Understanding Mental Health: The “When” of Psychotherapy

Over the next few weeks, Studio 5 Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Liz Hale will be helping us through the intervention process, beginning with “The When.”

This is obviously my passion! There is not greater gift to give yourself than an opportunity to work with a therapist outside your family or social circle who can assist you through the tough times so that you can immerse yourself back into life, again, without worrying what you disclosed. You did a beautiful job spelling out some of the main circumstances that more than one-third of us will experience in our adult lives- now let’s look at some of the profound reactions to those circumstances that require professional intervention:

The “When” of Mental Health Intervention:

• Overwhelming, prolonged sadness & helplessness (lack of hope)

• Inability to perform daily tasks (can’t concentrate, poor job performance or hygiene)

• Excessive worry ~ always on edge (expect the worse)

• Harmful actions to self or others (drug/alcohol abuse; aggressive and argumentative)

• Troubled by another’s emotional difficulties

Research continues to support the fact that emotional and physical health are very closely linked and that therapy can improve a person’s overall health status. Therapy effectively decreases clients’ depression, anxiety, and related symptoms like pain, fatigue, and nausea. It has also been found to increases survival time for heart surgery and cancer patients, as well as have a positive effect on the body’s immune system.

There is convincing evidence that those with emotional struggles who have at least several sessions of psychotherapy are far better off that untreated individuals. One major study showed that 50% of clients noticeably improved after 8 sessions while 75% of individuals ion therapy improved by the end of 6 months.

When it comes to psychotherapy for children, that’s a difficult question for parents to answer, “Does my child need to see a counselor or psychologist?” When it comes to children, it’s important to answer when they should see a school counselor, versus a psychologist versus a medical doctor or psychiatrist.

When to Consult School Counselor:

Failing grades

Unhappy in school

Unwilling to talk

Grieving a loss
(family member or pet; parents divorce)

Abusing drugs or alcohol

When to Consult Professional Counselor:

Threatens to harm self or others
(verbally or in notes)

Runs away from home

Shows anger/withdraws

Challenges authority/breaks rules

Displays on-going emotional reactions

When to Consult Medical Doctor:

Attempts suicide

Overdoses/misuses drugs

Injures self or others
(cutting, eating disorders, bulimia or anorexia)

Reports illness amidst wellness

Displays unusual physical/emotional signs

Psychotherapy is a two-way process. The number one complaint I hear from clients who have seen previous therapists is that the professional didn’t say anything! They just nodded and agreed. Clients want feedback! Therapy is most effective when both client and therapist agree to communicate openly. Both sides have a responsibility to the other to establish and maintain a good working relationship. Be clear with your therapists about your expectations, come prepared with what you want to accomplish during that particular session, and share concerns as they arise. Most importantly, show up! Even when you don’t feel like it! (Especially when you don’t feel like it!)

After several sessions review with your therapist the goals you’ve established. I often ask a client, “How are we doing here? Are we going the right direction?” In the event that your therapist seems distant or disinterested in you be honest with them about that and inquire if your read is correct. It might be helpful to consult another professional; let your counselor know you are seeking a second opinion or if you are considering terminating the therapy. The duration of therapy’s determined by your success in reaching your primary goals – it does not need to be long-term.

Expect to go through a wide variety of emotions during psychotherapy. They are a positive sign that you are willing to explore some very painful thoughts and behaviors. While psychotherapy isn’t easy, if you are willing to work hard in close partnership with your therapist, you will find relief from emotional distress and begin to lead a more satisfying and productive life!

This is Part One of a three week mini-series entitled “Understanding Mental Health.” On May 14th Dr. Liz will be back to address Part Two “The Who: How To Select a Therapist & What Questions to Ask.”

Dr. Liz Hale is a licensed clinical psychologist and a regular contributor on Studio 5. Your comments and questions are welcomed! Please visit www.drlizhale.com to add your thoughts to today’s discussion or learn more about her private practice.

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