As someone who has supported children who have mental illnesses, I have always been an advocate for their health and safety. Recently, through speaking with families, I found that many describe the experience of having a child with a mental health diagnosis as complicated and turbulent. Parenting a child with a mental illness can be an experience filled with helplessness, and often leads parents to question if what they are doing is right for their child.
The National Mental Health Association identifies that one in every five young people experiences difficulty with their mental health. And, a study of posts on internet forums found that a child’s mental illness impacts the entire family, with parents often struggling to cope. The most common concerns included feelings of hopelessness, seeking advice on how to cope and questions about their child’s diagnosis and medication.
Sara (name changed for anonymity), a mother adapting to supporting her daughter with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), depression, and anorexia nervosa, shared her struggles with the Trauma and Mental Health Report (TMHR):
“My daughter was hospitalized for about a week because she couldn’t handle the stress of school, work, losing her boyfriend & her weight. She also had expressed thoughts about committing suicide. I unfortunately, didn’t know there was a problem until she admitted herself into the hospital for stress; she was hysterical and couldn’t stop crying and had trouble speaking. I did notice her being unhappy for weeks before but thought she was just being a normal teenager and was just moody. I thought she just didn’t want to speak with her “mommy”. She also was concerned with her weight and was dieting to lose a lot; I did take her to the doctor, but the doctor thought she was dieting responsibly and also she was eating all the food I was making. However, in hindsight, I didn’t realize she was vomiting afterwards.”
Adjusting to a child’s diagnosis can be difficult for parents as they are challenged with supporting their child through their struggles, while also managing their own mental health. Sara identified the entire process as full of personal confusion, helplessness, and self-doubt:
“I was devastated and confused when I found out. I didn’t understand how much my daughter needed the help, and I was very upset with myself that I didn’t notice sooner. I didn’t understand what was going on and was extremely worried that my daughter would have to be medicated and/or hospitalized in order for her to cope with her issues. I also did blame myself for not seeing the “signs” and thought as her mother I should have noticed there was a problem and should’ve acted earlier on her behalf.”
In an interview with the TMHR, Elizabeth Mazur, a researcher at Pennsylvania State University who studies family stress and coping as it relates to disability, mental health and parenting, described the impact of receiving a diagnosis:
“Parents have to adjust to the child having “good days” and “bad days,” and maybe mostly bad days. However, a diagnosis can also be a relief in that parents have an answer to what might have seemed as intractable problems of a child’s temperament. Also, with a diagnosis one can better seek treatment although the roadmap is not always as clear as parents (and professionals) might like.”
Several factors effect a person’s ability to cope. Counselling, stability, social support, adaptability, individual temperament, knowledge, and positive attachment can all help an individual cope with a stressful or overwhelming situation. Confiding in close others and increasing open communication with your family are also important. Sara stressed the importance of having access to therapy:
“I wanted to be strong for my daughter but felt I wasn’t a good mother and needed a lot of help and counselling too…I couldn’t have helped my daughter if I didn’t understand what was going on with my own mental health. Counselling would have helped us all. The whole family was in need of it and while we did receive some group counselling but afterwards it was just my daughter and myself attending the weekly sessions. I think it helped but I also believe that more should have been done by the doctors to help our family cope.”
Above all, Sara advises parents to reach out for help if needed:
“There are a lot of resources made available to parents and families; do not be afraid to advocate for yourself because your mental health is just as important, even if sometimes as a parent it doesn’t feel that way to you.”
-Jessica Ferrier, Contributing WriterLink
I’ve been working remotely since the middle of March. While most of us seem to be using video chat programs such as Zoom, Facetime, or doxy.me, I find video so inferior to phone contact, I’m not using it at all in my practice. Surprisingly, all my clients have refused the video option too. Why?
Obvious reasons include not having access to the internet (common in our rural community); not owning a computer, tablet or smart phone (also common); not having the skills (the elderly, the tech challenged), or simply being too ill to manage being online.
A less obvious reason, but possibly more compelling, could be this. Clients make themselves vulnerable enough when they shower and dress to come in to see me in the neutral space of my office.
Video chat takes away that safe neutrality by visually letting me into their homes, which violates their privacy and arouses a variety of trust-undermining feelings, such as of shame, anxiety, and humiliation.
“It’s a mess! I don’t want you to see it,” one client admitted. Meanwhile, I’m able to work from my office (I’m the only one there), which means my personal privacy is protected while theirs isn’t. Seeing me in my personal space wouldn’t level the emotional playing field, though. It would only be another distraction, yet another challenge to keeping the focus of treatment on them.
Many of my clients don’t have access to a delegated private space in their homes. “I can’t even hide out in the bathroom, we only have the one, and someone will need it once I’m in there,” another said. Clients can’t do their work in session unless they’re assured it’s confidential, without risk of interruption, eavesdroppers, or intruders. I believe the camera asks too much of clients.
From my side, video-chat technology destroys the intimacy required to do our sensitive work. The position of the computer, tablet, or phone camera rarely allows for reliable eye contact, which makes us both feel unsettled and uneasy. The image of myself in the upper corner is distracting: every movement draws my eyes and attention away from the client. The same has to be true for them.
The countless distortions that are a function of the way video images are digitally encoded, decoded, and adjusted cause the image to freeze, blur, and drop, and worst of all, to be out of synch with the audio. These glitches and delays scramble subtle social cues and interfere with perceptual processing. We unceasingly, out of consciousness, strain to fill in the gaps. A full workday of that leaves me exhausted, anxious, and dissatisfied. Rather than feeling connected, I often feel the opposite: isolated and disconnected.
If we must have technology in session with us, the phone approximates live contact better. The rate of speech transmission is closer to live conversation and the fidelity of sound far higher, especially from a landline, which is what I use when calling clients. Because I’m deprived of visual cues, my hearing sharpens and my sensitivity increases to subtle nuances of speech rate, rhythm and tone; pauses; and—this is really helpful—the client’s breathing. There are many more moments during the session where all my available senses are fully engaged, and it’s the same for the client.
It’s true my mind wanders more but I use the usual self-management techniques to rein it back. That said, here’s a silver lining to phone work. Thinking requires looking in. In a live session, when a client is speaking and looking at me, I maintain eye contact unless they break it. If they do, that releases me to gaze inside to think. But I still have to keep my eyes on them so as not to miss their return. Phone work frees my eyes to do what they want (they tend to wander vaguely around the room), which lets me think while continuing to actively listen and engage with the client.
Here’s an example. Betsy, 65, works as the head of social work at a local nursing home. She’s been in treatment with me for over 25 years, initially to recover from her abusive marriage. As the years passed and layers peeled away, it became clear that the source of all her symptoms and interpersonal problems was childhood trauma. Four years ago, she had a disastrous affair with a man from work.
Breaking from him took two years and the struggle ripped away her usual defenses, allowing for new insights. Enter the pandemic and remote phone work.
It took a few sessions for the two of us to establish a working rhythm. In a way, it was like being with a new client. Much more frequently than I would in an in-person session, I mirrored, reviewed, and asked for confirmation that I understood what she was telling me. Then we had a real-time a-ha moment.
“So, wait,” I said into the phone, pausing to think as I glanced around the room without seeing it, “are you saying….” I leaned forward in my chair, my attention closely tuned to her breathing,“… that this boyfriend, and the one before, and your ex-husband, are all the same kind of man?”
“Yes!” she said. A long silence ensued. I waited, listening intently to her deep, regular, slow breaths. Then, a little huff, a pause, and— “Oh my god.” Her silence was so active, it was like hearing her think. “Could it be…?” she whispered.
“…they’re all variations of your father?” I said, feeling the risk run through my body even as I let the words go.
It’s not like we hadn’t discussed this insight before. We had, many times. But there was something going on here that was new, and it was important to not miss the opportunity. How would she react? I couldn’t see her. I couldn’t scan her face or her body language. All I had was the surf-like regularity of her breath in my ear. Then, a creak, and a rustling of cloth against cloth. She started chuckling, at first low and soft at the back of her throat, then building to a full out laugh. I sagged back in my chair with a combination of relief, amazement, and fatigue.
So you see, despite the limitations, it’s possible to do transformative work by phone. I don’t find that to be true for video. Still, it goes without saying (I’ll say it anyway) contact in any form is better than none. No matter how you “see” your clients these days, do it. They need us more than ever.
Daniela Gitlin, MD, is a psychiatrist in private practice for more than 25 years in rural upstate New York. Practice, Practice, Practice: This Psychiatrist’s Life is her first book. Contact: danielagitlin.com.Link
Mental health affects the way people think, feel and act. Taking care of our mental health is just as important as having a healthy body. As a parent, you play an important role in your child's mental health:
You can promote good mental health by the things you say and do, and through the environment you create at home. You can also learn about the early signs of mental health problems and know where to go for help.
HOW CAN I NURTURE MY CHILD'S MENTAL HEALTH?
Help children build strong, caring relationships:
It’s important for children and youth to have strong relationships with family and friends. Spend some time together each night around the dinner table. A significant person who is consistently present in a child’s life plays a crucial role in helping them develop resilience. This person—often a parent or other family member—is someone your child spends a lot of time with and knows they can turn to when they need help. Show your children how to solve problems. Help children and youth develop self-esteem, so that they feel good about themselves:
Show lots of love and acceptance. Praise them when they do well. Recognize their efforts as well as what they achieve. Ask questions about their activities and interests. Help them set realistic goals. Listen, and respect their feelings:
It’s OK for children and youth to feel sad or angry. Encourage them to talk about how they feel. Keep communication and conversation flowing by asking questions and listening to your child. Mealtime can be a good time for talking. Help your child find someone to talk to if they don’t feel comfortable talking to you.
Create a safe, positive home environment:
Be aware of your child’s media use, both the content and the amount of time spent on screens. This includes TV, movies, Internet, and gaming devices. Be aware of who they might be interacting with on social media and online games. Be careful about discussing serious family issues—such as finances, marital problems, or illness—around your children. Children can worry about these things. Provide time for physical activity, play, and family activities. Be a role model by taking care of your own mental health: Talk about your feelings. Make time for things you enjoy.
In difficult situations, help children and youth solve problems:
Teach your child how to relax when they feel upset. This could be deep breathing, doing something calming (such as a quiet activity they enjoy), taking some time alone, or going for a walk. Talk about possible solutions or ideas to improve a situation and how to make it happen. Try not to take over. How common are mental health problems among children and youth? One out of every 5 children and youth in Canada (20%) has a diagnosable mental health condition. Examples include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders and learning disabilities. Many more children have milder but significant emotional and behavioural problems.
Mental health issues can affect youth at any age. But certain situations can place some young people at a higher risk, including:
A family history of mental illness. New immigrants and refugees who experience difficult economic circumstances. Indigenous children and youth who have poorer overall health, live in isolated communities and have scarce educational and work-related opportunities. LGBTQ children and youth who experience bullying and/or rejection from their families. Big life changes such as moving to a new city or new school, caregiver separation or divorce, serious illness or death in a close relative or friend. Facing or witnessing trauma, including abuse. Substance use. Unfortunately, too many children and youth don’t get help soon enough. Mental health disorders can prevent children and youth from succeeding in school, from making friends, or becoming independent from their parents. Children and youth with mental health disorders may have trouble reaching their developmental milestones.
The good news is that mental health disorders are treatable. There are many different approaches to helping children and youth struggling with emotional or mental health problems. Getting help early is important. It can prevent problems from becoming more serious, and can lessen the effect they have on your child’s development.
How do I know if my child or youth has a mental health problem? All children and youth are different. If you’re concerned your child may have a problem, look at whether there are changes in the way they think, feel or act. Mental health problems can also lead to physical changes. Ask yourself how your child is doing at home, at school and with friends.
Changes in thinking Saying negative things about themselves or blaming themselves for things beyond their control. Trouble concentrating. Frequent negative thoughts. Changes in school performance. Changes in feelings Reactions or feelings that seem bigger than the situation. Seeming very unhappy, worried, guilty, fearful, irritable, sad, or angry. Feeling helpless, hopeless, lonely or rejected. Changes in behaviour Wanting to be alone often. Crying easily. Showing less interest in or withdrawing from sports, games or other activities that they normally enjoy. Over-reacting, or sudden outbursts of anger or tears over small incidents. Seeming quieter than usual, less energetic. Trouble relaxing or sleeping. Spending a lot of time daydreaming. Falling back to less mature behaviours. Trouble getting along with friends. Physical changes Headaches, tummy aches, neck pain, or general aches and pains. Lack of energy, or feeling tired all the time. Sleeping or eating problems. Too much energy or nervous habits such as nail biting, hair twisting or thumb sucking. Remember: Just because you notice one or more of these changes does not mean your child or youth has a mental health problem.
Where do I go for help? There are many ways to help your child achieve good mental health. Sharing your concerns with the doctor is one of them. Talk to your child’s doctor:
if the behaviours described above last for a while, or if they interfere with your child’s ability to function; if you have concerns about your child’s emotional and mental health; about your child’s behavioural development and emotional health at each well-child visit. If your child or teen talks about suicide or harming themselves, call your doctor or local mental health crisis line right away.Link
Do you ever feel too overwhelmed to deal with your problems? If so, you're not alone.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than a quarter of American adults experience depression, anxiety or another mental disorder in any given year. Others need help coping with a serious illness, losing weight or stopping smoking. Still others struggle to cope with relationship troubles, job loss, the death of a loved one, stress, substance abuse or other issues. And these problems can often become debilitating.
What is psychotherapy? A psychologist can help you work through such problems. Through psychotherapy, psychologists help people of all ages live happier, healthier and more productive lives.
In psychotherapy, psychologists apply scientifically validated procedures to help people develop healthier, more effective habits. There are several approaches to psychotherapy — including cognitive-behavioral, interpersonal and other kinds of talk therapy — that help individuals work through their problems.
Psychotherapy is a collaborative treatment based on the relationship between an individual and a psychologist. Grounded in dialogue, it provides a supportive environment that allows you to talk openly with someone who’s objective, neutral and nonjudgmental. You and your psychologist will work together to identify and change the thought and behavior patterns that are keeping you from feeling your best.
By the time you’re done, you will not only have solved the problem that brought you in, but you will have learned new skills so you can better cope with whatever challenges arise in the future.
When should you consider psychotherapy? Because of the many misconceptions about psychotherapy, you may be reluctant to try it out. Even if you know the realities instead of the myths, you may feel nervous about trying it yourself.
Feeling depressed, anxious or angry Overcoming that nervousness is worth it. That’s because any time your quality of life isn’t what you want it to be, psychotherapy can help.
Some people seek psychotherapy because they have felt depressed, anxious or angry for a long time. Others may want help for a chronic illness that is interfering with their emotional or physical well-being. Still others may have short-term problems they need help navigating. They may be going through a divorce, facing an empty nest, feeling overwhelmed by a new job or grieving a family member's death, for example.
Signs that you could benefit from therapy include:
You feel an overwhelming, prolonged sense of helplessness and sadness. Your problems don't seem to get better despite your efforts and help from family and friends. You find it difficult to concentrate on work assignments or to carry out other everyday activities. You worry excessively, expect the worst or are constantly on edge. Your actions, such as drinking too much alcohol, using drugs or being aggressive, are harming you or others. What are the different kinds of psychotherapy? There are many different approaches to psychotherapy. Psychologists generally draw on one or more of these. Each theoretical perspective acts as a roadmap to help the psychologist understand their clients and their problems and develop solutions.
The kind of treatment you receive will depend on a variety of factors: current psychological research, your psychologist's theoretical orientation and what works best for your situation.
Your psychologist’s theoretical perspective will affect what goes on in his or her office. Psychologists who use cognitive-behavioral therapy, for example, have a practical approach to treatment. Your psychologist might ask you to tackle certain tasks designed to help you develop more effective coping skills. This approach often involves homework assignments. Your psychologist might ask you to gather more information, such as logging your reactions to a particular situation as they occur. Or your psychologist might want you to practice new skills between sessions, such as asking someone with an elevator phobia to practice pushing elevator buttons. You might also have reading assignments so you can learn more about a particular topic.
In contrast, psychoanalytic and humanistic approaches typically focus more on talking than doing. You might spend your sessions discussing your early experiences to help you and your psychologist better understand the root causes of your current problems.
Your psychologist may combine elements from several styles of psychotherapy. In fact, most therapists don’t tie themselves to any one approach. Instead, they blend elements from different approaches and tailor their treatment according to each client’s needs.
The main thing to know is whether your psychologist has expertise in the area you need help with and whether your psychologist feels he or she can help you.Link
I believe depression at work is one of the hardest mental illness symptoms to manage. It kills productivity to the point that it becomes too costly to ignore. It is estimated that each year employers lose about $44 billion due to the ramifications of depression on the job site.
It’s no wonder there are stigmas towards mental health. Employers do not want to hire personnel whose illness causes problems to the point of missing work – for many days each calendar year. And if employers had a choice between someone else on the possible employee interview list, the hiring manager will not choose the person with a mental illness.
Individuals with depression at their profession, can have huge declines in their work performance. A person can develop one of two different attendance patterns: presenteeism and absenteeism. The former means you are “present” at work, but can “barely function”. Absenteeism is where the employee misses multiple days of work because of the depression.
When the depression at work sets in, it is a good idea to be prepared to combat some of the indicators such as fatigue, deep sadness, or lack of motivation. Below are four tips used to overcome depression at your occupation while getting things accomplished.
4 Tips to Defeat Depression at Work
Choose tasks that are easy and quick to finish. Clean out your email Inbox, send emails, do an office supply check for your work space, work on a PowerPoint presentation, or draft simple correspondence. These tasks may ease pressure from professional stress. These tasks take little to no effort so you can use this time to breathe.
Keep your mind active. When I lose my motivation to do anything, my thoughts turn negative. Often I will say to myself, “You are a failure at your job.” Or “Nobody likes you.” I need to shut these negative thoughts down and fast before it worsens! Examples: self-hypnosis, practice deep breathing, do some filing, or catch up with another colleague.
Get moving. This tip is my favorite one out of the four. When I feel the depression rolling in like a summer thunderstorm, I knew I needed to get up and move. I would push myself away from the desk and get moving…anywhere. To keep the fatigue from the depression from winning, I would take short walks that had a purpose. For instance: I went to the kitchen and filled up my water bottle, emptied my shred box, filing, or took the mail to the mail room.
Talk to your mental health providers. If you try these tips as well as others to assist with your depression during the work day, and they do not help, you need some bigger reinforcements. Your psychiatrist is a great place to start. He/she might need to adjust your medicine. Or you might need to make an emergency appointment with your therapist. During that session, the therapist could give you more ideas to lift the depression fog at work.
Remember, your treatment does not happen in a vacuum. The increased dose or newly added prescription might take a few weeks to really work. Be patient. Also, the new depression destroyer technique could take a little getting used to.
Conclusion If properly treated, depression at work can be managed. Instead of burning up sick time or personal time off, you can try these tips to support you in working with your depression on the job.Link
Our society and nature of the work we do has forever changed. Most of today’s office work is not in the slightest bit physical; about 90% of the time we use our heads as our main ‘work asset’. Although we rely predominantly on our inner mental functions to get our work done, the current workplace approach to mental health has been mostly a reactive based approach, only becoming highlighted when serious problems emerge.
What we need instead is similar to financial education – how to be successful and avoid problems in the first place as the importance of personal, social and work related strategies for mental wellness have been massively overlooked for years.
Nature of the problem at workplaces
Employees often look to employers to present a mental health solution, but it is often the case that companies are themselves ill equipped to provide one. The Global Wellness Institute 2016, ‘The Future of Wellness at Work’ report stated that when people are unwell at work, they report a decreased ability to get their tasks done (62 percent), are not engaged (63 percent) and are unmotivated (62 percent).
According to a 2017 Gallup report ‘State of the Global Workplace’, 67 percent of employees are not engaged and 18 percent are actively disengaged at work. Doing some simple maths illustrates the potential difference in revenue – what would happen to a business’s performance if even 50 percent of employees were actively engaged and motivated as opposed to current global average of 15 percent?
Both these statistics clearly illustrate that problems actually originate elsewhere. For example, most burnout originates from positive stress, not from negative stress. When things are tough, nervousness may lead to anxiety and untreated stress can cause burnout that can lead to depression. I.S. Schonfeld and R. Bianchi in their scientific paper ‘Burnout and Depression: two entities or one?,’ published by the Journal of Clinical Psychology in 2016, found that there is 86 percent overlap between burnout and depression.
Therefore it is a mistake to assume that what employees need is more motivation training or positivity. People are already overwhelmed with stress and struggle in handling their inner mental reactions. Boredom and indifference are not physical issues, and can cause organizations and economies huge financial loss.
Evans-Lacko, S. & Knapp, M.’s scientific paper from 2016 entitled, ‘Global patterns of workplace productivity for people with depression: absenteeism and presenteeism costs across eight diverse countries’, saw data collected from almost 8,000 employees spanning eight countries. The results of the survey revealed that worldwide workplace depression collectively costs almost US$250 billion.
For the U.S. this translates to US$84.7 billion (or 0.5% of U.S. GDP) in losses due to non-existent productivity when at work (presenteeism) and US$6 billion lost through people not showing to work (absenteeism) because of illness. The study also saw 3.7 percent of the collective American workforce have more than 21 consecutive days off from work because of depression.
Making the distinction between mental wellness and mental illness
Too often the words ‘mental health’ are confused with ‘mental illness’, however the two couldn’t be further from each other. Mental health is something that every person has when his or her inner functions operate in their most optimal manner and is a level of psychological well-being. Good mental health is mental wellness.
Mental illness on the other hand, is a lack of health and a result of not dealing with problematic ways of internal functioning when problems first emerge. By letting problems escalate until they become chronic is due to a lack of specific education in intrapersonal skills (‘intra’ meaning inside). Illness is a direct result of neglecting the need for proactive education, instead favoring a bias towards prioritizing fire-fighting the consequences.
Need for new proactive approach to mental health
As there is no single gene known to cause psychiatric illnesses there are no simple medical solutions. The majority of methods in psychology have been developed as forms of intervention for a therapy setting and not as a proactive education. That needs to change if we want to turn the tide and secure that people who are already well also stay well. Staying well does not just happen, it demands access to practical intrapersonal education.
Routledge recently published my scientific paper “Developing Intra-Personal Skills as a Proactive Way to Personal Sustainability – The Preventative Side of the Mental Health Equation”. In it I bring forward a new proactive approach to mental health as something that everyone should actively strive towards. It is one of the first scientific papers to summarize the whole mental wellness topic and opens up a new pathway that is wellness orientated and suitable for all. However, the path towards changing the paradigm is a hard one. People would rather continue to talk about illnesses, than focus on a preventative and proactive solution. That is why I see that workplaces need to lead the way; employers have a lot to gain from improved productivity that always comes along with excellent mental wellness.
What is mental wellness?
Mental wellness is the discipline that helps to keep our inner mental capabilities in good shape. When people are equipped with effective methods to handle every-day challenges, pressures will not escalate stress and then from there to seeds of illness. Mental wellness enables us to effectively nip the problem in the bud.
Good mental health equals wellness, optimum inner functioning and effective use of our innate potentials: purposeful attention, embracing change and unknown, initiative, creativity, inner motivation, having insights, awareness of emotions, good time-management and more. These are all specific inner capabilities that can be developed into useful practical intrapersonal skills that people can use in their daily lives and in their work.
Both businesses and employees would greatly benefit from learning intrapersonal skills that enable them to sustain performance at the highest level. Mental wellness and intrapersonal education are therefore enablers in reducing health related costs and should be seen as a crucial investment for all companies wanting to stay competitive.Link
Parenting is tough, the pay is horrible, and you basically get one shot at doing it right. And that was before some genius invented the smartphone. That little go-everywhere, always-connected device makes raising kids even more challenging.
While parenting is not for sissies, consider what it must be like to be a teen today. Your young brain is all wired and ready to test boundaries, connect with peers, and make poor decisions without a care for long-term consequences—and you’ve got that very same smartphone in your possession. It almost seems unfair. Any kid who can survive modern adolescence without suffering a digital mishap should win an Olympic medal.
Is The Massive Pressure of Constant Connectivity Getting To Our Kids?
A new study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology asserts that teen depression increased more than 60% between 2009 and 2017. For children ages 12 to 13, depression rates increased by 47%. Researchers noted the same upward trend in suicides, attempted suicides, and serious psychological distress amongst youth too. While unable to clearly pinpoint the cause of this adolescent distress, in their summary the study’s authors call for “more research to understand the role of factors such as technology and digital media use.”
It’s easy to blame adolescent angst on technology. After all, the suddenness of technology's sheer ubiquity makes it the obvious culprit. But isn't it also possible that technology just amplifies all of the world’s other problems—like climate change, gun violence, the difficulty of getting into college, and more? Plus, technology provides youth a place to escape from these problems and to commiserate with peers. It’s complex and there’s still a lot we don’t know.
What Experts Say
While writing a book about digital parenting, I turned to over 30 experts to get their advice on everything from screen time and sexting to cyberbullying and digital reputation management. While their responses were wide-ranging, experts did converge on three broad topics of concern.
1. Empathy Needed.
Nearly every expert told me if they could grant kids just one digital superpower it would be empathy. Empathy is the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes. It encompasses perspective taking, and it allows one to feel what another is feeling. Educational psychologist Michele Borba, author of UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, says empathy is “the cornerstone for becoming a happy, well-adjusted, successful adult. It makes our children more likable, more employable, more resilient, better leaders, more conscience-driven, and increases their lifespans.”
Unfortunately, between 1979 and 2009, American college students’ scores on two measures of empathy plummeted a whopping 40%, with the steepest decline occurring from 2000 onward.
This “empathy dip” is particularly concerning when it comes to connected kids because, as Internet safety expert Richard Guerry explains, "they should be able to let loose and be human and not have to worry about someone else taking a picture or filming them and then posting that somewhere.”
Guerry, who is the founder of the Institute for Responsible Online and Cellphone Communication (IROC2), says kids need empathy for one another when they use technology because they hold power over their own reputations as well as the reputations of their friends—and the long-term consequences of a poor online reputation can be devasting.
Empathy is also the antidote to cyberbullying because it can curb it before it starts. Shelley Kelley, Educational Director at Journey School in Aliso Viejo, CA, told me their cyberbullying prevention strategy basically centers around rich stories that employ empathy as a theme. These include tales about heroes, honorable people, role models, and other real-life upstanders. Sameer Hinduja and Justin Patchin, directors of the Cyberbullying Research Center, are fans of stories, too. As Hinduja explains, stories “cultivate empathy among youth to make sure they can emotionally understand the harm they can inflict with some of their actions online.” Empathy-building books they recommend include: El Deafo, Wonder, Same Sun Here, Inside Out and Back Again, Night (by Elie Wiesel), Where the Red Fern Grows, and Out of My Mind.
Sue Scheff, author of Shame Nation: Choosing Kindness and Compassion in an Age of Cruelty and Trolling, suggests that “the moment children open a first social media account they should be told to be “thoughtful, kind, and caring… and to remember to post with empathy for others.”
2. The Fastest Growing Concern? Sexting.
“Sexting,” sending and/or receiving sexually-explicit or sexually-suggestive messages online, came up again and again as one of the most concerning—and fastest growing—technological problems of today’s youth. In early 2018, a comprehensive study on teen sexting published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) revealed that roughly 15% of kids between 11 and 17 years of age send sexts and 28% receive them.
“What you have here is a perfect storm of budding sexuality combined with a child’s first freedom on their own technological device,” says Dr. Michele Drouin, an expert on technology and relationships. “On top of all that, this budding sexuality happens well before the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain responsible for impulse control—is fully developed.”
What concerns the experts I spoke with, including Drouin, was how very few kids (and adults, for that matter) understand, or even know about, the severe consequences of getting caught exchanging such messages. The sending or receiving of “sexts” between people under the age of 18, even between two teenagers in a relationship, is illegal in most states. In California, for example, “individuals who distribute, possess, or produce a sexually explicit image of a minor could be charged under the State’s child pornography statutes. If the individual is tried as an adult and is convicted, they could receive up to six years in jail and will generally be required to register as a sex offender.”
According to Drouin, “sexting is a part of the normative teenage, early adulthood experience now. So it is very, very common to send some type of sexually explicit message. More than half of my young adult students have sent this type of message. And by the time they hit young adulthood, more than half have sent sexually explicit pictures.”
This, according to experts, is where the problem lies. Schools and parents are failing to educate youth on what could happen if they, or a friend, get caught sexting. Schools are largely unaware of how to handle a sexting incident. And many parents don’t know that, in many states, the possession of sexually explicit material portraying minors falls under existing child pornography laws.
3. What Today’s Digital Kids Need Most: Help.
Experts were united on this one. Kids need help. “What really gets me is how deeply kids are craving help, and knowledge, and direction when it comes to all this stuff,” says Liz Repking, founder of Cybersafety Consulting. “They are craving it so, so deeply. We have to give these kids the help they need.”
Parents, of course, are in the best position to provide help. “But here’s the problem,” says Michele Ciulla Lipkin, Executive Director of the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), “parents are really worried and overwhelmed themselves.”
“I’ve had parents moved to tears because all they do is fight with their kids about media. Then when I talk to the kids, I can’t believe how nervous they are about digital life, all because their parents are petrified. It really doesn’t have to be this hard,” says Ciulla Lipkin.
“Parents have to open up a dialogue about these issues in their communities and find support. Parents and schools have to work together, because we no longer live in a world where we can separate home and school. Administrators must support teachers getting professional development, because teachers have to understand these issues, too. We all have to ask if we are having these conversations in our communities.”
The Bottom Line?
If kids don’t get the help they need, from their parents and their schools, then those rising depression rates may be our fault. Not technology's.Link
Do you find you don’t deal with situations or relationships as successfully as you’d like? Do you feel depressed, anxious, or think negative things about yourself, others or the world? If so, it could be that your blueprint is holding you back.
You can think of your blueprint as everything you felt, saw, thought, touch, tasted, laughed or cried at. Millions of experiential data points creating your unique map of how the world works. But a map created before you are cognitively mature enough to understand or handle difficult situations.
Because this blueprint comes from the cause and effect on a child mind there can be limitations on how we now see the world. If we had good mentoring, a stable view of ourselves, and satisfying relationships, then it’s likely we’ll have a healthy blueprint. However, if we experienced poor mentoring, a negative view of ourselves, with less than stable relationships, then our blueprint could be more dysfunctional. Leading us to see the world as unpredictable, uncaring and even traumatic.
These are simplistic extremes for sure, and most people’s lives are far less black and white. However, the point is the same: no matter how the creation of our blueprint happened, it will influence our adult decision-making for the rest of our lives. If this blueprint is mostly dysfunctional, it can leave us vulnerable to mental health issues unless we take steps to change our reoccurring unhealthy responses.1
Our blueprint is important because it plays an integral part in everything we do. Without being aware of it, every day your brain is constantly using your blueprint to predict your environment by following pre-programmed, default responses for familiar tasks2 : how you cook dinner, how you eat, drive, order your coffee, etc. It doesn’t matter the situation, you’ll have a response ready: In this situation you will = think this, feel this, and act like this. And most of the time this is okay. But what happens when we come across a situation that our younger self couldn’t deal with in a healthy way?
Let’s say you had difficulties feeling worthy and appreciated as a child and one day at work your boss shouts at you in front of your colleagues? How do you respond? Well, that’s up to your old blueprint. In less than a second your brain is accessing how you managed similar situations in the past. Maybe it accesses the time you were 12 and a teacher shouted at you in front of the class. You cried and the shame you felt was painful. So, now in front of your boss, your blueprint tells you to “stay quiet and shut down your feelings.” So, that is exactly what you do. Your old responses leaving you helpless in the face of an aggressive other.
If you think you don’t manage certain situations or people well, it might be time edit your old blueprint. To do this, I encourage you to reflect on any given situation you struggle with. Once you have a situation, park any preconceived notion you have about yourself. It doesn’t matter if the situations were wrong, or unfair, the goal is to examine your thinking, feeling, and behaviors analytically. You want to discover whether your blueprint helps or hurts you. What responses you want to keep and which to replace.
Here are six questions to get started.
Is this my typical response in this situation? Have I reacted this way before (i.e. is this habitual responding)? What event from my past does this situation/person remind me of? Does my current reaction help me or hurt me? How would I prefer to respond/react to this challenging situation? What do I tell myself that stops me from responding in this healthier way? Now you have this new information, you can get to work on practicing your new responses. With time, effort, and practice, these new habitual responses will happen naturally. But be aware, you might have another hidden habitual response that stops you from making these changes “just in case” things get worse. And it’s this cycle of wanting to change but fearing change that keeps many people stuck in the same blueprint.
It is worth acknowledging a lot of our old blueprint emerged as self-protection. Created during a time when being turned down by someone you had a crush on hurt to the core. Or when kids laughing at you felt like the most shameful experience you could ever imagine. As children a lot of things seemed like the end of the world, but as adults they’re not even close. If a person you like turns you down, that’s okay. If other people laugh at you for making a mistake, you’ll survive just fine. You really don’t have to follow the same program over and over, you can change it.
Breaking old habits is hard, but creating a new adult blueprint will help make you more confident and robust in the face of all life’s challenges.Link
Life coaching is viewed by some as an alternative to therapy. Actually, coaching was one of many cognitive behavior therapy methods I learned to practice in graduate school. Thirty years into my career as a psychotherapist, I coach clients toward achieving their goals when they’re likely to benefit from this approach.
Certainly, neither coaching as a separate practice nor psychotherapy has a monopoly on traits such as wisdom, intuition, kindness, or empathy. Practitioners in both disciplines may be good listeners, supportive, and encourage clients to set goals. So how do you decide whom to trust for help with relationships, addictions, work situations, parenting concerns, anxiety, depression, or other personal challenges?
Former life coach client Jesse Harless, who is now a life coach himself, describes his experience receiving coaching: “I felt like I had some control over my life for the first time. What I realized in working with a life coach over the past few years, is that we have a tremendous amount of untapped potential. It’s just waiting to be brought out of us.
He cites these benefits of life coaching:
You get to choose what to work on. You gain “immediate” clarity on your actions and goals. You connect with someone who cares about your well-being, hopes, and dreams to whom you’re accountable about what matters most. You gain greater self-awareness. I would have missed the opportunity to overcome one of my biggest fears and live out my life’s purpose had I not worked with a life coach. “One of my favorite reasons for working with a life coach is I have someone cheering for me. I think we all need someone in our corner who will help us celebrate our small victories.” People benefit similarly from good therapy. So what’s the difference between a coach and a therapist if both approaches help people in these ways? A key difference is that standards for practicing differ widely, as shown here:
Standards for Coaches and Therapists
Formal Education No formal education or training is required, Anyone can call themselves a coach, life coach, or personal coach. Quick basic training can last a few hours. A certificate can be earned in a couple of days. Additional training can last at least six months. No coaching program requires years of masters or doctorate degree level training.
License needed? Coach
No. No coaching program requires years of masters or doctorate degree level training.
Code of Ethics Coach
No code of ethics exists for all coaches. However, coaches who join the International Coach Federation (ICF) are expected to adhere to its code of ethics.
Regulation Coach No regulation exists for coaches to assure that ethical and legal responsibilities are upheld.**Psychotherapist** Regulation exists for psychotherapists or any other Mental Health Practioner. They need to be certified by the HPCSA in South Africa.
Many people can benefit from coaching, depending upon the kind of challenge they face and upon the sensitivity, education, training, and experience of the practitioner. Although coaches are not subject to the strict standards, legal licensing requirements, and high education and training requirements of psychotherapists, this is not necessarily a reason to rule out seeing a coach who is a good fit for you and your situation.
Clinical social workers, psychologists, marriage and family therapists, and other professionals must adhere to strict standards. Yet a license to practice psychotherapy does not automatically mean that its possessor will be more helpful than a coach for someone’s particular situation.
Coaching used to be associated with training for athletes and team sports. Coaches for baseball, basketball, football, and so on, are typically people who earlier excelled in that sport. Similarly, executive coaches are usually qualified as mentors because of their real life achievements.
Therapists and coaches often specialize in helping people deal with issues similar to those that they’ve dealt with successfully themselves, e.g., weight loss, relationships, addictions, depression. Therapists who specialize in treating people with depression or anxiety may well also have become experts in these areas after having succeeded in dealing with related challenges in their own lives.
As a therapist, I can’t help but be biased toward my profession when it comes to aiding people with a wide range of personal or emotionally laden issues. As my colleague, Patricia Ravitz, MFT, puts it, “Once you complete all the education and training involved to be a therapist, you become a different person. You’re transformed.” Consequently, a good therapist is likely to be well equipped to help people grow and succeed in areas that reflect the fullness and complexities of life.
Author and former accountant Francine Falk-Allen, says she has had excellent experiences with both a psychotherapist and a coach. Yet not always. She says, “I’ve also experienced coaches who treated everyone the same way without regard to individual differences and needs, and I’ve seen a therapist who didn’t understand my issues.” Her advice to someone looking for a coach: “Get recommendations from people who’ve found coaching helpful and ask the coach about his or her education, training, and experience in coaching people with issues similar to yours.” It’s probably a plus if the coach is a member of a respected organization that fosters high standards for coaches.
Debunking Misconceptions about Therapy
Although everyone has issues that they can benefit from exploring and working toward resolving, too many troubled people think, “I don’t need therapy; I’m not crazy.” They may have issues that call for a sensitive, well-trained therapist, but not get the help they need because they view receiving therapy for emotional support as a stigma.
Another false belief about therapy is that it focuses on the past instead of helping people move forward in their lives.
Good Therapy Fosters Personal Growth and Solutions
The truth is that good therapy includes goal setting, clarity, personal growth and solutions.
Therapists typically ask clients what they hope to gain from therapy, i.e., their goal.
Reaching one’s goal can include some looking back to earlier influences. This kind of reflection is useful when something from the past causes us to behave in ways that block us from achieving what we want. We may need to find out what’s holding us back before we can move forward. This is how we can get “unstuck” from an old, unproductive behavior or thought pattern. As another person who’s benefited from both therapy and coaching puts it, “Therapists go deeper.”
The trusting relationship that typically develops over time between the therapist and client can be enormously helpful for repairing trust that was broken in a person’s past.
Example: How Knowledge of the Past is Helpful
Someone might want to be more assertive and gain self-esteem, but something’s getting in his way. Perhaps as a child he was criticized by his parents for expressing feelings or needs that they were uncomfortable hearing. They told him he was bad, selfish, inconsiderate, or wrong and maybe they punished him. Suppose a therapist encourages him to express himself constructively, but he’s still hearing old, competing messages in his head telling him not “burden” others with his thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs.
By recognizing what’s getting in their way of changing, many people move from prohibitions to permission to change. Some coaches may be able to help clients identify and move past what’s blocking them. Good coaches know when to refer a client to therapy rather than practice beyond their knowledge or skill level.
Whether you choose to receive coaching or therapy, it’s important to find someone who’s a good fit for you. You want to work with someone with who you’ll be comfortable opening yourself up about what you’re struggling with and what you want to accomplish. That’s the first step toward gaining confidence and a more meaningful life.Link
In that first meeting I went to for my sugar addiction, I heard others admit to doing the same things I did. Sneaking. Lying. Throwing food in the bin to halt a binge only to come back later and fish it out to eat.
It was right in front of my face, but I couldn’t see it for what it was for years. Addiction is a wayward beast. God knows you can’t see much when you’re laid flat on your back, pinned down by invisible yet ferocious forces.
The narrative was just so unfamiliar that I doubted it was real. Where were the used syringes, grubby spoons, and Ewan McGregor swimming in a lav to Brian Eno music? Where were the gin and tequila bottles strewn next to stained ashtrays?
A glance into my dependence only revealed brightly coloured plastic wrappers and packaging, crumbs strewn on the car floor, stomach pains, abominable flatulence, and soft velvety chocolate stains on the couch and seat of my pants. Far from Trainspotting or Leaving Las Vegas, this was more like Leaving Seven Eleven.
It was almost laughable, only it wasn’t, it was excruciating. I ate the way an alcoholic drinks and an addict uses. The notion that food could derail a person the way hard drugs or booze can sounds extreme. And whilst the destruction is not as ostensibly violent and as speedily lethal, my spirit was decaying.
When you’re enslaved by compulsion and obsession, no matter what the substance or behavior — you suffer. Your inner freedom withers away and you are caught in a most painful cycle.
I could not stop binge eating. And for some reason I never equated my lawless benders on sweet things as a bona fide addiction. Denial is blinding but it wasn’t only mine. I was seeking the help of health professionals — psychologists and health counsellors — who were also missing the reality of the problem. They would say “But it’s not that bad, right?” and minimize my behaviour in an attempt to make me feel better. But it was that bad, and their diminishing comments made me feel worse.
They were kind and well intentioned and approached the issue by trying to help me find moderation in my relationship with food, namely sugar: my white powdery blow. I’d find that balance for periods — sometimes days, weeks or even months — but I’d inevitably topple into blowout. And I’m not talking a couple of pieces of cake or a tub of ice cream.
There is a cultural denial around the legitimacy of sugar and food addiction and treatment for disordered eating is usually centered around balance. And that is the ideal solution. But what if that doesn’t work? What if the notion of moderation is the very thing that keeps some of us monumentally stuck?
My continual failure to eat “normally” left me bereft and berating myself for my inability to halt this self-abuse. I couldn’t implement what I was being advised to do. What in hell was wrong with me? I’ve never had a DUI for drunk driving, but I have shamefully dinged my car (and others) more than once as I scoffed food blindly from the passenger seat.
I’d swear off bingeing; writing and typing up resolutions only to rip them up or delete them when I’d inevitably slide into another spree.
Then one day the penny dropped when a health counsellor I’d been working with for four years said, “I’ve got it…You’re addicted to sugar!” Well yeah…anyone could see that, but what was her point?
She told me I needed to treat it like a legitimate addiction, find a support group, and face the fact I couldn’t eat processed sugar in moderation, which meant not eating it. At all.
Was Alicia able to refrain completely and beat her sugar addiction? Find out in the original article The Other White Powder: My Addiction to Sugar at The Fix.
Depression is one of the most prevalent mental health disorders in the country and it is on the rise as one of the most serious health concerns facing us. The irony is that it is also one of the most treatable disorders, through psychotherapy and/or medication. Yet barely a third of the people with depression seek help or are properly diagnosed.
It is estimated that about 10 to 15 percent of children and teens are depressed at any given time. Research indicates that one of every four adolescents will have an episode of major depression during high school with the average age of onset being 14 years!
These episodes typically last several months when untreated. While this indicates the main problem is likely to abate without treatment, these teens are at much higher risk for suicide which is a leading cause of death during adolescence. In addition, during an untreated episode of major depression, teens are more likely to get into serious substance abuse addictions or suffer significant rates of dropping out of their typical activities and social groups. Thus, even if the depressive episode wanes, significant problems may continue on.
The milder form of depression, called dysthymia, is more difficult to diagnose, especially in primary school children. Yet this form of depression actually lasts much longer. Typical episodes last seven years and often longer. Many depressed adults can trace their sad, discouraged, or self-dislike feelings back to childhood or adolescence.
With children, although typical adult features may be present, they are more likely to show symptoms of somatic complaints, withdrawal, antisocial behaviour, clinging behaviours, nightmares, and boredom. Yes, many of these are common for non-depressed children. But usually they are transient, lasting about four to six weeks. You should become concerned when the symptoms last for at least two months, don’t respond to reasonable parental interventions, and seem to pervade the child’s life rather than be confined to just one aspect.
I have referred to major depression and dysthymia as two primary forms of depression. Very briefly, there are a number of symptoms common to both but with a greater severity in the former. In adults, depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, loss of appetite or overeating, sleeping a lot or not being able to sleep, loss of energy, loss of self-esteem, indecisiveness, hopelessness, problems with concentration, and suicidal thoughts or attempts are the signs of depression. People rarely have all of them.
We usually look for at least four or more and, again, severity and longevity are important determinants when making a diagnosis. Teens will exhibit more adult-like symptoms but severe withdrawal is especially significant.
In childhood, boys actually may have a higher rate of depression than girls but it is often missed because many of the depressed boys act out and the underlying depression is missed. In adolescence, girls begin the same predominance as women, about two to three times the rate of males. Contrary to popular belief, research rejects the notion that it is related to hormonal changes associated with adolescence. Instead, just as with adult women, sexual harassment and experiences of discrimination appear to be more significant causes.
Primary causes of depression in children are parental conflict (with or without divorce), maternal depression (mothers interact much more with their children), poor social skills, and pessimistic attitudes. Divorced parents who are still fighting have the highest rate of depressed children (about 18 percent).
Regarding depression in mothers, it is the symptoms of irritability, criticism, and expressed pessimism that are especially significant. Also, the environmental factors contributing to the mother’s depression (marital or financial problems) also may impact directly on the children. Depressed children are more likely to have poor social skills, fewer friends, and give up easily (which also contributes to poor school performance and lack of success in activities). You must differentiate, however, from the shy, loner child who is actually content to spend more time alone.
What to do? When concerned, talk with teachers and pediatricians. (However, both of these front-line professional groups need more training in diagnosing depression.) If there seems to be a valid concern, then seek help from mental health professionals who specialise in working with children. (Parents: above all, follow your instincts because there is a tendency to under diagnose problems in younger children.)
If marital conflict is present, then seek couples therapy (if divorced, seek help for cooperative parenting). If one or both parents are depressed, then individual therapy may be needed for each. Children’s therapy groups are particularly effective for those with social skills deficits. Family therapy is also very effective, particularly with older children or teens.
Depression does run in families and may have a biological basis. Antidepressants are especially important in these cases and may also be important even if the causes are primarily psychological because they help the child (or adult) attain the level of functioning needed to benefit from other interventions. Since children and teens are less certain to respond positively to medications for depression than adults, it is especially important to use child psychiatrists who specialise in psychopharmacology.Link
Just this week, I have seen three patients with depression requiring treatment. Treatment options include medications, therapy, and self-care. Self-care includes things like sleep, physical activity, and diet, and is just as important as meds and therapy — sometimes more so.
In counseling my patients about self-care, I always feel like we don’t have enough time to get into diet. I am passionate about diet and lifestyle measures for good health, because there is overwhelming evidence supporting the benefits of a healthy diet and lifestyle for, oh, just about everything: preventing cardiovascular disease, cancer, dementia, and mental health disorders, including depression.
Diet and emotional well-being Diet is such an important component of mental health that it has inspired an entire field of medicine called nutritional psychiatry. Mind-body medicine specialist Eva Selhub, MD has written a superb summary of what nutritional psychiatry is and what it means for you right here on this blog, and it’s worth reading.
What it boils down to is that what we eat matters for every aspect of our health, but especially our mental health. Several recent research analyses looking at multiple studies support that there is a link between what one eats and our risk of depression, specifically. One analysis concluded:
“A dietary pattern characterized by a high intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy and antioxidants and low intakes of animal foods was apparently associated with a decreased risk of depression. A dietary pattern characterized by a high consumption of red and/or processed meat, refined grains, sweets, high-fat dairy products, butter, potatoes and high-fat gravy, and low intakes of fruits and vegetables is associated with an increased risk of depression.”
Which comes first? Poor diet or depression? One could argue that, well, being depressed makes us more likely to eat unhealthy foods. This is true, so we should ask what came first, the diet or the depression? Researchers have addressed this question, thankfully. Another large analysis looked only at prospective studies, meaning, they looked at baseline diet and then calculated the risk of study volunteers going on to develop depression. Researchers found that a healthy diet (the Mediterranean diet as an example) was associated with a significantly lower risk of developing depressive symptoms.
So, how should I counsel my patients on diet? There are several healthy options that can be used as a guide. One that comes up again and again is the Mediterranean diet. Another wonderful resource for folks is the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health website with an introductory guide to healthy diet.
The bottom line The gist of it is, eat plants, and lots of them, including fruits and veggies, whole grains (in unprocessed form, ideally), seeds and nuts, with some lean proteins like fish and yogurt. Avoid things made with added sugars or flours (like breads, baked goods, cereals, and pastas), and minimize animal fats, processed meats (sorry, bacon), and butter. Occasional intake of these “bad” foods is probably fine; remember, everything in moderation. And, for those who are trying to lose weight, you can’t go wrong with colorful fruits and veggies. No one got fat eating berries or broccoli. Quality matters over quantity. And when it comes to what we eat, quality really, really matters.
Resources Dietary patterns and depression risk: A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Research, July 2017.
Diet quality and depression risk: A systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. Journal of Affective Disorders, January 15, 2018.Link
Sandy’s mother, Lily, is beside herself. “I didn’t notice anything was wrong all winter,” she said. “Oh, she was quieter than usual and her grades weren’t the best. But we moved last fall and I figured she was just adjusting. Last week, though, spring really came on with 80-degree days and she insisted on wearing a wool sweater to school. Sandy got furious when I told her to go change. I’ve never seen her that upset! Three days of long sleeved shirts and I finally caught on. I’d heard about this, of course. But I never thought my daughter would be doing it. There are scars all up and down her arms!” Lily was doing her best to hold back tears. “Sandy wouldn’t come here with me. She won’t talk to me. What can I do?”
Lily is upset and bewildered. She can’t understand why her beautiful, accomplished 14-year-old would do something so self-destructive and painful. She feels terrible that her daughter is hurting herself. She feels terribly guilty that she didn’t notice something that has apparently been going on for months.
Sadly, Lily’s daughter is not alone. Self-harm has become far more common than most parents suspect. Some studies show that 2 to 3 million Americans engage in some form of self-injury (cutting, burning, or striking themselves to the point of soft tissue damage) each year. There are people who self-harm at every age, socio-economic, and ethnic group.
Why do kids do it? Often they learn from peers that it can be a way to actually feel better. They may then read about it on the Internet. Sometimes it starts as an experiment; sometimes as as a response to a dare. Sometimes a group of kids try it out as a way to be cool. Sometimes it really does begin with an accidental injury. And, rarely, it’s the result of a failed suicide attempt.
That last possibility especially terrifies parents. But kids who self-harm generally are not looking for a way to end life. They are actually looking for a way to end emotional pain, Some have found that hurting themselves brings their anxiety and stress down to a manageable level. Others, who have learned to dissociate (distance themselves from their bodies and minds) when under stress, find that the pain of inflicting injury brings them back in touch with themselves. Self-injury for these kids is a way to stay alive.
Contrary to what some adults believe, self-harming is rarely a bid for attention. Most of these kids are ashamed of what they do and do their best to hide it. Ironically, the energy needed to keep it a secret only adds another stress. Some are mentally ill and although some may suffer from depression, most do not. The most common mental health diagnosis for a teen who self-injures is borderline personality disorder. For kids who self-injure, hurting themselves has become a primary coping skill in the face of challenging feelings or situations. Often these kids have also learned that their feelings are wrong or bad. Often they never developed less drastic ways to deal with stress.
Self-harmers need to be understood, not scolded. They need to unlearn the idea that their feelings are “wrong” and learn that it’s okay to feel them. Most important, they need to learn new ways to manage stress and emotions that they find overwhelming.
When asked a few questions about Sandy’s history, Lily revealed that she left her husband last summer after years of verbal abuse. “From the time Sandy was little, he’d yell at her that she was too sensitive whenever she cried. He would threaten that he’d give her something to cry about if she didn’t stop. He never actually hit her but I never knew if maybe this time he would. It was hard enough for me to put up with his rages but after a while, I couldn’t stand watching what he was doing to our daughter. When a possibility for a transfer with a raise came about, I just packed us both up and left. Funny thing is, she misses her dad.”
Since Sandy won’t hear of coming to therapy, my job is to coach her mother. Lily needs to know that we can work as a team and that I don’t see her as a neglectful mom. Sandy has put a good face on the move and has even expressed how relieved she is to be out of all the family fighting. Meanwhile, Lily has been caught up with learning a new job and doing the thousand things that go with settling into a new town – from learning where to shop to finding a new doctor and dentist for them both. It’s no wonder to me that discovering that her daughter is cutting is a surprise and a shock. It often is.
Lily’s first step is simply to validate Sandy’s feelings. It’s a reasonable guess that she both misses her dad and is angry with him; that she is glad her mother got her out of the situation, but feels guilty that she is glad. She both loves her mother and is angry with her for not only taking her away from her father but for taking her away from her home, her school, and her friends. It probably makes no sense to her that she is feeling all those feelings at once. Complicating things further is that she was raised by her dad to think that her sensitivities are somehow wrong.
Lily needs to let her daughter know that she understands how overwhelming and confusing the move has probably been for her and that there are ways to handle her feelings that don’t put her at risk of giving herself a serious wound or leave her with permanent scars. Yes, Lily needs to be the mom. But she can also let Sandy know that the reason she can be understanding is that sometimes she also feels mad and glad and sad about the move and wishes there had been another way to make things better.
Once Sandy feels supported and heard by her mom, I’m hopeful that she will come to the next appointment. If not, Lily can still be coached to help her daughter learn new ways to discharge the emotional buildup that happens when she keeps suppressing her feelings. We can teach her that physical exercise (dancing, running, going to the gym) can release the same relieving endorphins into her system that cutting does. We can teach her other ways to relax like taking a warm bath, listening to music or making art. And we can give her some coping skills. Deep breathing or washing her hands or or getting a cold drink of water can calm her while she works to get the urge to hurt herself under control. Most important, we can help her learn to value her feelings by keeping a journal and talking to her mom or a friend or even to me.
While all this is going on, Sandy also may need a little help fitting in with her new school and making friends. Lily had lost sight of how hard it is for a kid to move in the eighth grade. She agreed that she could be more encouraging about having other kids hang out at her place and be a little less focused on grades for now.
I’m certain that before we’re finished, we’ll also need to at least attempt to involve Sandy’s dad. She doesn’t miss his rages but there is more to him than a walking ball of anger. There were good times too. She loves the dad who shot hoops with her in the backyard and who joked around with her when he was feeling good. My guess is that he’s a guy who can’t tolerate his own feelings and who hated feeling out of control when his daughter cried. Perhaps if he feels understood, he’ll be open to working on himself and his relationship with his daughter. Lily is okay with the idea as long as she has assurance that we’ll prepare Sandy to deal with disappointment if her dad doesn’t respond.
Coaching Sandy’s mom like this may work. Not all “therapy” happens in an office. A loving mother who can listen, stay calm, and offer some practical advice can also give a young person exactly what she needs. Learning some concrete ways to be helpful and having some support gives Lily hope and focus. She’s highly motivated to do the best she can for her daughter.
If this method doesn’t work – or doesn’t work enough – my hope is that Lily’s efforts will help Sandy eventually feel okay about getting some additional support. She might come to see me, alone or with her mom, or she might be more comfortable joining a support group with other teens who are struggling to learn how to manage strong and sometimes contradictory feelings. Whatever path therapy takes, she’ll know her mom is there to help.Link
Child Protection week runs from 27 May to 3 June under the theme: “Let us protect all children to move South Africa forward.”
Social Development Minister Susan Shabangu kicked off Child Protection Week by putting the spotlight on issues facing young South Africans under the age of 18. She spoke of the effects of social media on children and combating sexual abuse.
National Child Protection Week is marked annually to raise awareness for the rights of children. It aims to mobilise all sectors of society to care for and protect children.
Children’s Rights and the Constitution The Bill of Rights in the Constitution specifically states that every child has the right to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation. South Africa has also drafted legislation to protect children based on the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
Protections are further reinforced through the Children’s Act, which emphasises the State’s role in the provision of social services to strengthen the capacity of families and communities to care for and protect children.
The Child Justice Act (Act No. 75 of 2008) establishes a separate criminal justice system for children who have come in conflict with the law. The Sexual Offences and Related Matters Amendment Act (Act No. 32 of 2007) includes a wide range of crimes that commonly occur against children. The Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act (Act 7 of 2013), deals with the global phenomena of child trafficking.
However, despite these and other protections, many children still remain vulnerable to abuse, neglect and exploitation. In a statement, the government called on all South Africans to protect children:
“As a society we have a duty to do more to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society do not suffer abuse. It is in our hands to stop the cycle of neglect, abuse, violence and exploitation of children. By working together we can create safer and healthier communities so that our children can thrive. Government calls on all South Africans to support Child Protection Week by wearing a green ribbon.”
What is abuse? Abuse constitutes any behaviour that causes fear, bodily harm and forces a person to do things against their will. Forms of abuse include child abuse, rape, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual harassment and financial abuse.Link
Eating disorders are one of the unspoken secrets that affect many families. Millions of Americans are afflicted with this disorder every year, and most of them — up to 90 percent — are adolescent and young women. Rarely talked about, an eating disorder can affect up to 5 percent of the population of teenage girls.
Why are teenage and young adult women so susceptible to getting an eating disorder? According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it is because during this period of time, women are more likely to diet — or try extreme dieting — to try to stay thin. Certain sports (such as gymnastics) and careers (such as modeling) are especially prone to reinforcing the need to keep a fit figure, even if it means purging food or not eating at all.
There are three main types of eating disorders:
Binge Eating Disorder
Anorexia (also known as anorexia nervosa) is the name for simply starving yourself because you are convinced you are overweight. If you are at least 15 percent under your normal body weight and you are losing weight through not eating, you may be suffering from this disorder.
Bulimia (also known as bulimia nervosa) is characterized by excessive eating, and then ridding yourself of the food by vomiting, abusing laxatives or diuretics, taking enemas, or exercising obsessively. This behavior of ridding yourself of the calories from consumed food is often called “purging.”
A person who suffers from this disorder can have it go undetected for years, because the person’s body weight will often remain normal. “Binging” and “purging” behavior is often done in secret and with a great deal of shame attached to the behavior. It is also the more common eating disorder.
Eating disorders are serious problems and need to be diagnosed and treated like any medical disease. If they continue to go untreated, these behaviors can result in future severe medical complications that can be life-threatening.
Treatment of eating disorders nearly always includes cognitive-behavioral or group psychotherapy. Medications may also be appropriate and have been found to be effective in the treatment of these disorders, when combined with psychotherapy.
If you believe you may be suffering from an eating disorder or know someone who is, please get help. Once properly diagnosed by a mental health professional, such disorders are readily treatable and often cured within a few months’ time.
A person with an eating disorder should not be blamed for having it! The disorders are caused by a complex interaction of social, biological, and psychological factors which bring about the harmful behaviors.
The important thing is to stop as soon as you recognize these behaviors in yourself, or to get help to begin the road to recovery.Link
What Does Depression Feel Like? By Gabe Howard
Feeling Depression I’ve lived with depression my entire life. As far back as I can remember, I thought about suicide every day. On good days, I decided that I wouldn’t commit suicide and on bad days, I would think about how I would do it.
When I was younger, I didn’t realize this was abnormal. I assumed everyone thought about suicide daily. I just thought it was part of the human experience to weigh the pros and cons of living on an ongoing basis. I did recognize that I was sad — mostly because I recognized that others were happy.
I didn’t know I was depressed, however. I just thought I was bad at life. I believed that I just hadn’t found what I needed to be happy. I spent the first 25 years of my life feeling as if I was always one step away from happiness.
All of the accomplishments that I thought would make me happy didn’t. They would provide temporary happiness, of course, but a couple weeks of feeling like I was on top of the world would quickly decline into depression. When that would happen, I’d just choose a new something I needed in order to be happy.
Depression Is Like You’re Running on a Treadmill
In many ways, depression is like running on a treadmill. It takes a great deal of effort — along with a physical and mental toll — but you don’t get anywhere. But, unlike when on a treadmill, you don’t have any positive outcomes. No calories burned or smaller waistline. Just frustration.
It’s difficult to explain depression to someone because it feels like emptiness. Depression is best described as feeling completely numb, rather than feeling badly. And for people with chronic depression, it feels normal, because chronic depression has a way of wrapping itself around a person and taking control of all emotions.
It feels like swimming with someone who is trying to pull you under and not being sure you care whether they are successful. At first, you try to swim away, but after a while, you become comforted by the fact they are there.
You start to relate to the person trying to drown you and wonder if they are right to pull you under. Subconsciously, you start swimming in areas where it’s easier for them to grab your ankle. The fact that they are trying to harm you becomes irrelevant, because you’re so used to that feeling that you can’t function without it.
I don’t know that depression can every truly be understood by someone who hasn’t experienced it first-hand. When I’m depressed, I see no way forward. It’s an all-encompassing killer of emotions.
Depression is not darkness without hope for light. Depression is being pulled into darkness and forgetting that light ever existed.Link
Bipolar disorder (“manic depression”) is a mental disorder that is characterized by constantly changing moods between **depression(( and mania. The mood swings are significant, and the experiences of the highs of mania and the lows of depression are usually extreme. The new mood can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, or even months (see the bipolar cycling section below). The mood swings are usually experienced intensely by a person with this condition.
A manic episode is characterized by extreme happiness, hyperactivity, little need for sleep, and racing thoughts, which may lead to rapid speech. A depressive episode is characterized by extreme sadness, a lack of energy or interest in things, an inability to enjoy normally pleasurable activities, and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. On average, someone with bipolar disorder may have up to three years of normal mood between episodes of mania or depression.
Bipolar disorder is recurrent, meaning that more than 90 percent of the individuals who have a single manic episode will go on to experience future episodes. Roughly 70 percent of manic episodes in bipolar disorder occur immediately before or after a depressive episode. Treatment seeks to reduce the feelings of mania and depression associated with the disorder and restore balance to the person’s mood.
Types of Bipolar Disorder Those with bipolar disorder often describe their experience as being on an emotional roller coaster. Cycling up and down between strong emotions can keep a person from having a “normal” life. The emotions, thoughts, and behaviors of a person with bipolar disorder are often experienced as beyond one’s control. Friends, co-workers, and family may sometimes intervene to try and help protect their interests and health. This makes the condition exhausting not only for the sufferer, but for those in contact with her or him as well.
Bipolar cycling can either be rapid or slow over time. Those who experience rapid cycling can go between depression and mania as often as a few times a week (some even cycle within the same day). Most people with bipolar disorder are of the slow cycling type — they experience long periods of being up (“high” or manic phase) and of being down (“low” or depressive phase). Researchers do not yet understand why some people cycle more quickly than others.
Bipolar Cycling Living with bipolar disorder can be challenging in maintaining a regular lifestyle. Manic episodes can lead to family conflict or financial problems, especially when the person with bipolar disorder appears to behave erratically and irresponsibly without reason. During the manic phase, people often become impulsive and act aggressively. This can result in high-risk behavior, such as repeated intoxication, extravagant spending, and risky sexual behavior.
During severe manic or depressed episodes, some people with bipolar disorder may have symptoms that overwhelm their ability to deal with everyday life, and even reality. This inability to distinguish reality from unreality results in psychotic symptoms such as hearing voices, paranoia, visual hallucinations, and false beliefs of special powers or identity. They may have distressing periods of great sadness alternating with euphoric optimism (a “natural high”) and/or rage that is not typical of the person during periods of wellness. These abrupt shifts of mood interfere with reason, logic, and perception to such a drastic degree that those affected may be unaware of the need for help. However, if left untreated, bipolar disorder can seriously affect nearly every aspect of a person’s life.
Identifying the first episode of mania or depression and receiving early treatment is essential to managing bipolar disorder. In most cases, a depressive episode occurs before a manic episode, and many patients are treated initially as if they have major depression. Usually, the first recognized episode of bipolar disorder is a manic episode. Once a manic episode occurs, it becomes clearer that the person is suffering from an illness characterized by alternating moods. Because of this difficulty with diagnosis, family history of similar illness or episodes is particularly important. People who first seek treatment as a result of a depressed episode may continue to be treated as someone with unipolar depression until a manic episode develops. Ironically, treating depressed bipolar patients with antidepressants can trigger a manic episode in some patients.Link
Many of you have probably seen friends post #metoo on Twitter, Facebook and social media. In the wake of recent allegations of multiple sexual harassment and sexual assault per Harvey Weinstein, actress Alyssa Milano suggested people utilize the #MeToo campaign (founded by Tarana Burke) for victims of sexual assault to break their silence and share their stories.
As a therapist who is passionate about the destigmatization of mental health issues, I love that the #metoocampaign is helping survivors of sexual trauma and abuse know that they are not alone. This type of campaign can bring about important awareness of real issues that are often buried in shame, fear and secrecy yet privately haunt all too many who have been impacted. Breaking the silence is an important part of stopping the cycle of abuse and a campaign like this bravely brings voice to the power of social media. The hope is that this will become an important social movement that will help people know they are not alone, seek the help that is available, and that we must work together to prevent the sexual abuse of women, men, boys and girls.
But how do we respond when we see a loved one post, “me too”?
What do we do if we have experienced sexual assault? Do we have to share that?
As a therapist who has practiced for over 20 years counseling women and men who have survived trauma and abuse, I recommend the following:
How to Respond to the Me Too Posts of Others:
-Do not ignore them. The tendency might to avoid “liking” a post that naturally brings up uncomfortable feelings. Remember that it took incredible courage to make these posts and ignoring them means being part of our culture that tolerates sexual abuse.
-Do not post on their wall, “Oh no! What happened?” Respect people’s privacy, boundaries and space. Understand that talking about the trauma can be re-traumatizing for the person. If you are close with them, you can call them and let them know that you care, you are there and you are willing to listen if they ever want to talk. Keep what they share with you confidential unless they express thoughts of hurting themselves. Never, ever play devil’s advocate or doubt what they are saying. This is their experience and you need to honor that.
-Respond with love and support. Depending on how close you are with the person, you can simply like the post, love it, send them love and/or offer support. Thank them for their bravery. Provide empathy and compassion.
-Don’t try and be their therapist. If you are close with the person, recommend therapy or counseling. Therapies such as EMDR can be extremely effective in helping people process and move through trauma response.
-Understand they are the same person they have always been. Knowing they have been through sexual assault may cause you to feel sympathetic, naturally. See their strength, courage and resiliency. Remember they are the same strong, amazing, vibrant person you have always known. Use this as an opportunity to open your mind and your understanding of what the face of a survivor looks like–it, unfortunately, looks like our best friends, family members, colleagues, etc.
-Recognize that this news may bring up a variety of feelings. You may feel deeply sad for your friends, angry, protective, or even guilty or hurt as to why they didn’t share this information with you previously. Breathe deeply and honor your feelings as normal responses. Get support from friends, family or a therapist or counselor.
How to Respond to Our Own Trauma:
-Know that news like the Harvey Weinstein controversy and even the #metoo campaign can be triggering. It can bring up old trauma symptoms from the past such as startle response, difficulty sleeping or eating, anxiety, depression, fear or sadness. This is normal. It will pass. Appreciate the power of our defense mechanisms. We may try and deny, rationalize and intellectualize away our experiences of sexual harassment or abuse. This is a normal response. Recognize if you are rationalizing that something you went through might not have been as bad as others. This type of thinking is what allows abuse to persevere.
-Know you have the choice to share or not. Choosing not to share, if you do not feel comfortable, is self-care, it is not selfish. As somebody whose boundaries have been violated, you have the right to set the boundaries that help you feel safe and comfortable. Period.
-Recognize that sharing “#metoo” is brave, amazing, socially important but also may be re-traumatizing. Be sure you are prepared to deal with people’s responses. If you are, wonderful. –And thank you for being part of the change.
-Access support. Talk to your inner circle about how you are feeling. Reach out to a therapist or counselor. Attend a support group. Call a hotline. Take excellent care of yourself.
How to Be Part of the Needed Cultural Change:
-Report abuse. Don’t be part of the silence. Don’t turn a blind eye. Press charges as needed. Have anti-harrassment trainings and policies at your workplaces. This can be provided by your Employee Assistance Program or a local therapist or corporate trainer.
-Volunteer at programs that help survivors of abuse, such as the YWCA and RAINN. I believe in the resiliency of the human spirit. I believe in recovery and healing. I believe that our challenges and traumas carve deep wisdom into our lives. I believe this #metoo campaign is coming out to increase the consciousness of our world. May all who have been impacted have access to love, support and whatever resources they need—and may we all be part of the positive change that is needed.
“Sexual, racial, gender violence and other forms of discrimination and violence in a culture cannot be eliminated without changing culture.”~ Charlotte BunchLink
October is Bullying Prevention Month, so let’s break the silence surrounding all types of physical abuse. Let’s speak about the negative ramifications of childhood abuse, and talk openly about the repercussions.
Specifically, today we’ll clarify the powerful connection between physical abuse and trauma and addiction. We’ll talk about what physical abuse is, how it is linked to addiction, and what people can do in order to heal fully.
What Is Physical Abuse?
Physical abuse is defined on Wikipedia as “any intentional act causing injury or trauma to another person or animal by way of bodily contact.”
According to The Child Welfare Information Gateway at ChildWelfare.gov, child abuse is defined as “any nonaccidental physical injury to the child”, including striking, kicking, burning, or biting the child.
In most states, the definition of physical abuse also encompasses “acts or circumstances that threaten the child with harm or create a substantial risk of harm.” Neglect – the failure of a responsible adult to provide for the child’s needs – is also a type of abuse categorized by the absence of action.
Statistics on Physical Abuse and Addiction Research has established a strong connection between physical abuse — particularly childhood abuse — and addiction.
Childhood trauma and addiction are definitively linked.
According to a study by Kaiser Permanente and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), individuals who score high on the Adverse Childhood Experiences Questionnaire are five times more likely to become alcoholics, and up to 46 times more likely to inject drugs.
Five out of the 10 total questions in the ACE survey center on bodily harm, so people with high scores are extremely likely to have a history of physical abuse.
As Neil Swan writes in Exploring the Role of Child Abuse in Later Drug Abuse:
“As many as two-thirds of all people in treatment for drug abuse report that they were physically, sexually, or emotionally abused during childhood, research shows.”
How Childhood Physical Abuse Can Lead to Addiction
While enduring physical abuse at any age can be devastating, childhood physical abuse tends to be particularly harmful because children’s brains aren’t fully formed.
As such, children must create stories to make sense of the deeply painful abuse experiences. Too often, those stories boil down to, “It’s all my fault.”
Why? Because the idea of true helplessness – total dependence on an unreliable, hurtful parent or authority figure – is too hard to bear. Being the one at fault allows children to cling to a small semblance of control.
However, the hurtfulness of the painful story — “It’s all my fault” — only increases over time. As people repeat this subconscious story day in and day out, the mental and emotional pain builds, prompting them to use drugs and numb out.
When people don’t know how to work with that original trauma, they’re much more likely to abuse substances. Addictions begin when people try to manage their mental and emotional pain with drugs rather than with self-compassion. We call this an underlying core issue.
To fully address this trauma, it’s important to locate the original hurt and work with it in a safe setting.
It’s Not Your Fault
A classic scene in the movie Good Will Hunting demonstrates the power of connecting with a safe person and rewriting a painful belief related to childhood physical abuse. (The scene is Hollywood-style dramatic, but it’s still illustrative.)
When Robin Williams’ character Sean (the therapist) tells Matt Damon’s character Will (the troubled math genius) that Will’s brutal history of childhood physical abuse wasn’t his fault, Will mutters, quickly, “Yeah, I know that.”
That knee-jerk “I know” is Will’s conscious mind speaking. Intellectually, he understands that of course the abuse he endured wasn’t his fault. Emotionally, however, he’s trapped by the pain of his past. He’s defensive, walled-off, unwilling to feel. On a subconscious level, he believes, “It was all my fault.”
But Sean – himself a survivor of childhood physical abuse – doesn’t let it go. Instead, he keeps repeating, “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.”
Will gets angry, but then his anger quickly dissolves into tears. His control breaks, and – after many weeks of building trust with Sean – Will allows himself to feel the pain of his past. This is a turning point in his life.
Will’s story is not uncommon.
If you’ve been struggling with substance abuse and the pain of past bullying or physical abuse, it’s time for your turning point.
It’s time to know what you know and feel what you feel.
It’s time to work with your past, and thereby free up your future.Link
There are many things in life we try to control on our own. We try to control what other people do, say and feel about us. Sometimes, we internalize these things. There are also times where we don’t control the things we can. Some days, we just don’t feel like it because it appears as though everything is falling apart in the middle of a life-storm creating a flight or flee response. But even in difficult times, we can get through life-changing events.
As life happens, try to be honest for what’s true for you. Remind yourself, you have power no matter the circumstances that comes your way and with the help of a therapist; you can cultivate a meaningful, fulfilling and compassionate life for yourself. It is empowering to keep in mind that you are not alone.
Here are 12 ways **therapy can be helpful in navigating life.**
1.How you talk to yourself – therapy can provide tools on how to use positive self-talk.
2.How you react to others – therapy can help you align your emotions so they do not negatively impact your behaviors.
3.How you structure your time – therapy can help you identify ways you may be spending useless energy and time on things that do not add to your overall, daily productivity and well-being.
4.How to create your space – healthy boundaries in every area of your life are important to avoid emotional, spiritual, physical and mental fatigue.
5.How to ask for help – this can be a struggle for everyone, yet therapy starts the process of learning how to ask for help and from others in your life.
6.How to say yes and no – therapy can help with not feeling guilty for saying “no” or “yes” when you absolutely need and have to.
7.How to take care of you – therapy can provide tools on how to practice meaningful self-care with a lasting impact that can be used time and time again.
8.How to be honest with yourself and others – it can be hard to face yourself and admit certain truths, but therapy provides a safe space for being honest and self-exploration that can be freeing for you and others in your life.
9.How to channel your grief – a therapist can help guide you through the stages of grief in a healthy way.
10.How to manage racing thoughts – therapy can provide a safe space to release those racing thoughts and process in a healing way.
11.How to deal with regrets – therapy can show you how to be mindful, thankful and live in the present while accepting the past as it is – the past.
12.How to have a healthy relationship with your body and food – therapy can help you identify loving ways to treat your body not based on food.
I encourage you to think of ways therapy can be helpful for you.Link
I’m proud of being an occupational therapist, but I don’t always like explaining it.
Occupational therapy is a profession that a lot of people don’t understand, some people think it is all about work and others confuse it with occupational health.
In June 2016 an occupational therapist sent a confession into the Simon Mayo BBC radio 2 show, she stated that she was not going to give her job title or explain her role as it was too confusing. It soon became clear to myself and all occupational therapists across the land that were listening that she was an occupational therapist.
It was a shame that she didn’t want to explain our profession, what a great opportunity to fly the flag for occupational therapy on national radio at prime time. But also completely understandable that she would not want to take this task on, and endeavour to succinctly explain on national radio. Occupational therapists were listening and an occupational therapist from the OT Practice was on the programme the following day explaining very well what occupational therapy is. The profession sighed a huge sigh of relief.
You may have heard that we are called OTs too, that’s right, but I’m not using the phrase here as I think it confuses matters more, and that as a profession we need to use our full title to promote occupational therapy.
Some people say that the physiotherapist will support you to walk again, but the occupational therapist will support you to put your dancing shoes on and get back on the dance floor. An explanation I heard when I was studying was that the doctor will help you live longer and the occupational therapist will help you live better.
The trouble is with explaining occupational therapy is that the profession is so broad and occupational therapists work in so many settings. We are dual trained in physical health and mental health, we work in paediatrics, orthopaedics, social care, learning disabilities, hospice, hospitals, community, the list is endless, but we could pop up anywhere. All of these roles will be different, so there is not a set answer for what is occupational therapy?
But let me have a stab at explaining it for you here.
Occupational therapy is a profession that promotes health and well being through occupation. Occupational therapy focuses on enabling people to take part in their hobbies and activities despite illness, disability, mental health or emotional difficulties. We are motivated and inspired by the things that we want to do, this is what gets us out of bed in the morning!
We view occupation as being anything that we do, so this includes having a shower and brushing your teeth, paid or voluntary work, leisure and sports activities, even sleeping. While we can take these things for granted, if we have an accident, illness or disability it can become much more difficult and exhausting to do any of our activities or our occupations. If you are fortunate enough to be fit, well and able bodied how would you cope if you broke an arm or a leg?
After illness or injury it can be difficult to participate in your every day roles, and maintain structure and routine, especially if your mind and body are affected. When you have barriers to achieving your goals an occupational therapist can support you as an individual to accomplish what is important to you, by building on your skills and adapting your activities and environment.
After my breast cancer surgery I was unable to run, so I had to adapt and substitute running with walking. I could not reach or lift things so again I had to adapt by placing things in reach, and getting help with the heavy stuff. I was fatigued so I had to learn to pace myself throughout the day and I had trouble sleeping so I developed a good sleep hygiene routine.
I was being my own occupational therapist, making adaptations to the way I do things and to my environment to enable me to live life my way, and continue doing my occupations.
This is what occupational therapists do, we treat the person, not the diagnosis, we find out what is important to you, what you’re having difficulty with and support you to live life to the full. We are problem solvers, and love to be creative in our approach, we treat you holistically and will work on small goals with you to reach the big ones.
If you or somebody you know are living with or beyond cancer and you think you or they could benefit from occupational therapy please get in touch.Link
If there’s anything I have learned from more than 20 years of being a therapist, it’s that we all can benefit from therapy at different points in our lives.
As part of the human condition, we each may experience issues such as stress, anxiety, depression, grief, or relationship problems. Therapy can help us resolve these issues and move forward in our lives, both personally and professionally.
Many of us have somebody in our lives who we believe might benefit from therapy. This may be a sensitive issue to broach because we don’t want them to feel criticized by the suggestion that they might benefit from counseling. The following are seven tips for effectively recommending therapy to somebody:
1) Act swiftly, don’t delay
Resist the temptation to minimize issues or just hope the problem will magically disappear Don’t wait until there is a full-blown crisis to recommend therapy Remember that saying something sooner may prevent a larger issue from arising (i.e. relationship break-up, job loss, etc)
2) Normalize, don’t shame
Express empathy for their feelings; recognizing that their feelings are a normal response to their nature and nurture Consider saying something along the lines of,“It’s completely understandable that you are overwhelmed with everything you have going on right now. You deserve real support.” Share your perspective that therapy is something healthy and proactive—a routine aspect of healthcare, like going to a dentist or physician. Encourage them to consider a therapist as a personal trainer or coach for the mind, or for relationship success. Disclose if you yourself or others you know (without violating any confidentiality, of course) have benefited from therapy. If you haven’t, express that you yourself would be open to the seeking counseling as needed.
3) Express care, not judgement
Provide love and support, not criticism Don’t diagnose–leave that up to the experts Do say, “I love you” or “I care about you” or similar expressions of support. “You just don’t seem like yourself and I want you to feel good.”
4) Address concerns and provide reassurance
Explain that therapy can shift your thinking so it’s more positive, help you process feelings, know yourself on a deeper level, increase coping skills, improve self-esteem, stop self-sabotaging behaviors, end relational patterns that no longer serve you, facilitate healthy communication at home/work, and help you create healthy work/life balance. Let them know that therapy doesn’t have to be long-term. Solution-focused, short-term therapy can be very effective in resolving many issues. Understand that some people have a fear of being analyzed or judged but that a good therapist is one who is compassionate, supportive, and objective. Therapists are professionals who can provide insight and tools to help you move forward in your life, both personally and professionally.
5) Provide resources to find a therapist
Some people aren’t sure which type of provider to select. Psychiatrists:: provide medication and sometimes therapy Psychologists:: provide therapy and sometimes testing Therapists (Licensed Clinical Social Workers, Licensed Clinical Professional Counsellors and Licensed Marriage & Family Therapists) provide therapy When in doubt, start with a therapist because they are generally less expensive and they can asses and refer out if medication or testing is needed www.findHelp.co.za can help you find a therapist who meets your needs in terms of area of expertise, cost, and location. Community Mental Health Centers (CMHCs) are available in most urban areas and provide quality and affordable outpatient counseling services, often on a sliding fee based on income. Check your community directory for a CMHC near you. Many local hospitals offer counseling services in outpatient mental health centers. Many schools and universities offer free or low-cost services.
6) Provide information about the cost
Recognize that expense is often a concern and provide the following information: Many therapists offer a free consultation to determine fit. They might also help you determine if individual, couples, or family therapy would be most effective. They may have benefits through their employer which may include 1-5 free sessions for assessment, brief treatment, and referral. Sliding fee services are available at CMHCs or in practices that have clinical interns or therapists-in-training. Due to the Mental Health Parity Law, insurance coverage for outpatient mental health coverage is the same as it is for major medical services. You may be able to save money by seeing an in-network therapist but out-of-network coverage may also be pretty good. Many practices will check your benefits for you and explain your out-of-pocket costs ahead of time. Flex spending or Health Savings Accounts are a great way to use pre-tax money to pay for your health expenses. This may be especially helpful if you have a high deductible.
7) Provide support and access support
Offer to go with them to the first session. If you have significant concerns about the person you are trying to refer and they are resistant, consider enlisting the help of other friends or family. For serious concerns, consider facilitating an intervention or hiring an interventionist. In cases of emergency, dial 911 or bring the person of concern to the local emergency room for an evaluation. Assure them you will continue to be a source of support–therapy is not a replacement for your friendship. Let go of outcome. If the person does not follow through with therapy, know you have done your part. If their behaviours are harmful to you or your relationship with them, you may also need to reevaluate your boundaries with them or even if the relationship is one you wish to continue. You might consider seeking support through 12-step programs such as CODA or Al-Anon.
“If you light a path for someone else, it will also brighten your path.” ~BuddhaLink
When life becomes too burdensome, when home and work responsibilities become too much, and when you feel as though you have the weight of the world on your shoulders; what do you do? Maybe you ask your spouse or family members to help you with the laundry or the cooking, or you ask your boss or coworkers for a hand when the pile in your inbox begins to overflow and spill over the sides. You ask for help because you realize that no one can do everything on their own. You ask for help because you accept that you need it and you are willing to take it.
I wish it were as easy as that for me.
Asking someone for help when I need it is one of the hardest things I have to deal with in my adult life. I can think of a thousand other things I would rather endure than to pick up the phone and ask someone I know for a helping hand. In my head, no problem is too big or too small for me to handle on my own and if I’ve made it this far in my life without anyone to lean on, then why start asking people for help with any problem I have now?
The easy explanation for why I have such a difficult time asking for help is that I let my pride get in the way of my common sense. If I’m having a financial, parenting, or relationship problem, the last thing that I want is for other people to know about it. I don’t want an outsider knowing anything about my household or any of the problems I may be having in it. If there is a problem in my house, then I will fix the problem and no one else needs to be involved in any way.
Pride is the easy explanation. The more difficult, harder to face explanation is that I can’t ask people for help because I don’t feel like I can count on anyone in my life to help me when I truly need it. I expect people to abandon me or ignore me when things get hard and the last thing I expect out of anyone is to step up and be there for me in my time of need. I spent most of my adult life deathly afraid to ask anyone for anything because I was afraid that they would walk out on me and I was afraid to lose someone I cared about because I needed their help.
How can I expect people to help me in my adult life when I spent my childhood experiencing one person after another letting me down and leaving me in my abusive situation? How can I expect anyone to lend me a helping hand as an adult when I begged for help as a child and was ignored time and time again? I spent my childhood watching adults ignore my situation and refuse to step in, which made me learn quickly that if I needed help, I would have to figure it out myself.
If adults wouldn’t help me back then, how in the world can I expect them to help me now?
It’s physically and mentally exhausting trying to do everything by yourself and trying to be everything to everyone without any help whatsoever. It’s heartbreaking to go through life believing that no one cares about you enough to lend you a helping hand if you need it. And it’s silly to actually believe that you can go through your entire life without ever getting help from anyone.
There have been a few times in my adult life where I truly needed someone’s help. A few times where a problem has arisen that was just too big for me to handle on my own and it was absolutely necessary to have someone else step in and lend me a helping hand. Asking for help was one of the hardest things I had to do, but at the end of the day, I couldn’t have made it without it. I had to take that risk, learn to trust, and hope for the best when I asked for help when I needed it. I had to realize that once in a while, it’s OK to appear vulnerable and show people that you are as human as they are. No one is perfect and everyone needs help once in a while.
It’s one thing to be prideful and not want to involve people in your problems; it’s another to go through life scared to trust anyone to help you. It’s a fear in your head that you are carrying over from a past experience or a past relationship; a fear that is crippling you in forming meaningful relationships as an adult. Everyone has problems that they need help with and everyone needs a helping hand once in a while. Just because you ask for help doesn’t mean you are weak and helpless, it means that you are human.
And trust me; there are more people out there willing to help you than you think. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it and don’t be afraid to show people your human side. Life and people aren’t as cruel as we were made to believe from our past.Link
New research has found that a major factor predicting how much an alcoholic will drink is immediate mood.
The new study also found that suffering from long-term mental health problems did not affect alcohol consumption, with one important exception: Men with a history of depression had a different drinking pattern than men without a history of depression. Surprisingly, the researchers found that those men were drinking less often than men who were not depressed.
“This work once again shows that alcoholism is not a one-size-fits-all condition,” said lead researcher Victor Karpyak of the Mayo Clinic. “So the answer to the question of why alcoholics drink is probably that there is no single answer. This will probably have implications for how we diagnose and treat alcoholism.”
The study, presented at the 2017 European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) Congress, determined the alcohol consumption of 287 males and 156 females with alcohol dependence over the previous 90 days, using the accepted Time Line Follow Back method and standardized diagnostic assessment for life time presence of psychiatric disorders (PRISM).
The researchers were then able to associate this with whether the drinking coincided with a positive or negative emotional state (feeling “up” or “down”), and whether the individual had a history of anxiety, depression, or substance abuse.
The results showed that alcohol dependent men tended to drink more alcohol per day than alcohol dependent women.
As expected, alcohol consumption in both men and women was associated with feeling either up or down on a particular day, with no significant association with anxiety or substance use disorders.
However, men with a history of major depressive disorder had fewer drinking days and fewer heavy drinking days than men who never a major depressive disorder, according to the study’s findings.
“Research indicates that many people drink to enhance pleasant feelings, while other people drink to suppress negative moods, such as depression or anxiety,” Karpyak said.
“However, previous studies did not differentiate between state-dependent mood changes and the presence of clinically diagnosed anxiety or depressive disorders. The lack of such differentiation was likely among the reasons for controversial findings about the usefulness of antidepressants in treatment of alcoholics with comorbid depression.”
While the study will need to be replicated and confirmed, Karpyak said the reasons alcoholics drink depend on their background, as well as the immediate circumstances.
“There is no single reason,” he said. “And this means that there is probably no single treatment, so we will have to refine our diagnostic methods and tailor treatment to the individual.”
It also means that treatment approaches may differ depending on targeting different aspects of alcoholism, such as craving or consumption. Treatment also needs to take into account whether the alcoholic patient is a man or a woman and whether the patient has a history of depression or anxiety, he noted.
Source: The European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP)Link
Have you ever stopped to think about how profound music has been for you in your life? Just the beginning of a song can change someone’s mood, drop us into a state of reflection on life, reduce stress or even prepare us for a better athletic performance.
For many people there may be a calming effect to Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.” Or Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” can create a surge of energy bringing up a feeling of courage and confidence. Or Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” can drop you into a reflective mood on the impermanence of life and the longing for connection. Apparently, science shows that Beethoven’s 9th symphony can have positive impacts on our health and well-being.
In this study, Oxford University scientists took 24 healthy volunteers and had them listen to a variety of different forms of music. They found that listening to music with a 10-second repetitive cycle like Beethoven’s third movement No. 9 can lower blood pressure and prevent heart disease.
There’s no question about it that music has dramatic effects on our thoughts, emotions and sensations. Matisyahu’s “One Day” can inspire a sense of global hope and instantly bring a smile to your face.
Does this resonate with you?
When it comes to your brain’s ability to believe what I’m saying, talk only goes so far, but experience takes it to the next level. If you’d like to investigate this for yourself, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is over an hour and you can find it here. But I believe you’d have to listen to the entire hour to replicate the study.
In the six month online mentorship program A Course in Mindful Living, a element we use to better understand ourselves is music. We post music and watch how it impacts our thoughts, emotions and sensations from moment to moment. Take some time to consider what relaxing tunes are to you, create some space, put them on and notice what comes up for you. If you need any help, here’s a Relax and Retune Playlist that was compiled by the last group that went through the course.
After listening, tell us how music impacts you! Share with us other music that inspires any of these feelings for you – calm, wakefulness, self-acceptance, self-compassion, joy, happiness, energy, compassion, generosity, and balance.
Let’s learn from one another, allowing for the creation of a Playlist for life.Link
Betty sits alone in the kitchen late at night, tearfully reviewing the current state of her life and marriage. Things looked so promising when she married Arthur after meeting at school! A modest home in the suburbs, two beautiful children, a small circle of friends, meaningful work as a school administrator, church picnics and potlucks—what more could she want?
And yet, unbeknownst to even her closest friends, Betty has suffered for nine years as a result of Arthur’s longstanding depression. At first, she attempted to utilize her naturally cheery disposition to “jolly” Arthur out of his dark moods, but came to realize that Arthur’s gloom could not be so easily dismissed. With the help of their family physician, she was able to persuade Arthur to seek treatment. After a number of false starts, he is now taking his medication “fairly” regularly and seeing a therapist “almost” every other week in a nearby town.
Over the years, Betty has had to make excuses for Arthur’s absence from community functions. Often, she herself has been reluctant to leave him at home alone with the children, since he seemed incapable of providing the kind of supervision she believed was necessary given his low energy level and seeming preoccupation with matters that might have best been put behind him.
As she dries her eyes and begins to prepare tomorrow’s school lunches for her children, she has difficulty recalling the last time she and Arthur shared the kind of “quiet exhilaration” she knew with him when they first met.
As this example illustrates, the harmful effects of depression are not limited to the person diagnosed with that disorder. Clearly, depression in one marital partner can affect that person’s spouse. In fact, depression in a marriage often disrupts communication and social patterns and can even contribute to depressed mood in the “non-depressed” spouse.
WHAT CAN I DO?
The first and most important thing you can do is to find ways to remind yourself that your spouse or partner is ill—not hostile, not stupid, not out to get you, not stubborn, not any of a dozen unfriendly things you might feel like calling him or her when you are at your wit’s end. Diagnosed depression is much like diabetes or heart disease from the perspective that it is a chronic illness that requires special attention and considerable patience.
Patience of this magnitude is a tall order. It will help if you have a good friend, a supportive family member, a pastor, a therapist, or some other caring person in your life to listen to you and help to shore you up during the hard times. Recovery from depression often takes longer than the ill person or the people surrounding him or her think they can stand. You need someone to be in your corner!
TAKING CARE OF YOUR PARTNER
Perhaps the single most important action you can take is to assist your spouse in getting proper diagnosis and treatment for his or her depression from a health care professional.
This is not the time to try to make him or her take responsibility. Not going for treatment is generally not a reflection of irresponsibility. It’s part of the illness. A sense of hopelessness is common to all depressive illnesses and may be the very thing that keeps your spouse from getting needed help! You can gradually turn responsibility back over to him or her when he or she has accepted the diagnosis and is actively working on getting better. In the meantime,
If you have to be the one to schedule the appointment with your spouse’s doctor or therapist, do it! If you want to ensure that your spouse gets to the appointment, arrange the necessary transportation or provide it yourself. If medication is prescribed, remind your spouse that it will take several weeks for the effects of medication to be experienced. Remain patient, supportive, and reassuring about the eventual success of treatment. Offer to assist in monitoring the pill-taking and refill process to ensure that the medication schedule is followed closely to ensure the maximum benefit. Once the depressed person is under a professional’s care, you can add other kinds of supports:
Encourage, but do not “push,” activities, hobbies, sports, and games that gave your spouse pleasure in the past. Inactivity is common during depressive episodes and can prolong the depressive cycle. Encourage him or her to be physically active. You can start with something as simple as taking walks together. As your spouse feels a bit better, you can encourage him or her to get to a gym, to get on a bike, to exercise to a video—anything that gets him or her moving.
Make an effort to find things that will make him or her laugh. Rent a comedy video, share a joke, do some gentle teasing, draw on your own sense of the absurd. Laughter is the enemy of depression. Don’t ignore or make light of suicidal talk. There is a risk for suicide at all phases of depressive illness. Be sure to alert your spouse’s doctor or therapist to suicidal talk— it is likely to be a request for help!
TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF
If your spouse is unwilling or unable to follow through on social engagements, remember that it is not your job to make excuses for your spouse to family or friends. Letting those you are closest to know that your spouse has been seriously depressed will not only put the issue squarely on the table, but will open up the potential for you to receive the support anyone in your circumstances would need.
Whatever you do, try not to take the depression on as something you can personally “fix.” Although your support, encouragement, and caring are clearly needed, you can’t “love” this particular problem away. Treatment is the answer and the services of a professional are required.
Take care of yourself. You won’t be of much help to yourself or others if you allow your spouse’s depression to envelop you as well. Eat well. Get enough sleep. Stay in contact with your friends. Continue your work and social commitments to the greatest extent possible.
As stated above, don’t hesitate to get some professional help for yourself if you need it. It’s okay to need a private place to deal with your feelings of anger, disappointment, and upset.
Spouses of depressed people often benefit from couples’ work or family therapy involving the depressed partner. A mental health professional can assist the couple or family to recognize and change destructive patterns of relating that often accompany depression in the family. For example, a couple might renegotiate their approach to shared activities and agree to the benefit of time apart. This may remedy disruptions to the social life of the non-depressed spouse and ease marital discord.
Marriage and commitment are for better or worse. Depression is definitely one of the “worse.” It can be trying to maintain one’s own optimism and joy in life when someone you love is under a constant cloud. But with good treatment, encouragement, and caring, most depressed people do recover. With good support, most spouses break through the silence and make it as well.Link
Have you ever stopped to think about how the mental health stigma doesn’t make sense? So many of us walk around feeling ashamed of our struggles, trying to hide them from the rest of the world.
Yet functioning with these immense internal difficulties actually evinces our strength!
As actress Carrie Fisher wrote in Wishful Drinking:
“Being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.”
Plus, try this statistic on for size: according to the CDC, nearly 50% of U.S. adults will struggle with at least one mental illness in their lifetime. In this post, we’ll focus on the dual diagnosis of addiction and bipolar disorder.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar is a mood disorder characterized by emotional swings from high to low. People with bipolar deal with depressive “down” phases and manic “up” phases, and they struggle to find a healthy middle ground.
In a depressive state, a person might be immobilized, unable to take care of their usual responsibilities. But in a manic state, that same person might work around the clock.
One quick definition for bipolar is “experiencing extremes”.
This disorder does have a genetic component, but an individual’s environment matters a great deal as well. Growing up in a physically, mentally, or emotionally traumatic environment is a strong risk factor.
Why an Accurate Diagnosis Can Be Difficult
Here are a few key reasons why bipolar disorder can be difficult to diagnose accurately:
First, if a person is under the influence, it’s extremely challenging to provide an accurate diagnosis. Having people detox prior to diagnosis is ideal.
Next, the bipolar label has increased in popularity in recent years. This is great for awareness, but it can also lead to misdiagnosis. For example, sometimes people who are dealing with clinical depression are misdiagnosed with bipolar because of the dramatic difference between their low-functioning depressive state and their usual functioning state. Similarly, rigid, black-and-white thinking can be confused with bipolar symptoms, and so can the aftereffects of trauma.
Finally, when people have a great deal of conflict in their lives, they may be labeled as bipolar. But when they gain the tools they need to resolve those conflicts, often the level of internal tension changes significantly. In short, understanding bipolar disorder and addiction is critical for accurate diagnosis and treatment.
True bipolar disorder involves an imbalance in brain chemistry, and it’s certainly a serious condition.
Yet in our experience in running a residential addiction treatment center, we see people misdiagnosed as bipolar when in reality they have mental and emotional issues causing a lot of upset in their lives.
That’s not brain chemistry; that’s just upset. We find that when such people heal those issues, the upset in their lives decreases dramatically.
The Connection Between Addiction and Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is part of a family of mood disorders, including depression, anxiety, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
While mood disorders can be caused or exacerbated by drug use, more often people with mood disorders use addictive substances to self-medicate. Many people with bipolar turn to substances during their depressive states.
There is a particularly strong connection between bipolar and addiction. Statistics from DualDiagnosis.org suggest that 56% of people with bipolar disorder have experienced drug addiction.
Healing from Bipolar and Addiction
September is National Recovery Month, and it’s also Self Awareness Month. This is fitting, as you can’t really have one without the other.
Self awareness is an essential component of recovery, especially when you’re dealing with a dual diagnosis.
That said, medication certainly has its place as well. If you find that you continue to struggle with emotional extremes after you’ve detoxed from substances, then medication may give you the support you need to maintain emotional stability.
However, don’t shortchange yourself by skipping over the mental and emotional issues that contribute to mood disorders. Finding and addressing the root causes of physical disorders can minimize (or eliminate!) the need for medications to treat symptoms, and the same is true for emotional disorders.
What Counseling Strategies Work Well with Bipolar?
Specific strategies that work well with bipolar include:
On the mental level, Rational Emotive Therapy (RET) allows people to work with the judgments, the limiting beliefs and the projections in a person’s life. On the emotional level, Gestalt and Developmental Psychology are particularly helpful for people that went through a trauma and are reliving that trauma over and over. On the spiritual level, learning about compassionate self-forgiveness empowers people to reconnect with their Authentic Selves. A trained therapist can help you to work with these counseling strategies, but no one else can force you to do the kind of mental and emotional work necessary to recover.
You yourself must be motivated to question your limiting beliefs and feel the feelings of anger, sadness, and fear that you’ve held at bay for years.
It sounds daunting, and in some ways it is. But we’re willing to bet that you’ll be surprised by your own strength.Link
Four practitioners open up about why they seek professional help: to maintain boundaries with clients, process their own life events and decide when to retire
Britain’s Prince Harry has earned praise in recent days for speaking up about his personal issues with mental health, the need to not stay silent about emotions, and the benefits of seeking therapy.
Describing how he arrived at a breaking point in an interview with the Telegraph, he explained it was listening to other people’s problems and realizing he was unable to be as helpful as he wanted to be that pushed him to seek help.
“You park your own issues because of what you’re confronted with, and all you want to do is help and listen, but then you walk away and go, hang on a second, how the hell am I supposed to process this?”
He then added that for every three hours of listening to people, psychologists take half an hour to process it themselves with someone else. He’s right: it is one of the most important traditions within the mental health world. Therapists also need therapy.
We asked four psychotherapists with extensive experience in the field to open up about how they, too, use therapists.
David Lopez, practitioner for 15 years, Connecticut David Lopez, a former president of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry, says there are a few different reasons why therapists will seek therapy.
The first is during the training process, when therapists in training will have a supervisor and often a therapist of their own.
“Typically, people who want to become therapists have an interest in connecting with people. When they are doing therapy that need needs to be redirected, to be tamed so that it does not get in the way of not being objective,” Lopez elucidates.
What needs to be addressed in training is something called “countertransference”, Lopez explains. While a client transferring emotions they would have for someone in their outside lives on to their therapist (called “transference”) is generally considered a good thing, a therapist transferring emotions on to their client is to be avoided.
If a therapist in training was orphaned young, they may emotionally react to stories their clients bring into sessions about parents and loss, for instance. The challenge for the therapist is then not necessarily to get rid of the feelings related to loss and parenting, but to become aware of them and become intimately acquainted with these “blind spots”.
A common blind spot might simply be witnessing a patient struggle with some kind of grief and watch them cry: a therapist may want to go and hug them, and be their friend.
“You may wish to connect with a patient for your own need, instead of applying the tools that you have been taught. But they’re not paying you to be their friends, even if a hug in that moment may feel good to give.”
Elena Lister, private practitioner for 30 years, New York “Shockingly enough, therapists are also people,” Elena Lister says, not without a considerable amount of irony.
Lister, a psychiatrist, analyst and professor who teaches at Cornell and Columbia universities, says that there is nothing particularly mysterious leading therapists to seek treatment of their own, beyond the initial training requirements during the early years. The answer is it’s life, and life’s trying and often painful events.
Lister herself sought therapy when she lost her six-year-old child to leukemia. At the time, the help she found did not adequately meet her needs, she says. Identifying this lacuna in her own field convinced her to specialize in grief and loss, meaning she could seek to be there for others in a way she had not been able to professionally find herself. Treating patients (including patients who are therapists) who are undergoing such extreme pain means developing an ability to leave what has happened during a therapy session in the room once it is over.
“You have to be able to keep it in boundaries. Some people have gone through such tremendous suffering. You have to be fully present in the room. But if I am going to do this, it’s my mandate to not carry it to the next room. I have a duty not to.”
To keep herself upbeat and in the right mental space for all her patients, as well as of for herself, Lister says she has to do “all sorts of things. I talk to friends, to myself, to my husband. I exercise, I meditate.”
Leslie Prusnofsky, private practitioner for 35 years, New York Leslie Prusnofsky, a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and faculty member at Columbia University, says that in some ways treating therapists is no different than treating non-therapists.
“You’re dealing with a lot of people’s pain. Whether it is therapists or lay patients, pain is human, and human suffering is not unique to one group.”
But Prusnofsky says that treating therapists does sometimes come with its own particular obstacles.
“It can result in more walls that have to be pulled down,” he explains. This will be the case even if the therapist-patients are very willing to engage in treatment.
Part of the therapy process is trying to break through to things that are naturally being protected, he explains. There is “an unconscious resistance” that can be found in everyone, Prusnofsky says, but therapists who know the jargon may be even better than others at hiding the real root of their problems.
“Using the jargon is one of the cover-ups to stay away from the depths of what they [the therapist-patient] actually need to explore.
“If someone comes in saying they have a lot of ‘repressed anger’, you may find with time, the deeper you go, that the anger turns into sadness. What is revealed is a sense of loss or of deprivation that is harder for the person to deal with.”
David Forrest, practitioner for 50 years, New York
For David Forrest, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, and a trained psychotherapist and psychoanalyst who also holds a private practice in Midtown Manhattan, one of the most interesting – and tough – questions that therapists go to therapy for is when it’s time to call it quits.
Forrest, whose work includes research and teaching in the field of neurology, says that asking the question of when a psychotherapist should retire is a particularly fascinating one.
“To ask how does a psychotherapist know when it it time to hang up their spurs, asks us to define the mental capacities necessary to be a psychotherapist in the first place,” Forrest poses.
A surgeon may no longer physically be able to withstand the arduous hours, or may suffer from an injury that prevents them from operating, but so long as a psychotherapist’s brain is going, when do they know to stop? Doesn’t an older therapist mean a more experienced therapist, an attribute one would seek?
Memory loss or small mental failings can affect the mind as one gets older and negatively affect remembering a patient’s complex history.
But other things may start to go with age, too, Forrest says, elements that might be just as crucial to quality therapy-giving.
Deciphering what is funny and not, for example, sometimes morphs with age.
If someone contracts frontotemporal dementia, their sense of humor tends to degrade from the more elaborate sensitivities, Forrest says. A therapist with this kind of affliction may develop a new kind of sense of humor – that is less suitable in a therapy room.
“It [the sense of humor] would no longer be deadpan and dry. It would sink to slapstick and sadistic, and the brain would enjoy low-quality humor.”
“The pun is a low sense of humor,” the psychiatrist explains, helpfully.
As for Forrest himself, a veteran of the profession: have decades and decades of practice and inquiry into the human brain started to wear him out? Such a question is one more adapted to younger professionals, he responds.
“For someone like me, there is no question of burnout.”Link