of psychotherapy for MS patients were further demonstrated in a 2012 study done by U.S. researchers. The study followed 121 patients over a course of four years, and found that the patients who received stress management therapy were able to successfully reduce their risk of new MS lesions. The study also found that therapy served to lower their stress levels. These results reveal the role stress can play in managing your MS, and how therapy can potentially help.

Moving Past the Stigma

Therapy must not be viewed as taboo or left shrouded in stigma. Whoever confides in a therapist receives help to help themselves and ultimately those around them.

After a long period of time, I said goodbye to my therapist. I felt it was time to find my own path. But I still have plan B—the short-term emergency visit, to be precise—reserved for when I am going through a particularly tough time. I know there will be times that knock me off my path again, and that’s okay.

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