We caught up with Professor Jelinek to discuss his insights on why choice is such an important part of the Overcoming MS Program.

Professor Jelinek, why do you think that the OMS Program is about choice?
I see the Overcoming MS Program as a smorgasbord. That means that people can have the whole lot or they can pick and choose elements if they prefer. There will be aspects of the program that suit some people more than others.

What we are doing with the OMS Program is offering people the information about what will make a difference to their wellbeing and then it’s their own personal choice to adopt the elements that they feel are right for them. People can make the decision about what they want to implement in the context of their own lives. Choice is key.

The concept of choice has fallen away from our communications and I’d like to see it talked about again.

Could you give us an example of what you mean here?

Rebecca Hoover – who features in a couple of the Overcoming MS books – is someone who can’t meditate. And that’s absolutely fine. I don’t have an issue with that. She has made the choice not to meditate in the full knowledge of the potential benefits of meditation and in the context of her own life.

She has seen great results through the Overcoming MS Program, which you can read about in the book ‘Recovering from Multiple Sclerosis: Real-life stories of hope and inspiration’. So, this is an example of someone who has made a choice based on what’s right for her and seen results without following the full program.

So, are you suggesting that people don’t need to follow the full program?

The data shows the people who adopt most or all of the program do better. So we would like people to adopt as much of the program as they can in order to get the best results. However, we realise that people need to choose wisely with what fits their lifestyle.

As I mentioned, Rebecca is a key person in our community and hasn’t adopted the full program. We don’t judge people by what they do and don’t do. It’s their own personal choice.

So you don’t see people who aren’t following the full program or who have slip-ups as ‘cheating’?

I don’t even have the concept of what ‘cheating’ might mean and it definitely isn’t a word I would use. People can choose to adopt as many or as few elements of the program as they wish and we don’t judge them. We also don’t judge any slip-ups.

Why is language so important?

Using words such as “I choose to eat..” rather than “I can’t eat…” is empowering. We would recommend anyone who is following the OMS Program carefully chooses their words. We are about providing people with choices but the choices of what to implement are ultimately theirs to make and so reflecting that through words is important.

Why is choice so important to you?

There are three outcomes that were communicated through the Overcoming MS retreats that I used to run - hope, choice, and inner peace.

The OMS Program was created using evidence from research and, as we’ve talked about, you choose what to implement. There is no sense of us forcing people to do anything and that’s important. We’re here to give people the best-distilled information, including from a growing community and from facilitators. We can give people an idea of how to go about making changes but we can’t make anyone do anything and don’t wish to, either. So choice, as we’ve talked about, is key.

The knowledge that you have the choice to follow the program which can improve your mental and physical wellbeing gives hope, even though the program doesn’t deliver a guaranteed result. That’s important to remember too: not everyone will recover. The program modifies your risk factors and increases your chances but isn’t a guarantee of success for everyone. But over the years, we have seen so many people with positive stories as a result of following the program and their stories inspire others and give them hope.

No matter what you choose, you can find ways of coming to be at peace with yourself about the illness. Meditation helps with this and making changes to your life gives you a sense of agency and self-efficacy, all of which contribute to a feeling of peace rather than frustration and the many other emotions people often feel when they are diagnosed with MS.

So hope, choice, and inner peace are all outcomes of the OMS Program.