Two brains are better than one

Written by Teana Elmer

I’m sure you’ve heard that saying before, and I think it applies perfectly to the fields of psychiatry and psychology. When a psychiatrist and psychologist work collaboratively by sharing information about their patient, a greater picture is presented, for both clinicians,  to make a more informed assessment and treatment approach. The same holds true when medication and psychotherapies are combined when indicated.

Sadly, I cannot tell you how many times I have heard someone say, “I feel comfortable doing therapy, but NO WAY am I taking medications,” or “I don’t need to talk to someone, just let me take a pill and be done with it.” If you’ve found yourself saying either of these, don’t be alarmed, you are not alone. In fact, before I started studying psychiatry, I found myself thinking along those same lines. Mental Health has been shrouded in a cloud of stigma for many years. We have come a long way in the past 10 years by creating a more open dialogue, but our journey to a better understanding of mental health, among the general population, is far from over. The negative view of mental health still affects how people approach their care today.

Many psychiatric treatment protocols include psychotherapy as an important and complementary part of the treatment program. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is considered the first line of treatment for borderline personality disorder. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), alongside the administration of an SSRI, has been shown to improve outcomes in comparison of utilizing one or the other in those suffering from depression and anxiety. PTSD is another great example of how the use of both provides greater success for the patient. Oftentimes, pharmacological approaches are treating the comorbidities of PTSD (Anxiety, depression) and psychological approaches are targeting the core symptoms of PTSD (Stahl, 2013). There is even growing research for the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy among those who suffer with schizophrenia. Research has shown that in utilizing psychotherapy as part of the treatment, the antipsychotic medication is then leveraged to its fullest potential (Stahl, 2013).

This may sound scary to someone worried about taking medications or baring their soul to a therapist they just met, but I like to think of it as having two brains, literally and metaphorically, working together to get you back to your fullest potential.

References

Stahl, S.M. (2013). Stahl’s Essential Psychopharmacology (4th ed.). Cambridge, United Kingdom: University Printing House

HOW TO FIND THE RIGHT THERAPIST FOR YOU

Written by: Amy Bryant

I will never forget the first time I went to therapy. I was going through a divorce and desperately trying to save my marriage. I cannot remember why or how we ended up with the therapist that we did but I did not do any research beforehand. I simply followed blindly and hoped for the best.  We had only made it through 2 full sessions before the therapist suggested that we continue with our therapy separately….and that is all she wrote.

I never felt any type of connection with her or that I was given the opportunity to let that therapeutic relationship evolve. She seemed disinterested once she thought that our marriage was doomed for failure. How could she know after only having met us twice? How would anyone know that? We did end up divorcing and I have been happily remarried for a blissful 13 years,  but I often wonder how my healing process would have been different if I was offered a safe place to learn how to heal in a healthy, more productive way.

When you are making decisions regarding your mental health, there are several considerations to keep in mind.  Selecting the right therapist plays an important role in your healing journey.  From my own personal experience and the knowledge that I have obtained as an Office Manager for North Texas Counseling Associates, I have put together a few suggestions that will hopefully help you find the right therapist and assist you in getting the most out of your therapy.  

  1. Know What You Want.

Often, we have no idea what we want out of therapy, we just know that things are off balance in our life and want someone to make sense of what we are experiencing. This is completely NORMAL! If you find yourself feeling unsure, ask yourself these questions:

  • What type of hardships am I currently experiencing or have experienced in my past?
  • How are my thoughts, my emotions or my feelings affected by these experiences?
  • How has my day-to-day life changed because of these difficulties? Ideally, what do I want my day-to-day life to look like.
  • What do I hope to get out of therapy and/or gain for myself?

 On the off chance that you do know what you are seeking out of therapy, being upfront and honest about this with yourself and a therapist will aid you in finding someone that is closely suited to your needs.  

  • Keep an Open Mind

Remember that you are looking for a therapist, not a best friend. Sometimes what you hear in therapy can be uncomfortable, but you do not want to choose someone that is hesitant to share with you what you need to hear.  Keeping an open mind to the idea that it could get more difficult before it gets better will encourage your own personal growth and can offer insights that you may not have considered before.

In her article, ‘The Benefits of Being Open-Minded’, Dr. Jan Dunn says,  “If you are not open to other ideas and perspectives, it is difficult to see all of the factors that contribute to problems or come up with effective solutions. In an increasingly polarized world, being able to step outside your comfort zone and consider other perspectives and ideas is important. This doesn’t mean that being open-minded is necessarily easy. Being open to new ideas and experiences can sometimes lead to confusion and cognitive dissonance when we learn new things that conflict with existing beliefs. However, being able to change and revise outdated, or incorrect beliefs is an important part of learning and personal growth.”

  • Convenience is Key

If you were trying to improve your physical health and decided to join a gym, would you choose a gym that was not easy to get to or whose hours made it difficult for you to put in the time needed to work out?  The same should be considered when you are searching for a Mental Health Provider.  Where are they located in relation to your home, work, or child’s school? Do they do teletherapy? How far out are they booked? What are their office hours?  If you can, getting on a weekly reoccurring schedule, at least initially, can benefit your progress in many ways.   It can alleviate the stress of having to move and shift schedules around when you know ahead of time when your sessions will take place. No different than what you would do for a doctor’s appointment and just as important.  It can also foster the therapist/client relationship. Although you want the relationship to develop organically, the sooner there is a mutual trust and respect between the two parties, the sooner you can begin your journey to personal growth. If there is too much time in between sessions, it could cause you to remain guarded and invulnerable for a longer amount of time. 

  • Connection

You can find someone that is close in proximity to your home or is not afraid to tell you like it is, but if you do not have a connection with your therapist, it is all for naught.  All the MAGICAL healing work happens in this space. Without that sense of rapport, there is little to no trust and without trust, you may find it difficult to be honest and vulnerable. If you are not comfortable enough to talk about your feelings, your thoughts, or your behaviors authentically then there is less of an opportunity for growth and healing. “Generally, the best predictor of success in therapy is rapport – feelings of trust and respect between the participants, a therapeutic alliance. When there’s no rapport, there is no therapy. “ – Dr. Noam Shpancer

  • Consistency

Lastly, but certainly not least, is consistency. Consistency is key.  Think about it. How do you learn another language? How do you learn how to ride a bike? How do you improve your physical health or learn a new trade? Consistency. It is no different with your mental health. Your mental state is IMPORTANT and should be treated as such. If you want to improve your emotional well-being, then you must commit to taking the steps to get there.

If you can avoid it, barring some catastrophe, try not to cancel or reschedule your appointments. There is a reason why your therapist has scheduled you for these sessions. They want the same thing for you as you do. It is no different than a regular teeth cleaning at your dentist or taking a full dose of anti-biotics prescribed to you.  Rather than stopping your therapy when you feel better,  continue with your scheduled sessions, and stick with the treatment plan you and your therapist have come up with. It is vital to your progress and maintaining  a healthy mental state.  

Finding someone that recognizes your needs and your mental health goals is a personal choice and should not be taken lightly.  What is important is that a therapist’s method is patient specific and is based off the client’s personal goals and experiences. The search may feel somewhat daunting in the beginning, but YOU are WORTH it! When you find the right therapist, you will find that all your efforts will have paid off in the end.

Back to School Basics: Setting the Stage for a Great Schoolyear

It seems like every year the summer season gets shorter and shorter, and before you know it autumn hits (or what passes for autumn in Texas). For many adults this shift doesn’t significantly affect their day-to-day routine. However, for children this change is often huge. Gone are days filled with camps and vacations (or if they’re like me as a child, hours-long SpongeBob SquarePants marathons); children return to a world occupied by school and extracurricular activities.

While the period before school starts is a time of excitement, it can also result in increased stress for many children. Kids often experience anxiety related to things happening at school, from exams and assignments to sport tryouts and where to sit in the cafeteria. Add in the fact that many kids will be returning to in-person learning after a difficult year of virtual schooling, and it’s no wonder that many kids view the upcoming schoolyear with anxiety and apprehension. Below are tips to help parents support their kids in managing their stress and worries related to school so that they can start the year off on the right foot!

  1. Communication is key. Many kids struggle to put their fears into words, or they may not be aware that they are experiencing school-related anxiety. It’s important to create a space for kids to feel comfortable voicing their concerns and to process and explore the anxiety they’re experiencing. Let them know that it’s ok to worry, and that you are there to support them whenever they need it.
  2. Coping skills can reduce stress. Coping skills are strategies that we use to help lower our stress levels. Things like deep breathing, talking to family and friends, or reading a book can all help kids learn to regulate their emotions in times of distress. It may also be helpful for parents to discuss their own experiences with stress and use of coping skills with kids, to model helpful behavior and teach kids that it’s ok to take a step back and breathe when feeling stressed or anxious.
  3. Work within your circle of control. Too often we attempt to exert control over situations we can’t influence, and when we inevitably fail, we experience frustration, sadness, and shame. Help promote self-efficacy by encouraging children to recognize when a problem may be outside of their control, such as issues with school assignments or peer behaviors. By encouraging children to develop the skills needed to cope with (instead of eliminating) distress, parents can increase children’s confidence in their abilities and promote a sense of mastery and independence.
  4. Promote self-compassion. Unrealistic expectations and negative thinking are hallmarks of stress and anxiety. Many children have a tendency to strive for perfection in school-related activities, such as academics, extracurricular activities, and social interactions. Help children realize when the standards they have set for themselves are unhelpful and unrealistic, and encourage them to develop goals that promote grace and consideration toward themselves.
  5. Physical health is important, too. Our minds and bodies are inextricably connected, and when our bodies don’t feel well our minds can struggle, too. Help kids take care of their bodies by encouraging a balanced diet, a structured sleep routine, and lots of physical activity.

Written by Courtney Sanders, M.S. (Ph.D. Practicum Student)

Parent Self-Care 101: Trust me, your kids will thank you

Written by: Kate Hill

Parenting isn’t for the faint of heart: it requires a high demand on time, energy, and attention in caring for the kids and the family. Unfortunately, this usually means that parents’ own needs will take a backseat and are quite often neglected. When parents stop caring for themselves, stress can cause disastrous consequences on their health and can eventually affect relationships with their children and partners.

Beating stress and caring for yourself might simply feel just like another thing to cross off an endless “to-do” list as a parent, but the important thing to remember is that self-care doesn’t require a big-time commitment. Start by adding 5 minutes of self-care to your day, wherever it fits best in your schedule.

The best parenting advice is to take care of yourself—self-care ensures that we can conquer all the challenges of parenting wholeheartedly, and in the process model the importance of caring for ourselves to our children.

Here are 30 ideas of how you can incorporate self-care into your life as a busy parent:

  1. Spend 5 minutes stretching after you wake up.
  2. Enjoy a special treat, such as a fancy coffee, tea, or dessert.
  3. Exercise!
  4. Take a long shower or soak in a bubble bath.
  5. Get a manicure or pedicure.
  6. Buy yourself flowers that make you happy.
  7. Spend time outdoors (hiking, biking, walking, etc.).
  8. Watch a movie or show.
  9. Buy a new book and spend 10-15 minutes reading daily.
  10. Laugh! Find things that make you laugh (funny videos, blog, stories, etc.).
  11. Take a 5-minute walk in the sunshine.
  12. Allow yourself to cry.
  13. Play a game alone or with friends.
  14. Have a pillow fight with your partner or kids!
  15. Keep a journal.
  16. Garden.
  17. Take a get-away trip with your partner (without your kids).
  18. Listen to an audiobook or podcast while driving.
  19. Try to disconnect from work when not at work.
  20. Ask for help (let your kids and partner make dinner, do the dishes, etc.).
  21. Participate in a group activity you enjoy.
  22. Set aside romantic time with your partner
  23. Take a dance class
  24. Buy a candle that you like and burn it throughout the house.
  25. Order pizza or Door Dash dinner one night.
  26. Spend 5 minutes meditating at any point in your day.
  27. Sleep. Try to get a solid 7-8 hours a night.
  28. Skip the chores for one day!
  29. Buy yourself a new outfit or pair of shoes.
  30. Paint a craft (sew, knit, make jewelry, etc.).

Practicing self-care, especially as a parent takes intentionality and support. Leave yourself sticky notes throughout the house as a gentle reminder to give yourself permission to take a break. No single self-care idea will eliminate all your parenting stress, but combining several practices, even if it’s only 5 minutes at a time will improve your mood, improve your parenting, and make your daily life more satisfying.

Disclaimer: This site does not provide medical or legal advice. This site is for information purposes only. Viewing this site, receipt of information contained on this site, or the transmission of information from or to this site does not constitute a clinician-client relationship. The information on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read on this site.

Summer is Here: Let’s Get Rid of Screen Time

Written by: Carol Vieth (Master Level Practicum Student)

If you are a parent, you probably heard from your child’s pediatrician early on, to limit your child’s screen time.  This was a recommendation because of the negative effects that can occur from too much time in front of the screen.  There is an abundance of research that can be found that demonstrates how too much screen time can contribute to emotional, social, academic, and mental health problems. 

In today’s world, limiting screen time can be a difficult task for parents.  Parents are putting smartphones in the hands of their children as young as age 8, making it easier for kids to access social media sites and other online activities.  Many school districts have gone to a 1 to 1 device policy on their campuses.  In many schools, Kindergarten through third grade students are issued iPads, fourth through eighth graders are issued Chrome books and high schooler students are issued laptops. 

When COVID forced schools to go to a virtual platform, students and parents did not have a choice on how they would receive their education.  When schools did open back up, many districts gave parents the option for their children to attend classes in person or virtually.  Many classrooms became blended classrooms, where students who were in person were able to collaborate with their virtual classmates.  Even though their parents chose in person learning, screen time became the norm in the classroom because of the blended learning situation. 

There has been a tremendous amount of benefits to computers in the classroom and virtual learning; however, with benefits also come detriments.  As an elementary classroom teacher I have seen first hand the negative effects on many students that one can read about in the research about emotional, social, academic and mental health problems that can arise as a result of too much screen / device time. I have seen students’ attention span decrease. I have seen students have a difficult time communicating in person with fellow classmates and teachers.  I have seen a decrease in the ability of students to verbally express and regulate their emotions.  This is just to name a few.  

Now that summer is here there are many activities that parents can involve or encourage their children to participate in that do not involve screens.  Last month’s blog,  https://ntxcounseling.com/2021/05/13/14-summer-activities-to-strengthen-family-relationships/ written by Kaitlin Cross, M.S., LPC, has many great ideas and suggestions. Additionally, many of the area libraries have summer programs for children and teens. Many include story time as well as puppet shows, magicians, visits from live animals and craft times to name a few.  Check out your local library for program dates and times. 

Another idea for fun, physical entertainment are the indoor adventure parks that provide indoor ziplines, rock climbing, obstacle courses and rope climbing.  There are many around the DFW area.  This area is also rich in various museums, zoos, botanical gardens and theatres.  These are great to visit as a family, but many of them also provide summer day camps to further enrich a child’s knowledge and experience.  Local school districts, as well as churches, provide many fun hands-on camps that can also be educational.  Many district high schools also have sports camps for baseball, football, basketball, volleyball, soccer, and other sports your child may be interested in.  These camps are usually for students in grades Kindergarten through eighth grade.  The high school student athletes assist the coaches in exchange for service hours that they are collecting for National Honor Society or other high school programs that require service hours to maintain memberships. 

There are so many activities available to help parents keep their children physically, socially, and emotionally active in the summer months and plenty of options to help parents reduce their children’s screen time.  Sometimes, as parents, we just need a little reminder of where to look for ideas to give our children wonderful experiences that do not involve screens.