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    You are here : Home » MSRC Services » MSRC Emotional Support

    MSRC Emotional Support

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    The MS Telephone Counselling Service 0800 783 0518 (Option 1) is open normal working hours 9am - 5pm Monday - Friday.

    CounsellingWelcome to anyone interested in knowing more about the telephone counselling service.
    The service has a long history - beginning almost 30 years ago by an organisation called ARMS, which will be known to some of you. Its objective was to give people with MS, their families, and interested people, an opportunity to talk about the impact of MS. In those days, the focus of the medical profession and voluntary organisations was primarily on symptom management. To some extent this remains the case, and rightly so. The idea of face-to-face counselling in a specialised area was in its infancy -telephone counselling, support and helplines were relatively new.
    The MS Telephone Counselling Service broke new ground, firstly by instigating a counselling line, aimed at people who were not very mobile, and sometimes isolated. Secondly it was unusual in its criteria for counsellor selection. Every member of the team has to have personal experience of MS, or be a carer. In addition, they need counselling experience and a desire to be part of a team of like-minded people, be interested in receiving ongoing training and supervision and eager to maintain professional standards and  to share and extend their knowledge and experience. 
    These standards are common practice now, but in the 1970's had yet to be established. The nature of the calls has changed over the years, particularly due to the impact of the internet. But the primary objective, to give people the opportunity to talk about anything related to the psychological effect of MS, through a telephone service, remains as important now as it was 30 years ago.
    Our counsellors are aware that everyone with MS views their MS very differently. So counsellors need to be receptive to different ways of thinking. If they are able to demonstrate this skill, it helps callers likewise to learn new ways of thinking and new ways of responding. Our counsellors provide good models. We cannot get it right all the time, but we learn through ongoing group and individual development and training, which is intrinsic to the service.
    Human beings are naturally resistant to change, while often, at the same time, wanting to rise to the challenge of changing attitudes and behaviour - [sometimes our own, sometimes other people's].
    This can be particularly difficult for everyone involved in a condition as complex, constraining and uncertain as M.S. - particularly if physical pain also features.
    Why Telephone Counselling?
    It is difficult to measure the effectiveness of "talking therapies”. There is a wide range of approaches to meet a wide range of needs. As mentioned above, support for MS in the past has concentrated on symptom management. The problem with this approach is that, in considering symptoms, you cannot address the whole person. MS influences a person's emotional world and "mental world", which has effects on the domestic, social and working worlds as well as the life-style chosen. It also affects personal interaction - if you are dependent on other people because of MS, "people-management skills" and "time-management skills" also have to be acquired.
    Furthermore, people have to learn to manage uncertainty, and sometimes a measure of loss of function. Some people seem more able to deal with uncertainty than others - depending on personality and early life experiences. Some people seem naturally "grounded" and know their strengths and limitations.  But most people need time to develop the self-awareness required when MS is diagnosed, to re-evaluate what matters most, and to learn how to access the things they need. This all takes time.  
    It is only when people with MS have made these adjustments that new insights can emerge - to allow new channels of fulfilment and new interests to be explored and developed....sometimes to discover untapped creative possibilities, sometimes to accept a quieter, gentler life-style.
    The telephone counselling service is there for people wherever they are on their journey. MS counsellors have been through this process themselves... The list of emotional responses to a range of disabling situations is well documented in every self help book written on what is broadly called loss and change, where negative feelings, including depression and grief, often feature. There are strategies for coping with the process of adjustment. Some books are beautifully written on this topic. But there is no substitute for personal contact, and the alliance that can develop between two people, who decide, on a purely voluntary basis, to share difficult life experiences together.
    The advantage of telephone counselling isn’t only the possibility of anonymity, if people want it, plus the immeasurable value of having a counsellor who understands from experience, but also, through self-awareness, enhanced by training, is able to listen to and appreciate your experience of MS, and separate it from their own. This requires considerable skill.  MS counsellors recognize people's responses to MS:  -  the frustration, anxiety, mood swings, fear, denial, and getting "stuck". Good counsellors need to be receptive to learning from everyone.
    Certain people who call sound as though they are moving around their plot of earth like a prickly hedgehog on slippery wet grass; others want to be a mole in a hole, and can't decide whether it's time to pop up for a while. MS Counsellors understand all this. Lying low… emerging  bit by bit... making a dramatic statement ... The telephone counselling service is here for all, people with MS,  partners, families, friends, professionals, anyone concerned with MS.

    Can telephone counsellors understand my state of mind?

    Counsellors on the MS Counselling Service have a good understanding not only of the symptoms of MS but also of their impact. This is drawn from their own experience & training, and from experience on the counselling line. They also know when to refer on to another agency.  Each tries to put him or herself in the position of the caller.
    Not everyone with MS will say that the symptoms have a major effect on their state of mind.  Not everyone will say they are prone to mood changes, which are not necessarily a symptom of MS.

    However, considering the range of symptoms that people experience, it is very common that change in  physical sensations, e.g. numbness and balance disturbance, will influence people's emotional  response to what is happening to them. In addition, nerve damage can affect people's behaviour in a way which can make them behave in an uncharacteristic way, as can the medication they have been prescribed by their GP or neurologist. Symptoms can come and go, and mood swings can reflect physical changes, not necessarily consciously.  Anxiety and stress are almost inevitable responses to a condition where physical symptoms, which are often temporary and difficult to describe, are also unpredictable, can be alarming, and have an unknown timescale. The fact that the counsellor understands these strange sensations, and may well have experienced them themselves, from time to time, helps to build up confidence and trust in the counselling relationship.
    MS counsellors also understand that what the books call "cognitive impairment" [muddled thought processes, feeling as though your head is full of cotton wool] is quite different from mood changes, and memory loss. Counsellors appreciate how confusing all these MS symptoms can be - they speak the same language - and want to understand more from the person describing the symptoms.  The counsellor will encourage the caller to take the symptoms to the doctor. Counsellors want to find out what kind of person you are, what your life is like, your approach to life, how you deal with the situations and conflicts we all face from time to time.  MS does not define you. How it affects your situation, your relationships and your ability to find fulfilment - this is what interests the counsellor.
    The counsellor wants to learn from you, in order to understand the impact of MS on you and those around you.  The counsellor is concerned with the effect of symptoms on your quality of life.  Sometimes it can be quite illuminating to put yourself [for a moment or two] into the shoes of another member of your household.
    People without MS very often take for granted their hospital-free, predictable, straightforward weekly routine, which underpins ordinary life. Counsellors with experience of MS have re-evaluated life's priorities for themselves, learnt strategies that help them deal with unpredictability in relation to their own condition [not your's], and engage in lots of varied activities to enjoy a good quality of life.  
    What's in it for me?
    I don't know what's in it for you, but all the counsellors want to help the caller to better understand whatever they are experiencing.

    One aspect of the human spirit is its endless possibilities. Anything which is uncertain involves risk and potential gain.
    Some people are reluctant to call because they don't know where to begin.  Others have had such bad experiences with the medical profession or other agencies that they fear further frustration. Some fear they might be opening up to a stranger and will burst into tears, say the wrong thing, or get more upset. 

    Feel free to share your thoughts and concerns. Some people would rather stay away from feelings.  But anyone who has read this far has some interest in the ways people manage difficult situations. Nothing is off-limits for the service if it is genuinely MS related.  We have a wide area of interest and, we hope, an endless capacity to go on learning and sharing our learning.

    Give us a call.  We will accompany you on your journey as far as we can. 
    Irene May
    Counselling Supervisor
    March 2008

    The MS Telephone Counselling Service 0800 783 0518 (Option 1)

    © Multiple Sclerosis Resource Centre (MSRC)

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