When we find out that someone has a physical illness, there’s a mixture of reactions. There’s sympathy, worry, concern; we may wonder what this person eats on a daily basis, whether he or she exercises, and if there’s a family history of this illness. Ultimately however, there is at least a basic sense of acceptance that these things happen – that it’s “normal”. Mental health diagnoses, on the other hand, often emit a different, more notorious vibe.
If someone is diagnosed with depression they are often told by family and friends to “just get over it;” if someone is diagnosed with anxiety they are told to “relax” and to “stop making a big deal of things – everyone gets nervous;” if a diagnosis is more extreme, as in cases of schizophrenia, bipolar, or OCD, a person may simply be written off as “just not normal.”
This is the kind of thing that gets stuck in my craw. The way that mental illness still wears stigma like a glove. I don’t even like saying mental illness or disorder, as it implies that the person is a broken toy that no one wants to play with.
“Apparently, she’s ‘depressed’,” a woman snidely remarked to her friend at a nail salon I used to frequent. And she even did the quotation marks in the air with her fingers as she said “depressed”.
“Doesn’t go to work, doesn’t even get out of bed. She’s got two kids. She’s got to get over herself. Life is tough. So what.”
“She’s always been a bit weird,” the friend remarked.
I shook my head at this point. I felt pity. Not just for the depressed woman, but for the ignorance and lack of empathy surrounding mental health issues. And to seek treatment for a psychological challenge is often just as distressing, if not more so, than the actual illness itself. So people with these issues tread through life feeling empty, fearful, paranoid, or miserable, accepting that this is just the hand they’ve been dealt with. Here’s the thing: 1 in every 4 people develops at least one mental health issue at some stage in their life. Doesn’t this imply that mental health issues are not as “abnormal” as we may think? The bottom line is, many people who grapple with psychological problems could get better and achieve a better quality of life if they just put aside the stereotypes and learn what they can do to heal.
Like most issues, awareness is the first step on the journey to recovery. For example, a little anxiety before a presentation is fine; feeling sad after losing a loved one is understandable. Having a panic attack because you have to go grocery shopping or thinking that the world is better off without you is not – these are legitimate concerns that should not be discounted or dismissed. Queendom offers a free mental health assessment here.
In the next few posts, I’ll be covering the different types of therapy that are available. Just keep one thing in mind: Don’t be afraid to shop around when it comes to the type of therapy you are comfortable with and the type of therapist. If you are not at ease with either, you have the absolute right to seek out alternatives. Just as you would test drive a car or try an outfit on before buying it, there is nothing wrong with being a little picky when choosing the type of help that is right for you.
The goal: Psychodynamic Therapy is the umbrella term used for the methods that were practiced by two of the most famous theorists, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. In this approach, the counselor will attempt to explore the unconscious as a means to help you obtain greater self-awareness. If you ever watched Frasier with Kelsey Grammer, this is the type of therapy that he and his brother Niles used.
What to expect: You will be encouraged to speak openly about your thoughts and feelings in an attempt to uncover issues from your past – events, anxieties, complexes, and issues that are influencing your behavior and motivations today. This can also involve dream analysis, in which the therapist will attempt to interpret symbols and events in dreams in order to gain more insight into your personality. Some practitioners also use hypnosis.
What it’s good for: Personality disorders, depression, anxiety disorders, borderline personality disorder, panic disorder, sexual difficulties, etc.
Drawbacks: This therapeutic style requires a great deal of dedication and commitment, as it can be a very intensive therapy that may last several years.
The goal: While psychoanalysis digs deep into the past and the unconscious, Gestalt therapy focuses on the present. Gestalt therapists believe that it is only by shifting our awareness to the present that we can truly understand why we are the way we are, recover from psychological issues, and change unhealthy behavioral patterns.
What to expect: In this approach, the counselor will work with you in a direct interaction to help you better understand yourself. You will be encouraged to take responsibility for your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in order to gain greater independence and personal growth. Techniques often involve role-playing, confrontation, dream analysis, and ongoing dialogue.
What it’s good for: Post traumatic stress disorder, crisis intervention, alcohol and drug abuse, depression, anxiety disorders, psychotic disorders, borderline personality disorder, and many more.
Drawbacks: While it depends on the characteristics of the therapist, some practitioners can be rather blunt and “in your face”. This is often an intense therapy that may not be appropriate for everyone – essentially, it’s not for the faint of heart. I’ve seen sessions of Gestalt therapy, and chances are, you’ll either cry a lot or yell a lot…but you’ll come out a different person. If you need a mental kick in the behind, this is the therapy for you.
The goal: In this therapy, the basic premise is that our thoughts have a major impact on how we feel and behave. It is believed that many psychological issues, like depression, are a result of how we interpret our experiences. A CBT therapist will help you modify unhealthy thoughts and behaviors and replace them with more positive ones.
What to expect: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy tends to require fewer sessions compared to the therapies mentioned above (depending on the type of problem of course). Therapeutic techniques often include journal writing, role-playing, Aversive Conditioning (using something unpleasant to stop an unwanted behavior), and Systematic Desensitization (gradual exposure to something you fear, like spiders).
What it’s good for: CBT has been used to treat a number of problems quite successfully, including phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, panic disorder, insomnia, hypochondriasis, dissociative identity disorder, etc. Research has shown that CBT can actually rewire your brain to think differently.
Drawbacks: This therapeutic style requires clients to take an active approach in their recovery. If you are not willing to participate or to practice any recommended techniques or exercises, you will not benefit from this approach. Basically, you’ll have homework to do.
The goal: Behavioral Therapy attempts to change unhealthy behaviors by altering the manner in which you respond to the events and situations around you. The goal of Behavioral Therapy is to change or reduce problematic behavior and encourage positive behavior.
What to expect: Common techniques used in this type of therapy include Desensitization or Graduated Exposure Therapy (another name for Systematic Desensitization), assertiveness training, and relaxation techniques.
What it’s good for: Obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, depression etc.
Drawbacks: As in CBT, where “homework assignments” are common, if you’re unwilling to actively participate or to practice any recommended techniques or exercises, you will not benefit from this therapy. Moreover, depending on the type of problem and technique used, Behavioral Therapy can require a great deal of dedication and commitment on your part.
Stay tuned next week for more information on different types of therapies!