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Health Psychology Services Help MS Patient

Laura Russo felt overwhelmed with complex emotions stemming from her battle with multiple sclerosis, until her neurologist stepped in.
Laura Russo felt overwhelmed with complex emotions stemming from her battle with multiple sclerosis, until her neurologist stepped in.

It's been a decade since Laura Russo, 38, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). Soon after, the nurse manager, wife and mother of two began to deal with a cascade of emotions that are commonly associated with the disease.

But with a self-professed Type A personality and an inbred desire to control things, Laura initially believed that she could cope with these emotions on her own. It wasn't long before she learned that a little bit of help could make a giant difference in her life.

"My neurologist at the time noticed that I was very tearful at my appointments," she recalls. "She pointed out that I was dealing with a lot, from working fulltime to trying to be a good mother, wife and patient." That's when she referred Laura to the Mellen Center's Health Psychology Services Department where she received therapy for MS-related symptoms and was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

“Today there is so much emphasis on doing more with less that we don't focus on quality time with family, and we forget about ourselves. But it's important to understand that if I'm not well, no one around me is going to be well.”

Laura has been seeing Matthew Sacco, PhD, a psychologist at Cleveland Clinic’s Mellen Center, for the past few years, and she admits that she's in a better place because of it. "Now I am more aware of the issues that I have," she says. "Today there is so much emphasis on doing more with less that we don't focus on quality time with family, and we forget about ourselves. But it's important to understand that if I'm not well, no one around me is going to be well. As a nurse, I know these things, but when it comes to putting it into my own plans and daily life, it's different."

Dr. Sacco explains it like this. "It's similar to the analogy of the oxygen masks in airplanes," he says. "You have to put it on yourself first if you want to be able to help others." That's why Mellen Center psychologists focus on helping patients find strategies that lead to behavior change and identify barriers to implementing and maintaining a physically and psychologically healthy lifestyle. For individuals like Laura who are in caretaking roles, this often involves dealing with guilt and maybe even feeling selfish for putting your own needs ahead of others.

"We know that depression and anxiety are among the most common symptoms of MS, and they occur in MS patients at a rate that is four to five times higher than other chronic illnesses," Dr. Sacco says. "Psychology can play an important role at any point in the disease."

Today, the same woman who cried through her first appointment with the psychologist is actively challenging herself to find new ways to approach any problems or difficulties that might arise. "Getting treatment from the psychology group has been a tremendous help for me in my daily life," Laura says. "It made me better holistically, and in turn it made my MS better."

Related Institutes: Neurological Institute
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