Thursday
Sep202012

Top 5 Things to Check Before Entering Therapy (and you will save money too!)

As a psychologist, I see families and teens in various situations.  They often approach therapy while in different crises, facing a variety of stressors.  The type of stressor and the crisis are individual to that family and each family is different.  However, over the years I have realized that there are several aspects of life that should be evaluated before entering therapy.  Often, people enter therapy without addressing these areas of life.  I’ve found that if families can address these areas prior to seeking treatment, they can short circuit some problems that might arise.  Additionally, if these areas are addressed before entering treatment, the treatment can work quickly and more efficiently.

Keep in mind, many people might enter therapy because they are having a problem in one of these areas.  That too is important to know because the treatment can be focused on that area and the specific problems they are facing.

1.   Diet

Eating well with an eye toward proper nutrition is an area of life that causes many problems for many people.  In fact, I would suspect that all of us have difficulty in this area to some degree.  We feel like we are not eating a balanced diet or what we should at any given moment.  However, sometimes the diet problems are deeper than that.  Here are some simple questions to ask yourself before entering treatment about diet, or the diet of your family members:

  • Am I (or my child) eating enough?
  • Am I (or my child) choosing healthy and nutritious food?  Without healthy food, our brains do not work well and that is very simply, the bottom line.  You must eat well to be well physically and psychologically.  You must eat balanced meals, enough calories and healthy ingredients.  Many people begin to show the symptoms of anxiety or depression simply because they are not getting the nutrients their bodies and brains need..  They skip meals, forget to eat or simply not make high, nutrient food a priority.

2. Sleep

Sleep problems are rampant in our culture.  The speed of life we live and the number of activities we put into our schedule make sleeping a low priority sometimes.  We have all heard the quote "I'll sleep when I'm dead."  Well, if you don't sleep, you might be.  Sleep problems have been linked to diabetes, heart disease and many mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, OCD and other disorders.  Bottom line, sleep is critical for your mental health and is a restorative process for your brain.  Here are several areas of sleep to assess and consider addressing before entering therapy:

  •   Do I wake up tired?  Waking up unrested is a symptom of sleep problems.  One often overlooked disorder is sleep apnea or hypopnea but there are many others.  Both of these disorders occur as either snoring or lack of deep breathing at night, due to nasal problems, weight, or just your throat physiology.  As a result, our brain stem arouses an alarm, wakes us slightly to shift positions (which we may not really remember) because we are not breathing adequately.  We then fall back asleep, but are not aware of being awakened. As a result, our sleep is not restorative.  These are very treatable disorders that can contribute to many long term difficulties including, diabetes, heart disease, sudden death and other problems.  It can truly be a significant health risk.  If you snore, you might have a sleep disorder.  This is critical to evaluate at a good sleep clinic.

  •   Am I giving myself (or my child) a chance for good sleep?  Sleep hygiene is critical for good sleep.  Turning off all electronics at least 30 minutes prior to sleep is important as is not eating or drinking stimulating food (chocolate, coffee, etc.) in the hours prior to sleep. In treatment, I typically spend considerable time reviewing sleep hygiene. Addressing these issues prior to our work together is really important and will save time and money.

3. Friends

A person's social circle has a significant impact on that person.  Research has found that teens who associate, for example, with other delinquent children (law breakers) are significantly more likely to break the law themselves.  Adults who associate with drug abusing individuals raise their likelihood of drug abuse to a significant degree.  Who we associate with can be very helpful and very harmful to our well-being.  Before coming into treatment, look at your social network and ask these questions:

  •   Am I (or is my child) happy with my social network?  Many times we are unhappy with this network and want to change it up a bit.  Do that.  If our friends are not making us happy, then something is wrong and the relationship is a poor fit. 

  •   Are my friends (or my child's friends) negatively influencing me?  The people we associate with have a significant impact on our behavior and how we see ourselves.  Their relationship can be very supportive and help us in immeasurable ways, or they can tear us down.  If you are not being helped by these relationships, evaluate them and see if changes might be necessary.

  •   Do I have as many friends as I want?  Sometimes we feel isolated, or our child feels isolated.  Look at this as important information.  If someone feels isolated, paying attention to their social network is important.  Perhaps their isolation is related to other problems or the isolation IS the problem.  That is important to understand.

4. Drugs and Alcohol

Everyone has the idea that a drug addict or alcoholic is a homeless person on the street.  This is wrong!  Every person I have ever met who was addicted to a controlled substance had a hard time realizing their addiction.  If they easily recognized it, they would have stopped a long time ago.  The symptoms of a drug or alcohol problem can be subtle.  Look at your use of drugs (marijuana, meth, prescription medication) and alcohol closely and ask yourself the following questions:

  •   Has my (or my child's) use of controlled substances caused problems in my (or my child's) life.  Sometimes we don't see the problem staring us in the face.  DUIs are a sign that something is wrong, for example.  If you have received one, consider that you might have an addiction.  If someone has lost a job, school grade or relationship due to drug or alcohol use, there might be a problem.  For teens, sexual behavior that is uncharacteristic of what they would do is an indicator of a problem.  Be brutally honest with yourself and consider asking your friends for their feedback.

  •   When was the last time I stopped and for how long:  Some alcoholics drink only once a year.  They get so drunk that they wreck their car and lose their job, but might only happen only once a year.  This is a problem.  If you want to see if you have a problem with a controlled substance, stop altogether for at least 2 weeks and see how it feels.  Most people who do not have a problem, will not care about doing this, those that do have a problem will be counting the days until the two weeks are done.

  •   Might there be another addiction I am facing?  People can be addicted to many things, food, love, sex, video games, online porn and even spending money.  An addiction occurs when our relationship with that thing becomes distorted and we "need" it to function.  It controls us rather than visa-versa.

5. Health

We all know that our minds and our bodies are closely connected.  When one works well, so does the other.  So, when we are going through an emotionally difficult time it is important to be sure that all is well with our body.  For this reason, it is important to ask yourself the following questions regarding your health to be sure that your health is working in your favor.

  •   Am I feeling well?  Many times emotional difficulties can lead to physical problems, but other times physical problems can lead to emotional symptoms.  For example, thyroid problems can lead to the symptoms of depression or hyperactivity.  Anxiety or depression can also be linked to food allergies.  So, checking in with how you feel physically is generally good.  I often refer new clients for a physical examination to be sure that physical problems are not contributing to their distress.

  •   Am I exercising regularly?  Lack of physical exercise can lead to depression and anxiety.  Therefore, increasing your exercise and exercising on a regular basis will have a positive effect on your mental health.  When we are not exercising, this is important information and a place that we can intervene in our own difficulties.

The above areas are meant to be areas of consideration before entering therapy.  By addressing these areas and asking yourself the questions listed above, you can get a head start on helping yourself feel better.  Also, knowing the answers to these questions will streamline early therapy together.  If you need help with these areas, then therapy may be needed in understanding your feelings behind the actions, and to find help in improving them.  When you address these areas and make the necessary adjustments, therapy goes smoother and, honestly, you will save a lot of money in therapy expenses.  You will have made the changes yourself, which is always the best way to do things. Many people need help to make these changes, and if that’s how it is for you, then I’m here to work with you or your family.

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