Mental health is one of the most vexing issues that we deal with today on a societal level, especially in the US where shootings, gun control and obesity make daily headlines in one way or another. Over half of American adults have untreated mental illness. Half! There are many reasons why so many go without the necessary treatment. For a start, with a term like mental illness, who wouldn’t want to avoid that designation?
When we move to a new town, we find a new doctor and a new dentist but rarely do we look for a therapist. Seeking help for a mental health issue also looks different against the diversity of cultures, ethnic backgrounds and geographical locations that exist here. If you live in Nevada, you practically have to drive to California to consult a therapist, while in New York City, it’s all but a requirement to have one. In this country, we can talk about psychology, be a psychologist, study psychology–psychology is legit, but mental illness is not. For everyone searching for help to get through a particular problem or concern, they first have to get through the stigma attached to it. But what would you do if you needed help? Where would you even start to seek relief?
Many people start by getting the name of someone through word-of-mouth. Yet friends are willing to share the name of the guy who redid their bathroom, but not so much when it’s time to give up the fact that they may have seen a therapist. Finding a therapist is much like finding any professional you are going to pay to help you. Remember the contractor who redid your neighbor’s bathroom? Even though you trust your neighbor, you’re going to get a few other recommendations–maybe look at a few before/after photos and check if he is listed with the Better Business Bureau. It’s the same when looking for a therapist; once you get a name, do the same thing. Maybe not the pictures, but you can check out the Psychology Today website. Yelp even reviews therapists. Don’t want to risk scaring your neighbor? Ask your doctor, ask your kid’s school psychologist. There are plenty of ways to check out a potential therapist. It’s important to do as much groundwork as possible—as much you can handle–because unless you’ve been in therapy before, you need to know what you’re getting into. In another respect finding the therapist who’s a good fit for you is like finally finding Mr. or Ms. Right.
Some time ago, one of the parents in our supervised visitation program–a young woman –shared with us that she was seeing a therapist We, of course, were totally supportive. We’re in the mental health business…why wouldn’t we be? She had been visiting her two small children, whose custody she had lost, for a few weeks already and it seemed like she was finally ready to confront some of her demons. Poor life choices along the way including but not limited to, substance abuse and lengthy gambling sprees kept her away from home. Her husband got sick of it, packed up the kids and left. But now she was committed to getting sober and having her children back. And she was doing a good job.
A few weeks later, though, she came in visibly upset. She told us that her ex-partner’s attorney had found out she was seeing this therapist and intended to use it against her. To the attorney it proved she had “something wrong” rather than that she was addressing a problem in a healthy and responsible way. She was terrified that his opinion might prevent getting her kids back. And, honestly? We couldn’t really reassure her otherwise. Too many times we’ve seen genuine attempts at addressing a mental health issue get twisted into an admission of misconduct or irresponsibility. No wonder people are afraid to get help.
A common understanding for people willing to try therapy is that you find a person, go to their office, they tell you a bunch of stuff in about an hour—closer to 45 minutes these days—and in a few weeks or a couple months—voila! You’re cured! In reality, the best indicator of success of the majority of therapeutic approaches is defined by the relationship that the therapist creates with his or her client. Without that connection, therapy will remain limited to procedural interventions (i.e.; exercise three times a week, keep a list of your moods, begin medication, drop your boyfriend). These interventions may result in measurable changes (you joined a gym, now know when you’re most irritable during the day, started meds and are currently single) but without a quality connection with the therapist, any focused reform of your dysfunctional—um– tendencies may not be effected.
Take the guy who always finds himself in the same unhappy relationship time and time again. He courageously and successfully manages to separate from his current selfish partner with the help of his new therapist. A year down the road, however, finds himself in another unhappy relationship and can’t figure out why. What happened? He went to the appointments, he followed the instructions, he read the book that was recommended. But if there wasn’t a strong and clear understanding of the work to be done, he may not have really uncovered his relationship issues. Finding the right person with whom you can commit to change is the key. Doing a little homework will help keep you off the therapist merry-go-round.
I know, I know…it’s daunting. It used to be easier when seeing a therapist was fully included by most insurance policies. Now, coverage limitations and inconvenient hours make finding help more challenging. And when you are feeling depleted, drained or unhappy, it isn’t the best time to be challenged. So maybe before you commit to a therapist, stick your toe in the therapy water and see what technology has to offer. You have your phone in your hand anyway, put it to work. The mental health field incorporates the use of apps, video and websites to bring accessibility to those in need. For example, the website The Mighty is described as “a safe, supportive community for people facing health challenges and the people who care for them.” There is a section devoted to mental health with over two thousand contributors. Download an app (see links below) and finding support is as simple as tapping an icon to “deliver advice and therapy.” The first thing that will happen is that you will see that you aren’t alone. That in itself might give you the boost you need to move forward.
Ultimately, you know yourself better than anyone else–no matter what your mother or your husband or your best friend says. Even when you’re struggling and think that things can’t get any worse (at which point they often do) your intuition about what’s best for you still exists. You may shush it when you’re self-medicating with a glass of Malbec or a second scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream, but if you listen hard enough, you know it’s there. It’s that intuition that will help you find the right person to address your immediate needs. Protecting your mental health is as important as maintaining your physical health: you can’t have one without the other.
NAMI-Thurston Mason Data –https://namitm.org/
Scientific American- 10 Mobile Apps That Deliver Advice and Therapy
The Mighty – mental health
Psychology Today – https://www.psychologytoday.com/us