When seeking mental health services, there may be some parts of your mental health treatment process that are out of your control; for instance, what your insurance will and will not cover, and your choice of therapists. These realities may cause a number of reactions, including depression and anxiety. Once you decide on a therapist it can sometimes take a few sessions for the two of you to communicate on the same wavelength. If your therapist prescribes medication, a little trial and error may be necessary to get the dosage correct, or to cope with unwanted side effects that the medication may cause.
There is definitely one thing you can control—your role in the process. How? By communicating clearly with your therapist, accepting/understanding your symptoms and educating yourself about your illness, putting your trust in your treatment team and speaking up when you feel uneasy. Becoming your own mental health advocate can build confidence, bring empowerment and help build a better quality of life.
Finding a Therapist
Whether you are looking for a therapist, an entire treatment team or a mental health facility, selecting the right practitioner or counseling group takes time and effort. The key is to ask trusted associates and family, do your research and interview the providers like you are hiring an employee. Remember, you are paying for this service and you expect results. Ask friends who are in therapy if they like their therapists. When you interview a potential therapist, if something about this person makes you feel uneasy, trust your instincts and move on. We know of a couple who sought out a marriage therapist. The counselor was female, wore pink fuzzy slippers during the sessions and had decorated her office with rainbows and unicorns. The husband thought this was “a woman thing” and shrugged it off; the wife felt very uncomfortable and, as a result, didn’t talk at all.
When you are looking for a therapist, make sure you consider their credentials—where they went to school, how long they have been in practice, what they specialize in—as well as their ability to build rapport. Remember, you are paying for this service, so you have to have a good fit. That’s one reason it’s so important to ask people for insight; this includes friends, co-workers or your family doctor. Gender may be a factor in your therapist selection; some men prefer male therapists, some women prefer females, while others don’t care.
In Wichita and Sedgwick County, the Mental Health Association, ComCare or the Medical Society of Sedgwick County are good local resources to consult.
Psychologists practice a variety of therapeutic methodologies so it is imperative that you choose one who basically thinks the way you do. Some of the methods are:
Acceptance and commitment therapy: This method helps patients become aware of and accept their thoughts and feelings. Through this therapy, patients agree to commit to making changes in themselves and their lives by increasing their ability to cope with and adjust to various situations.
Cognitive behavioral therapy: This type helps to identify unhealthy, negative beliefs and behaviors and replace them with healthy, positive ones.
Dialectical behavior therapy: With this method, patients learn behavioral skills that help them manage their emotions, improve their relationships with others and deal with stress.
Interpersonal psychotherapy: Utilizing this kind of therapy allows the patient to focus on looking at problems with relationships with other people. Patients learn how to improve interpersonal skills, such as how they relate to colleagues, friends and family.
Psychodynamic and psychoanalysis therapies: These approaches center on increasing your awareness of unconscious thoughts and behaviors. Patients then develop new insights into their motivations and learn how to resolve conflicts.
Supportive psychotherapy: By employing this kind of therapy, patients learn to reinforce their ability to cope with stress and difficult situations.
Your First Appointment
During your first session with your therapist, pay attention to how you feel when you are in the room with them. Is this person really listening to you? Do you feel heard when you talk? This first appointment will give you a good indication of whether you and this person will connect. If you don’t, then find another therapist.
You Know Yourself Best
You probably don’t know everything there is to know about psychology and therapy, but you are the best expert on you. Thus, you are also the best advocate for your own mental health. If you intend to just nod and say “yes” during your sessions, you’re not doing yourself any good. Interaction and communication are vital in therapy. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself, to voice your feelings and thoughts, and try new methods for coping or healing.
Your Treatment Program
You have started therapy, so now what? Here are some questions to ask your therapist:
¨ Do you have a diagnosis for me and what is it?
¨ What are my possible treatments?
¨ Does my treatment include support groups or group therapy?
¨ How long do you expect treatment to take?
¨ Do I need to take medication and if so, what side effects should I be aware of?
¨ Who will monitor my medication management?
There are also a few ways you can monitor your own success. Keeping a sleep or mood journal is one. Be sure to share this with your analyst. Also, take time every day to really wrap your brain around your emotions, write your story, ask yourself difficult and scary questions and ask for feedback from people you love and trust.
One Issue at a Time
Dealing with your mental health can be challenging and exhausting, to say the least. There may be times when you feel that others are not supportive of you, that seeking therapy services carries a “stigma” or judgment of being unable to cope with life events by yourself. Discuss this with your counselors; and think about how you feel. If you feel better, are making progress on getting through the issues that brought you to therapy, then limit your interaction with those who are negative or cause you anxiety and frustration. It is extremely important to focus on making one step at a time. Just one. Reward yourself everyday by taking breaks from the process and focusing on whatever brings you joy.
When it comes to exploring the internet, remember that anyone can put up a web site. Seek information from trusted, reliable web sites like The National Institutes for Health; the American Psychological Association; Psych Central; Psychology Today or the Mayo Clinic. If you want to read further about your diagnosis or additional self-help tools, ask your therapist for recommendations.
Sources: Psych Central, Psychology Today, Mayo Clinic