Thursday, May 26, 2011

Beat BAD Weather Blues

Living in the Midwest can be extremely difficult when we have Springs that feel more like late Fall and Summers that seem like they just may never arrive.   As Chicagoans, we seem to endure the long, hard, windy Winters just to enjoy the fabulousness of Summer festivals, baseball games, walks along the water, and time on at the beach.   As we wake up to another 40 degree day with spitting rain and wind that blows your hair all over the place, I am reminded that this can NOT last forever…right?!

When the weather has you feeling depressed there are some things that you can do to lift your spirits.   One of the most beneficial things you can do for your mind and body is just take a walk.   The exciting news is that you don’t have be an exercise freak working out every day for hours and hours…alittle bit can make a big difference in the way you feel.   A 10 minute brisk walk can surprisingly relieve some symptoms of depression and anxiety right away.   Psychologists studying exercise and mental health found that it was not the intensity of the workout that impacted one’s wellbeing.   A 10 minute walk was compared to a 45 minute workout.   Results indicated the walker felt less tense and energized right away, while the person that worked out felt tension lifted, it took a longer time for them to feel their burst of energy.

Challenge yourself to make your mental health and wellbeing a priority.  Take a walk everyday and use the time to reflect on the positive things in your life.   Maybe it is raining and 45 degrees, but what are the blessings that make you smile and feel thankful?
So, lift those spirits, get up and walk!  If you decide to do it outside on one of these colder days, it will likely make you appreciate the warmer ones to come so much more!  

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I'm blogging for Mental Health...

Today the American Psychological Association is encouraging Mental Health professionals to write about an aspect of mental health that is important to them.  

Reducing the stigma associated with receiving mental health services is something I am passionate about.  According to the National Institutes on Mental Health,  1 in 4 Americans are suffering from some sort of mental health issue, those suffering should not have to worry about what others will think if they seek out help. 

There are many things that can be done to help reduces stigma and help someone that may greatly benefit from seeking services.  
  • Educate yourself about someones symptoms, illness, and potential side effects of treatment.  Local Mental Health America affiliates, Psychology Today, the library, and the internet can be excellent resources to health about mental illness, finding a therapist, and the vast treatment options available.
  • Receiving a diagnosis may cause your family member or friend to feel a wide range of emotions (shame, anger, fear, etc.), it is important to recognize these feelings.  A diagnosis can bring some relief, however, some may feel devastated by the diagnosis creating more intense feelings of stress.  
  • Listen carefully to your loved one and express your understanding of what they are going through back to them.  Never discount someones feelings.
  • Encourage your loved one to ask questions during their appointments with their treatment team and be an active member in their therapy.  The more knowledge they have about the treatment and services the greater potential for recovery.   
  • Though therapy can cause significant relief, in some cases, adding medication to the treatment plan is warranted.  Encourage your family member or friend to take time to find the proper medication and dose with their medical provider.  It can take 3 to 6 weeks before there is some symptom relief with certain types of medication.  It is important to support your loved one through those difficult side effects in order to identify whether the medication will be useful to their treatment. 
  • Medication is not a cure for mental illness.  Social support, increasing self esteem, and feeling confident that one is contributing to the well-being of society are essential to the recovery process. 
  • Be respectful of your loved one's need and right for privacy.  People struggling with mental illness should be treated with dignity and respect. (Adapted from information from Mental Health America)
The take home message of today is to support your loved ones if they are struggling with a mental health issue.  Support can come in many forms and having an open conversation with your family member or friend about what will be most supportive to them can make a huge difference.  There is nothing shameful about seeking help and services for mental health issues!  

Monday, May 16, 2011

Curious about therapy?

Whether  you know someone that is currently seeking out a therapist or you have always wondered about it and considered seeking therapy yourself, often there are many questions.  Something I learned early in training is that you can never assume that your client knows what therapy really is.  Media paints a picture of an older person (usually a older, white male) sitting in a chair behind a distressed person who is laying on a couch free associating.  While this Freudian picture may still exist, it is very uncommon in today’s therapeutic offices. 

Often times there will be a couch, or two chairs, but in most offices today, the client and the therapist will face each other.  The goal is to feel comfortable.  Emotions (anxiety, sadness, fear, etc) during your first sessions can be slightly eased just by feeling comfortable in the therapy room.  However, there will be certain actions that must be taken to find the therapist that is right for you or someone you know. Depending on what you are looking for in therapy and in a therapist, there are some very important questions you will want to ask as you Shop* for a therapist.

*I say Shop because you are looking for a service provider and you want your needs to match with what they provide.  Searching for a therapist could take several phone calls, referrals, and will require asking questions.

Some of the things you may want to ask as you Shop may be:
What kind of treatment do you usually use (What is your theoretical orientation)?
What are your areas of specialty?
What are your fees?
How long do you expect my treatments to last?
Do you have a sliding scale rate or offer a payment plan?
What types of insurance do you accept?
When do you typically hold sessions? Mornings, Weekdays, Evening, Weekends?
Do you have a website or blog with more information?

And any other questions you are curious about; don’t be shy! 
(Don’t be afraid to do some of your own research.  The American Psychological Association (APA) has more information about all of these topics and can be reached toll free at 1-800-964-2000 or visit their online Consumer Help Center at

During the initial session there are a few points that a therapist will typically cover right away.  The therapist will collect information in an initial clinical interview and then as your therapy begins speak to these points:

An open discussion about maintaining confidentiality, as well as the limits of confidentiality.  It is important to talk with the client about when the limits of confidentiality may no longer apply, such as if the client is in imminent danger of hurting themselves, someone else, or there have been reports of child or elder abuse.  This is a very important subject that will vary based on the needs of the individual client.  Psychologists will follow the American Psychological Associations Code of Ethics  to make sure the client’s best interest is always at the forefront.  A Master’s level clinician follows the Ethical Guidelines of the American Counseling Association  however, the conversations with clients will be similar.

Informed Consent  
         Informs the client that in most situations their personal information will not be shared with an outside source without their written permission.  Additional information about informed consent will be outlined in the Ethical Guideline links above.
        What the First Few Sessions Will Look Like 
         Given that many different life circumstances bring clients to a therapist, it is important to share with them what therapy will be like.  Typically sessions are 50 minutes (known as a therapeutic hour).  The first few sessions will be spent “building rapport,” which basically means, getting to know one another.  Successful therapy is not likely to happen unless the client learns to trust their therapist, and the therapist can help to facilitate this by being genuine, respectful, and empathetic. 
       What Sessions After the First Few Sessions Will Look Like 
         After some initial rapport is built and the client is beginning to feel more comfortable with the therapeutic relationship and expectations sessions will be focused on some sort of symptom relief and goal setting.  The therapist’s theoretical orientation will ultimately guide how sessions move.  For example, if a therapist’s theoretical orientation is Cognitive Behavioral (CBT) then goal setting will likely take place in the first or second session as this is a very goal and behavior driven, short-term therapy.  If a therapist’s theoretical orientation is Psychodynamic or Psychoanalytic, this therapy is traditionally more long-term and much more time in the beginning can be devoted to rapport building and self exploration.  

      Reading recommendation for people interested in therapy and the therapeutic process:

How Psychotherapy Really Works: How It Works When It Works and Why Sometimes It Doesn’t
By  Willard Gaylin, MD

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The decision to become a "Professional"

A Bachelor of Science in Psychology...what can one really do with that?!  Well, let me tell you.  When you make the decision to major in psychology in college, you have to be committed to the idea that your education will not end with undergrad.  Instead you must know that a Masters Degree or Doctorate will follow shortly after in order to have some input into your career.  Unfortunately, with a BA or BS in Psych you are qualified to do about the same kinds of jobs as someone with or without a high school diploma.  This does not mean that these jobs are invaluable, however, the pay is often minimum wage.  Your job could include work in a residential home with "at-risk" adolescents either orphaned or involved with the courts.  When I began graduate school I spent about 20 hours a week doing psychological assessments with  adolescent boys and girls.  Men and women that worked as "house parents" dealt daily with pat downs, screaming matches, and restraint holds.  The employee retention rate was low because their job was extremely difficult and underpaid.  However, it was the dedicated "house parents" that ensured me I was in the right field.  I knew that the therapy and psychological assessments I was able to provide helped implement much needed therapeutic interventions.  While a Masters degree allows someone to provide therapy, a doctorate allows a therapist to also provide psychological assessments of personality and intelligence.  The route to that doctorate is a long, challenging one. 

This decision is one that should not be taken lightly.  Though I am content with my decision, I made it quite naively as many do.  While some enter this field as a second career or after being in the field for several years, the trend is to begin right out of college.   Many graduates sign financial aid papers that will put them six figures into debt upon graduation.  The logic behind the decision is that as a Professional, we will be able to one day afford to pay back that debt.  The route also includes several years of unpaid work, long hours, stress, competition, and at the end...a quest for a pre-doctoral internship space.  I will address the internship process at a later date, but it's a big deal in the world of a graduate student and another stressor.  I will only state now, that this year alone, nearly 1000 graduate students seeking an internship position did not "Match".  This adds complications to ones career aspirations, finances, and mental health.  So, I suppose I didn't make graduate school sounds all that great.  Why in the world would anyone put themselves through all of that?  Well, let me tell you.  The big cliche answer (which really is true) is that I do it for the clients.  Working with a child, family, man or woman through whatever obstacle they may be facing is ultimately very challenging, but incredibly rewarding.  Having said that, there is also something spectacular about having the ability to focus your career around areas of interest that motivate and inspire.  It has been said that approximately 1% of the US population holds a doctoral degree.  For me, the title is not what it is all about.  The title allows me to constantly explore the world, help others explore themselves, and hopefully provide therapeutic support in various populations and communities.  

So...what kind of doctorate could a graduate student potentially have after four years of undergrad, followed by four years of graduate school and one year of internship?  Well, the most well known and highly confused are the Doctorate of Psychology (Psy. D) and the Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph. D).  These two degrees would make the graduate a Psychologist.  The major difference is that, often, a Psy. D will focus their graduate school education on clinical training, while a Ph. D will likely focus their education on academia/research.  At one time the divide between a doctor with a Psy. D and a doctor with a Ph. D was very distinct.  The Ph. D was considered the more coveted and esteemed degree in the past.  It has been my observation that though there are still distinctions, the respect for the Psy. D has grown significantly.  Professionals with Psy. Ds are active in the American Psychological Association (APA) as well as state professional organizations such as the Illinois Psychological Association (IPA).  In my opinion, the Psy. D. route allows graduate students excellent clinical training while opening doors in various other areas of the mental health field.  

The decision to become a Professional in the field of psychology is a personal one.  I advocate for Clinical Psychologists to share their journeys and help young adults make informed decisions about their career paths.  Over the past four years of graduate school I have witnessed many peers make the decision to withdraw from the Psy. D program to practice as a Masters level clinician and find great success and happiness.  While this decision should not be made solely for financial reasons, there is merit in exploring the option.  While the journey is long, the rewards are great.  

A role model of mine once gave me this advice:  People, now a days, do not have the luxury to retire at 65.  Therefore, when you decide the career that would make you happiest, go for it.  Even if you change your mind at 30 or still have 30 to 35 years left in the workforce.  Over the life span, spending a few extra years on your education can be tremendously worth it.  Think of your education as one of the greatest investments you can make.  Be passionate about your career.  In the mental health field, your success contributes to the wellness of others.