Differential Disclosure of Diagnosis

This relatively new series of blogs not withstanding, I have not always chosen to disclose my medical diagnoses. This has been an option since my limitations have, for the most part, been hidden.

During my career as a clinical health psychologist, I rarely disclosed my personal health issues to my patients. Occasionally, I would choose to divulge my diagnosis when there seemed to be a very clear advantage to doing so.

For example, I clearly recall a session with a young patient who was struggling to adjust to having been recently been diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS. She was very reluctant to attend counseling, but only willing to do so because her husband threatened to leave her if she didn’t receive some form of professional help.

As our session unfolded, she began to list all of her troublesome symptoms: debilitating fatigue, blurred vision, depression, mood swings, spasticity, impaired short-term memory, heat sensitivity, decreased coordination, numbness, and urinary urgency.

Tears started to roll down her cheek. She started to stand up, and blurted out, “Coming here today was a big mistake. What could you possibly know about what it’s like to live with MS?” I gently placed my hand on her forearm, and informed her that I, too, had been diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS. She looked simply stunned. She said, “But you look so good. I never would have known.”

I said that I was quite certain that she, too, had heard these very same words, multiple times. This was the breakthrough required for her to trust that, without a doubt, I was capable of helping her to adjust to her new diagnosis.

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