How to Know If You Should See a Therapist in DC

I’m OK, You’re OK…But We Still Need Therapy

Television and movies have never shied away from the topic of psychotherapy. Movie database IMDb even has a list of the 37 best films involving psychologists and therapy, and mental health care professionals have been a staple of television since Charlie Brown’s friend Lucy offered to help him with his psychiatric issues for a kid-friendly 5 cents a session.

One positive effect of this plethora of fictional therapists in the media is that viewers see that even the characters who seem to have everything together, without any indication of a severe mental illness, often turn to a professional for everyday issues. In a way, kind, funny, and warm TV show therapists like Dr. Frasier Crane (Frasier) and Dr. Bob Hartley (The Bob Newhart Show) have done a lot to dispel the stigma of seeking help for behavioral health.

Still, many people who could benefit from psychotherapy refuse to see a therapist or any licensed professionals. They say things like, “I’d rather talk to my friends,” “What good would it do?” and “I don’t want to air my dirty laundry,” when a friend or family member mentions the option of seeing a professional. Some still mistakenly associate therapy only with severe mental health issues. “I’m not crazy,” might be their response.

overcoming mental health stigma

You don’t have to be suffering to seek therapy

If we’ve learned anything from our beloved therapy-seeking TV characters, it’s that you don’t necessarily have to be suffering from a severe psychiatric illness to benefit from working with a mental health professional. From our perspective, a weekly visit to a therapist should be as culturally and socially acceptable as a haircut or yoga class. In many ways, therapy is just like exercise. It’s a form of preventive self-care that can help to prevent bigger emotional, relationship, and even physical health problems in the future.

Regular sessions of individual therapy can make a good life great. Talking to someone other than a friend, spouse, or family member — particularly, a licensed clinical practitioner offering a safe and non-judgmental space to discuss openly — provides a fresh viewpoint on your interpersonal relationships and invites honest, thoughtful feedback no matter what you’re talking about. Maybe you’re looking to take steps to become a more attentive husband or explore potential parenting issues. Perhaps you need some direction about what career you should pursue or need help or encouragement to reach a personal goal or overcoming life transitions.

None of these scenarios qualify as “conditions” or “disorders” on the surface, but each of these are legitimate reasons why every day, “normal” people reach out to us at the Therapy Group of DC or to other mental health professionals.  

You don’t have to wait for a crisis to search for the best therapist in DC

Sometimes it’s a serious or disruptive incident that drives a person to make the first appointment with a therapist. An affair may lead to couples therapy; a disciplinary issue at school could prompt a parent to seek care from a treatment center serving adolescents; unexpectedly losing a job might be a reason to seek career counseling, or thoughts of suicide may be the impetus for individual therapy with a licensed professional counselor.

However, there’s no valid reason to wait until something devastating or urgent occurs before enlisting the help of a professional therapist. Your therapist won’t ever require a “qualifying event” before accepting you as a patient or tell you what you’re struggling with does not warrant getting assistance via psychotherapy.

Simply recognizing persistent feelings of worry, tension, dread, or sadness is a reason to consider talk therapy. Your issue may not be causing a severe case of depression anxiety or significant symptoms of bipolar disorders, for instance, but some of the same approaches may be used in therapy to help you to cope and get to an even better place in your relationship, career, or life. A clinical therapist can help you discover whether you’re among the 40 million Americans dealing with anxiety or more than 16 million suffering from depression and treat your condition appropriately, warmly, and compassionately.

You’ll find multiple styles and types of therapy, and a psychologist or other mental health professional will work with you to determine which style or type is best for you. At the Therapy Group of DC, we believe in a highly personalized approach to therapy — that means helping to pair you with the right therapist and practicing the appropriate psychotherapy to help you become your best self.

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The benefits of therapy for the “walking wounded” (that is, most of us at some point in life)

Many of our patients if not the majority, could be classified as “walking wounded,” to borrow a medical triage term. These are people who are experiencing significant struggles in their lives but can function reasonably well in their relationships and/or maintain a job or educational commitments. They greatly benefit from the support and treatment found in psychotherapy with us, even though they don’t suffer from a persistent, debilitatingly severe mental or behavioral illness, or deal with any significant relationship issues. Our therapists work closely with people with these kinds of struggles so that they may maintain a healthy emotional balance. Our sessions are also designed to help them develop self-awareness, personal skills, and resilience to deal with problems in the future — before they become unmanageable or develop serious issues.

Therapists serve as highly-trained and educated guides for people who are currently struggling in some aspects of their lives while flourishing in others. They provide encouragement and personalized counseling to help patients live their best lives. They attentively listen as patients share feelings, stressors, fears, and even day-to-day activities. The exercise of simply voicing these concerns — “getting it all out” in the open — is often therapeutic in itself and can significantly help a patient to clarify any problems and work on solutions. Your therapist’s office is a safe place where nothing you say will be judged, discounted, or shared with anyone else.

Some of our patients enlist a therapist to help them achieve personal goals, like overcoming persistent negative emotions, improving sleep, adopting anger management techniques, developing better financial or eating habits, or finding out what truly makes them satisfied and happy. Having the support of an impartial, knowledgeable advisor can be extremely effective in helping patients discover and overcome emotional or psychological hurdles that are keeping them from reaching these goals.

Having a strong and healthy emotional and psychological foundation that one achieves from regular visits with a psychologist in our DC therapy practice or with other mental health professionals will provide you the tools to deal more effectively with conflicts that may arise in life. Such conflicts can include managing family conflict, interpersonal relationships, parenting issues, work-related concerns, or any other situation which, without solid therapeutic treatment, may cause anxiety or escalate into more problematic issues.

Your therapist is similar to a personal life coach but with nearly a decade of expert training in human motivation and well-being

Like a sports coach, a life coach will provide clients with the motivation and guidance to succeed through consistent practice and increasing levels of focus. Once the exclusive domain of executives seeking to improve their communication and interactions with employees, today’s life coaching clients are from all walks of life—from busy business people to stay-at-home moms.

Life coaches use questioning techniques and perspective-challenging practices to understand a client’s needs and create an action plan that they then help the client follow, step-by-step. Common reasons for seeking out the services of a life coach are finding a new career, building a business, or losing weight. Unlike becoming a psychologist which requires approximately a decade of training, anyone can become a certified life coach by taking an accreditation course online or in-person—but there are no formal requirements for someone to hang out their life coach shingle.

The difference in the services of a life coach and a qualified mental health professional extends beyond educational or training requirements. While a life coach can provide encouraging words, regularly scheduled reminders, and creative ideas for achieving your next goal, they are not qualified to assist with and resolve the underlying issues that have previously kept you from being successful.

Although life coaches aren’t psychologists, your psychologist employs similar techniques; only the emphasis will be much more in-depth to uncover underlying beliefs and stumbling blocks. Our diverse group of therapists at Therapy Group of DC will help you better understand your mental health needs, determine what solutions are best for you, and provide emotional support, encouragement, and just the right level of challenge to help you become your best self.

Therapy as part of a wellness regimen

“Wellness” is a buzzword in today’s culture, but what does it mean? The National Wellness Institute defines wellness as an “active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.” The Institute believes that to build a holistic sense of wellness and fulfillment and thrive amidst life’s challenges, one must address six dimensions of wellness: occupational, physical, social, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional. Interestingly, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) adds two more dimensions to that list: financial and environmental.

Where the two organizations agree is that mental and physical health are inexorably interconnected and that improving mental health can benefit physical health, and vice versa. In other words, seeking the assistance of a mental health professional to maintain a healthy mental mindset is just as important as eating healthy foods, getting regular exercise, believing in a spiritual path or connecting with a higher purpose, enjoying a fulfilling career, and even sticking to a realistic financial budget.

These are challenging goals. Although most adults understand that eating better and exercising more is the best way to maintain healthy body weight and physical fitness, two in three adults in the US are overweight or obese. Furthermore, even though money management tools abound and there is a general understanding that one should not spend more than they make, only 40 percent of Americans can resist buying more than they can afford.

Mental health therapy is unique in that it directly addresses mental health, but can also help you to improve upon many other facets of your well-being. During regular visits with a mental health therapist, you can share your concerns about your financial situation and dissatisfaction with the direction in which your career is going. If you’re struggling with weight loss or trying to encourage yourself to be more physically active, a therapist can help you work through what’s preventing you from being successful. Establishing a good mental foundation can open the doors to solving issues within the other five to seven tenets of wellness.

Defining mental wellness and improving it via therapy

Within the “mental” dimension of wellness are multiple recommended practices to improve your quality of life, including mindfulness, positivity, self-compassion, and loving others. Luckily, a professional therapist can help with all of them.

Mindfulness is a term with multiple definitions due to its nebulous nature. The Mindful organization describes it as the “basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” Achieving a state of mindfulness is often associated with meditation—the act of sitting silently, physically relaxing your body, and letting your mind wander freely. Meditation experts recommend practicing at least 10 minutes a day to feel the benefits of calm, peace, and positivity. Mindfulness helps you to be consciously present and aware, make more thoughtful changes and decisions, and react in a more mentally healthful way. Many therapists, especially those trained in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT, for short), incorporate the study of mindfulness into their practices and can help you not only understand its benefits but also learn how to easily integrate a meditation practice into your daily routine.

Positive emotional wellbeing is also something you can accomplish with the help of a mental health professional. Your therapist will work with you to identify triggers that provoke negative thoughts, which could include even everyday things such as violence in video games, crime dramas, horror movies, or newscasts portraying terrorism and discord in the world. After identifying the areas that negatively impact your positivity, you and your therapist can focus on making lasting changes and paying attention to things that are uplifting and inspirational.

Self-compassion, says Psychology Today, is one of the most foundational elements of emotional wellbeing. Psychologist Kristen Neff describes self-compassion as “kindness toward the self, which entails being gentle, supporting, and understanding.” Neff, the author of the book Self-Compassion, is credited with being the first to operationally define and measure the construct. According to Neff, self-compassion is composed of three elements: self-kindness (vs. self-judgment), common humanity (vs. isolation), and mindfulness (vs. over-identification). In many ways, these elements overlap with positivity and the other recommended practices of mental wellness. A great therapist can help you discover the path to self-compassion, like overcoming feelings of inadequacy, accepting and forgiving mistakes, and not getting too caught up in thoughts and feelings.

Overcoming the stigma of seeking a therapist in DC

A decade ago, in a 2008 article for Psychology Today, clinical psychologist Dana Gionta described an encounter that perfectly illustrates the unfortunate social stigma associated with seeking therapy. Noticing her “doctor” title on her bank account, a teller joked with Gionta about how she dealt with “the crazies.” When she explained that she helped “normal” people who are merely working through life transitions like work stress, health challenges, and family/parenting issues, the bank teller lowered his voice to a whisper and covertly requested her business card.

Gionta explains that the teller’s actions are based on a widespread assumption that people who initiate counseling are suffering from movie-quality — that is, sensationalized and inaccurate — portrayals of rare mental illnesses. Yes, even ten years after Gionta’s article, a majority of the general population associates psychotherapy with something that is better for “other” people and somehow equates to personal or moral failings.

The stigma of seeking professional help seems to be even harder for men to overcome. Despite a culture that has become more enlightened to the evolving nuances of gender roles, men as a whole are still pressured to be unrealistically “macho.” Boys don’t cry, and real men aren’t supposed to be vulnerable to emotions. “Man up,” they say to themselves, instead of “I need to find a therapist to talk to about these feelings I’m having and my destructive behaviors.”

Perhaps it’s this resistance to admitting the need for help that leads men to take their own lives at a rate that’s 3.54 times higher than that of women. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, white males accounted for 70 percent of suicides in 2016. The rate of suicide was highest in middle-aged white men in the United States, and firearms were used in 51 percent of those deaths.

Fortunately, more and more efforts are being made to dispel the stigma of mental health counseling specifically for males. The Good Men Project, a website that initiates and promotes honest conversations, regularly features articles about the benefits of therapy for maintaining wellness and a healthy mental outlook. Similarly, the Man Therapy website uses humor and direct talk also to address the mental health needs of men and their hesitation to seek help.

Men’s Health magazine has recently recommended that regular professional counseling can contribute to overall wellness, including health, happiness, and peace of mind. In a 2016 piece, the magazine’s mental health advisor shares that men don’t need to identify a specific concern or self-diagnosis before making an appointment for therapy. Instead, he advises that just recognizing that something is affecting your ability to function at a high level or feeling out of sorts can be a reason to ring up a therapist’s office. He adds that a therapist can help men develop pre-emptive strategies for overcoming destructive behavior or negative thoughts — without the side effects of medications.

There’s no reason to wait

Now is an ideal time to explore a new, ongoing relationship with a therapist in DC and to understand how we use data-driven therapy to improve outcomes. Even if you’re not committed to any one particular resolution or have yet to set a long-term goal that could be supported by therapy, a great mental health therapist will help you discover what positive direction your life might go. Therapy Group of DC will help you thrive, recognize your strengths and potential, and create your greatest life.

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