What is Mental Health?
Everyone experiences tough and sometimes unbearable times in their lives. These times come with feeling overwhelmed, stressed, highly emotional, or depressed. For many, these feelings pass with time. For others, those feelings are so persistent and recurring that they plague their daily lives. This is known as having a mental health issue. Over the last decade, our society has evolved, destroying stigmas and overcoming barriers for those suffering from mental health issues. The hope is that there is no shame when considering seeking help. Unlike many other problems, mental health issues don’t simply pass with time. They are persistent and can affect many aspects of your life if left untreated. Seeking help from a certified professional is neither a sign of weakness nor shameful. The National Institute of Mental Health states that more than 30 million Americans need help managing problems they can’t handle on their own – so you are not alone.
Mental health issues affect millions of children and adults. According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), 1 in 5 adults experiences mental illness, while 1 in 25 has a severe mental illness. Half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14, and three-quarters by 24. Many Americans live with depression, which has been named the number one leading cause of disability worldwide. More than anything else, these numbers prove that mental illness is a widespread issue that needs serious attention. Millions of people suffer in silence due to a lack of diagnosis, fear of diagnosis, or undue shame.
Psychologists, psychotherapists, and general therapists have the joint goal of helping those who suffer from mental health issues to lead happier, more fulfilling, and productive lives. Psychotherapy involves integrating scientific and medical methods while deeply understanding human behavior and psychology to help you overcome and manage the effects of mental illness. Psychotherapy’s success heavily depends on a safe, supportive, welcoming environment, an attentive therapist, and consistent collaboration. As it is a treatment grounded in dialogue, it requires open and honest communication. While psychotherapy is usually approached to solve a current problem, the skills and methods learned during sessions will also help clients when they deal with future issues.
How Does Therapy Work?
Psychotherapy is a process of growth and self-discovery. It involves a continuous exchange of thoughts, ideas, and feelings to develop a deeper understanding of yourself and your problems. Therapy should allow you to express yourself to ensure a transparent and clear relationship with your therapist. Psychotherapy is a way for you to find answers and gain an understanding of the problems you are facing. This understanding is instrumental in giving you a new perspective on the problem, which makes it more manageable.
Understanding yourself, why you react a certain way, what triggers specific responses from you, and what aspects of your life affect others helps you make new and better changes. It reduces symptoms and allows you to deal better with life’s challenges. From understanding comes new and innovative methods of coping.
The critical aspect of treatment is self-reflection and gaining awareness of self. Through reflection, individuals can adequately analyze their thoughts and actions with the help of a trained psychologist and learn why they have specific reactions and how to overcome them.
Different Approaches to Psychotherapy
Counseling: Counseling is the most common form of talk therapy. This treatment is beneficial after a recent loss, depression, anxiety, or helping to manage stressors. Counseling can go anywhere between 6 to 12 sessions and involve engaged discussions about your life. During counseling, individuals are encouraged to share prevalent thoughts and emotions, so their counselor can help them better understand what they feel and why they feel that way.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is the most helpful to those suffering from anxiety and depression. It is also effective for people with eating disorders, OCD and PTSD. This therapy aims to change how you think and behave to manage problems better. The goal of each session is to categorize issues into smaller pieces and to analyze your thoughts and actions to identify the ones that may be unrealistic or unhelpful. This way, you can work towards changing them.
Interpersonal Therapy (IPT): The world around us affects us just as much, if not more than our thoughts. As humans, we are social beings and find joy, happiness, and fulfillment in our relationships, so social interaction becomes a fundamental part of our mental health. IPT focuses on people with depression and relationship-based issues and examines how the connections and relationships in the patient’s life affect their mental health. A therapist practicing IPT looks at recent significant relationship changes, such as divorce, recurring conflicts with others, and grief. Each session’s goal is to explore your emotional reactions in any of these situations and evaluate your personal expectations, how to communicate them, and analyze and correct any negative behaviors. Relationship and family therapy also fall under this category.
Group Therapy: In group therapy sessions, people with similar problems share their thoughts, emotions, and experiences in a supportive environment. The role of a therapist in group therapy is to encourage personal and collective reflection while encouraging growth and understanding. Group therapy increases personal awareness of others who share similar problems and creates a comforting sense of community.
When to Consider Therapy?
It is important to note that going to therapy does not mean you are weak or that you are giving up. It takes a lot of courage and strength to realize that you need to seek professional help to cope with your struggles. Therapy provides you with the tools and skills you need to deal with whatever problem you are facing. Problems like depression, anxiety, phobias, anger, etc., will be better managed and dealt with while in the care of a professional.
Unfortunately, many misconceptions and stigmas are still associated with seeking professional help. The reality is that people who suffer are not alone and should never have to face their problems alone—seeing a therapist will allow you to express yourself in a safe space, letting emotions that would otherwise fester be expressed in a helpful and meaningful way. Therapy sessions alone can be beneficial because they encourage you to open up about problems you might not have been dealing with that are showing up in your life. The first step to achieving progress, however, is connecting with someone that can help. Though first, you must dig deep and realize that you need help.
Here are some signs that you should seek out for help:
- You suffer from prolonged feelings of overwhelming anger, sadness, fear, emotional pain, or hopelessness. Regardless of what you do, these feelings are persistent and often mentally and physically debilitating.
- Despite the continuous effort from you and friends and family, these issues are never resolved or diminished. Progress seems impossible.
- Your mental and emotional state often renders you physically incapacitated, diminishes your appetite, and affects your mood.
- You have an uncontrollable sense of worry and anxiety.
- You contemplate either harming yourself or others.
- Your mood strongly and negatively affects your day-to-day life and limits your productivity.
If any of the above apply to you, then it is time to take the first but crucial step of consulting a psychotherapist.
How do you find & choose a Psychotherapist?
When choosing a therapist, you must find psychotherapists who are appropriately trained and certified in the problems that you are dealing with. Psychologists and psychotherapists undergo rigorous schooling, training, and internships to receive their degrees. Many highly-trained and qualified professionals undergo about eleven years of education to obtain their doctoral degree, so finding the right therapist is not a matter of schooling but of research and personal preferences.
It is important to note that therapy and therapists are not one-size-fits-all. Frequently trial and error are needed to find the right therapist for you:
Research: The first step to finding a psychotherapist is research. Whether this research is a google search, through personal connections, or both, is up to you. If you choose the former route, help narrow your search by selecting specific keywords. “Psychotherapist near me” or “psychotherapist in New York” narrows the type of therapist and location, creating a much shorter list of names and practices. If you find a therapist directory like TherapyTribe, you can do a location search from the homepage as well as select what you are looking for help with. The latter route involves asking your friends and family. This method is beneficial if you know anyone who has previously or is undergoing therapy. It also widens your reach as they can join you in the search. If neither yields the expected results, consider visiting your local mental health center or talking to your primary doctor for recommendations.
Budget: Besides researching to find a therapist, take the time to explore the cost of therapy. Help narrow your list by setting a price range or budget you can comfortably work with. Seeking help should not exceed your budget. That will only create more stress in your life.
Consultations: When you’ve successfully compiled a list of possible candidates, it’s time to reach out and set your first appointment. Consults will serve as a meet and greet for you and your potential therapist to see if the approach and general atmosphere of their office and personality are compatible with yours. Remember: just because you set an appointment does not mean that you are under any obligation to continue treatment. Your level of comfort, safety, and, eventually, trust is crucial to your growth. If you choose a therapist you don’t feel comfortable around, that limits your confidence in them, stifles the flow of dialogue, and ultimately affects your treatment.
Be Open Minded: It’s essential to think outside of the box. Contrary to popular belief, not all therapists in private practice make you recline in a chaise lounge and talk about your childhood. Although it may be important to reflect on your past, many misconceptions about therapists may unknowingly narrow the scope of your search. Many practicing psychologists work in institutions like primary schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, medical centers, or rehabilitation clinics.
When it comes time to finally make a selection, here are a few questions you should ask yourself:
- What are my main goals for therapy? What do I want to accomplish?
- Is it covered by my health insurance or work benefits?
- If not, how much can I spend?
- How far am I willing to commute?
- Should I attend sessions with my spouse, significant other, or family?
It is also helpful to compile a list of questions for your therapist as well:
- First and foremost: are they accepting new clients?
- Are they licensed in your state?
- What is their approach to assessment, diagnosis, and treatment?
- How many years of experience do they have?
- What are their areas of expertise?
- Do they have the ability to prescribe medication? Do they work with a psychiatrist who can?
- Do they have any experience dealing with patients with similar symptoms or mental illness?
- What are their sessions like?
- What policies do they have?
Jonathan Shedler, Ph.D. (2016). How to Choose a Therapist. Retrieved on April 22, 2019 from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/psychologically-minded/201604/how-choose-therapist
Jeremy Divinity (2019). Never Be Ashamed Of Seeking Help. Retrieved on April 17, 2019, from: https://www.nami.org/Personal-Stories/Never-Be-Ashamed-of-Seeking-Help#
John M. Grohol, Psy.D. (2018). How to Choose a Therapist and Other Questions about Psychotherapy. Retrieved on April 22, 2019, from: https://psychcentral.com/lib/how-to-choose-a-therapist-and-other-questions-about-psychotherapy/