HOW TO BENEFIT THE MOST FROM YOUR MENTAL HEALTH THERAPY

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Mental health is a hot topic these days. People are more stressed than ever. Acute mental health issues may seem more troubling than ever, with a world moving towards more significant discord and violence. There is no better time to how self-care than ever. My advice is to address your mental health concerns before they snowball or escalate. Seek out treatment on your terms before your symptoms outpace your coping capacity. Taking a preventative approach to your health is always the best bet to getting ahead of whatever issue is interrupting your peace of mind.

Your success will hinge on obtaining quality mental health care. Finding a good therapist is a big part of your quest to better mental health. For some folks, brief or short-term therapy is all that is needed to learn new coping skills and techniques to self-manage their mental health problems. For others, therapy might be part of a long-term treatment plan. Regardless, the proper treatment fit will be essential in partnering with the right therapist for your mental health issue. 

Writing from professional and lived experience, I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and consumer of mental health services. I am a firm believer most people have stuff. Unresolved emotional scars that are temporarily ‘disabling.’ I am describing people who do not rise to the level of a DSM-5 diagnosis. People who may be one or two symptoms away from a full-blown mental health diagnosis comprise the vast pool of untreated people that could benefit from therapy. Before your symptoms escalate or worsen, seek out treatment voluntarily. People often wait too long to get the help they need.

Being proactive means more than just participating in therapy. It means constant cooperative appraisal of your progress in treatment with your therapist and treatment team. There are a few ways of approaching this challenging aspect of owning your piece of the therapeutic investment. The patient’s investment is required to make lasting progress in treatment and terminating when you experience the downwind breeze of diminishing gains. 

Try these steps before discontinuing treatment, seeking a higher level of care, or a more rigorous and comprehensive treatment modality.

Re-engage with your current therapist. With the rise of new miracle therapies and a never-ending array of available treatment options, people are looking for fast results and good outcomes without investing energy into the therapeutic process. This belief in immediate results is a big issue when experiencing lasting therapeutic gains throughout therapy with consistently positive effects. Instead, people need to invest themselves in the therapeutic process throughout treatment. When it comes to healing and real deep work, there is no quick way to go about unpacking harmful shards of cancerous trauma from your clinical picture and history.

Evaluate the energy in the room. The work involved brings energy, trust, and willingness to look back and be vulnerable with your therapist every session. Only when you get your entire self front and center to the workbench in session are all the aspects of your trauma history and healing in targeting a range of skilled therapists tending to your care. 

Treatment fit is more than just finding the right modality. Therapists play off your energy. When engagement is at its peak, lousy day, or reasonable, you will be more prepared and ready to live through them. None of us have a choice about living. We do and hope it gets done the best way. Good therapy takes away the element of surprise and puts you back into the driver’s seat of life with enough skills and savvy to make informed choices about how you live and what you want from living.

Impactful therapy is a balance and investment. Good outcomes require just as much energy as the patient needs to produce results and good works—a big surprise for many patrons and consumers of treatment. However, for seasoned therapists, this is a scientific fact. Despite what many people think about how therapy works, equal investment of energy by both therapist and patient could not be more evidence-based if EBP (Evidence-Based Practices) needed a perfect model. Patients like to blame everyone but themselves for not healing fast enough, especially the therapist in charge of their care.

Therapy is hard work. Sleep apnea aside, I still would have fallen asleep in session with such a therapist. Any therapist is worthy of a characterize isn’t a good situation. Just like an unhelpful friend, a therapist who is character-like and more animated than purposeful in their communication brings with it an element of familiarity that may cultivate complacency or, even worse, stagnation in the rollout of your therapy over time. When you are sleeping in session or just paying lip service to the therapist leading session, dont expect to experience robust gains. At the very best, in cases where you are not invested in session and paying close attention to the work done in session, a therapist will only flag immediate issues and generally get a sense of your mental status from session to session. People don’t make progress in life sleeping or therapy when they are sleeping during the session. Patients must be awake vigil enough to detect internal and external sensations to detect changes to how they process session content. Patients also must actively respond to the therapeutic probe’s highly spontaneous motor function at work in the session. 

Distress tolerance is a big part of the therapy. It is okay for treatment to be slightly uncomfortable. How much bullshit can you deal with before you lose control? Well, a therapist must have an even deeper understanding of this threshold. During therapy, patients learn where to stand in the wake of the therapeutic distress invoked by the therapist to know new limits, insights, and awareness. This back and forth pushback in the path of new session content and direction creates an energy transfer and release of damaging impurities in our lives. A gentle and positive reframe to understand ourselves and the world more healthily. I have observed people sitting beside me in group therapy working on the same issues ad infinite. Now, there is something to be said about working on problems chronic in treatment. 

Genuinely chronic patients might need weekly or monthly maintenance. In most cases, the difference between regular and acute is not the diagnosis but the distance the patient is from their therapeutic goal and their rate of progress. In the end, beware ambitious and overzealous clinicians more interested in finally correcting a historically problematic issue in their caseload in terms of outcomes or demographics. Good-natured ethical therapists will shift the therapeutic focus to more meaningful and considerable roadblocks in their patients’ lives. I will provide a case example. 

After ten years, my groupmate is still actively grieving the loss of her husband. Sure, I feel for this groupmate. She loved her husband. However, the more significant issue and the more chronic issue isn’t the loss of her husband. Her crippling anxiety and the real problem is the therapist’s unwillingness to shift the therapeutic focus away from her difficulty passing through the bereavement process. In the end, if patients feel restricted or cut off from the course of their treatment, they will be less likely to push against unhealthy or misguided therapeutic probes in therapy when it is time to consider terminating.

About the Author

J. Peters

J. Peters is the Editor-in-Chief of Mental Health Affairs.

Award-winning book author and Bold 10 Under ten award recipient J. Peters, LCSW. Through his work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Mental health therapist and disability rights advocate Mr. Peters fights for those without a voice in various care systems, such as the New York City Department of Social Services, the New York State Office of Mental Health, or the city's Department of Corrections.

Mr. Peter's battle with Schizophrenia began at New London University in his last semester of college. Discharged from Greater Liberty State Hospital Center in July 2008, Jacque's recovery was swift but not painless and indeed brutal after spending six months there.

He has published several journal articles on recovery and mental health and three books: University on Watch, Small Fingernails, and Wales High School. He is also a board member of the newspaper City Voices. Mr. Peters currently sits on the CAB committee (Consumer Advisory Board) for the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene in NYC and the Office of Mental Health (OMH) as a peer advocate.

Owner of Recovery Now in New York, a private psychotherapy practice, Mr. Peter's approach is rooted in a foundation of evidence-based practices (EBP). Jacques earned a master's degree in Social Work from Binghamton University and worked as a field instructor for master's and bachelor's level students in NYC.

He is blogging daily on his site mentalhealthaffairs.blog, Mr. Peters regularly writes articles relating to his lived experience with a mental health diagnosis.

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