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Multiple Sclerosis Becomes Counselor's Asset




During most of the '70s, Kathe Skinner, now a 65-year-old licensed marriage family therapist in Colorado Springs, Colorado, couldn't figure out what was wrong with her body. It wasn't working right.

Her physical difficulties led to many hospital stays and caused friction between her and her husband. They eventually divorced. Part of their relational difficulties had come about due to her having bouts of depression. She even spent time in a psychiatric hospital after doctors thought her symptoms were all in her head.

Finally, she lucked upon a diagnosis. Skinner said, "One day, I was in a swimming pool and the water felt warm to my right leg and cool to my left. I thought that was weird and called my neurologist, who eventually (with that and other information) was able to make the diagnosis."

She had multiple sclerosis (MS), a central nervous system disease that disrupts the communication between her brain and other parts of her body. In general, MS can cause muscle weakness in the extremities, balance and coordination problems, and, sometimes, cognitive impairments.

Today, Skinner has had MS more than 40 years. She said, "My symptoms have gotten worse, of course. Right now, what is very, very bothersome to me is my balance is so off. I fall a great deal. I just can't wear shoes with heels."

She mentioned one counseling session with a brain injury client in which, due to her MS balance problems, she tripped in her office and fell headfirst into the client's lap. They both had a good laugh over it. She said her clients have been "extremely accepting" overall of her physical challenges.

In some ways, having MS has benefited her counseling work: "For example, I had a young male client who (on his first counseling visit) had a great deal of anxiety," she said. "I always disclose in writing to new clients that I have MS. When the client read about it, he said, 'Sorry, I can't work with someone who is broken.' I was stunned and very hurt. I told him to sleep on it and we could talk about it next session. He did come back and his anxiety left after a couple months. The last thing he said to me was he was glad we'd worked together. He said he realized (through my MS) that he wasn't the only one who was broken, which was profound."


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Daniel J. Vance is a licensed professional counselor and national certified counselor from Vernon Center, Minn. His weekly newspaper column Disabilities has been published in more than 260 newspapers.

Daniel J. Vance may be reached at www.danieljvance.com