Published in the Bay Area Health & Wellness Magazine, Houston. Visit us at txhwmagazines.com
New starts in life often happen when people decide to engage therapy. Whenever I meet new clients as individuals, couples, or even families, I ask them what their goals are in therapy. For some, they have not been asked about what they need, want, or even prefer in their lives for a long time. For others, it often feels that they have never been heard at all, let alone asked. What happens when you go to therapy? What type of model and style of therapy will the person you see provide? What is their level of formal training, how well attuned are they to meet your needs and do they rely on any other resources other than their self-perceived competency? Understanding how much someone knows about your particular issue(s) is a critical step in selecting the type of therapist and style of therapy you will engage.
For example, as I write this article I am thinking of the many different styles of therapy available. I can immediately think of 11 different styles: structural family therapy, strategic therapy, the Milan systemic approach, the Mental Research Institute (MRI) approach, Satir’s communication approach, symbolic-experiential family therapy, intergenerational family therapy, collaborative therapy, narrative therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and solution-focused therapy. That’s a lot of different styles of therapy, all with empirical research associated with their model and experts in each field.
Added to this list of styles of therapy are the therapists themselves. Who are you going to see and what you are likely to experience is largely dependent on the type of education they have and the experience they have with others. There is a vast difference in the education requirements to become a life coach, mental health counselor or a marriage and family therapist (MFT). There are differences in approaches and emphasis, even within the same style/model of therapy. You and the particular issues you bring to therapy may be weighing on you. The therapist fortunate enough to have you as a client should work as hard on your issues as you do.
There are resources such as books, workbooks, films, music and other sources that might resonate with you that are not particularly useful or preferred by others. You have decided to make a new start and that new start needs the support of the developing relationship of trust you are building with your therapist of choice. That relationship is essential for discussing what you want to achieve and the ways you plan to address the changes or goals you want for yourself and your relationships. Your new journey starts with a decision about what you want to experience in the future. Often this gets accomplished by a review of the past and current life experiences you have survived or thrived from. The therapist caring deeply about your experiences and your strengths will celebrate what you have achieved and where you are going. Aspects that you bring to the therapy effort are elements of the way you might describe yourself—the many facets of who you are. When people describe their experiences in therapy, I hope they include feeling heard, challenged, respected, validated, encouraged and celebrated. Their experience should feel welcomed like a friend, with a serious focus in a nurturing manner. Sometimes people cry, reflect and reconsider critical directions or attitudes they have adopted. Sometimes they laugh and release tension in a light-hearted way. New beginnings are often encouraged by a therapist going the extra mile along side of you, so you can keep going more miles, confidently forward. Welcome to your new start.
About the Author:
David Nutter is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist at the St. George Center For Couples & Families. His career experience includes military service, management and executive positions and international business consulting. He received his undergraduate degree from BYU and his Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from Northcentral University, a COAMFTE approved program. David was inducted into two honor societies for academic and clinical excellence and is enrolled in NCU’s PhD/ MFT program. During his Master’s program he was mentored by Steve Allred, with a broad range of client ages and issues. He served as the SGPD Chaplain (board certified) to reduce the impact to personnel and citizens from significant trauma experiences. He is adjunct faculty at DSU. He has lived in every U.S. time zone and abroad, and appreciates diversity. David is married to his “girlfriend” Diane. Together, they call their 7 children, their spouses/partners and 5 grandchildren their immediate family.
Over the past several decades, we have experienced increasing awareness of health concerns and how they impact our lives. We are frequently inundated with information from empirical studies, reality TV, and our own lived experiences; all exposing us to the dangers and benefits of taking care of ourselves. It can be overwhelming to sift through all the things you should and should not be doing to achieve your optimal well-being. Fortunately, research is increasingly identifying areas of our lives that have the biggest impact on overall mental health. And just like your Primary Care Provider is able to conduct a regular physical exam focused on key indicators of health, this article will allow you to check in with yourself using key areas of mental health. We will focus on your relationships, stress, and mindset.
It is now well established that social relationships have an important impact on our mental health. In fact, our relationships are the single biggest predictor of our happiness. Recent research has shown that both relationship quantity and quality affect our mental health in positive and negative ways. When considering your own mental health, you may want to ask yourself how much time you are spending with those people who are important to you (quantity) and what that time looks like (quality). Are you being selective in your obligations, prioritizing time with family and friends? When you are with your loved ones, do you make intentional effort to connect through conversation or activities? If you find yourself lacking in this area, find ways to respectfully say no to those things that take you away from relationships and make the effort to connect when you are with those people you care about.
Research has shown that stress itself is not the culprit of mental health problems; rather, it is the reactions we have to daily stressors that contribute to problems like depression and anxiety. How do you handle these daily stressors? Do you find yourself becoming emotionally or mentally flooded when confronted with seemingly small challenges? You may need to step back and take a look at how you are handling stress. The list of ways to better handle stress is too lengthy for this article, but it includes several things you might expect (e.g., exercise, deep breathing, meditation, etc.). Something else you might try is laughing. Laughter has been shown to have multiple health benefits, including boosting immune system functioning, physiological relaxation, and reduction of pain and stress. Find time to exercise your sense of humor!
Perhaps due to our social nature, we often compare ourselves to those around us. While there may be some benefits to this behavior (e.g., making positive changes to emulate those we admire), we need to guard against the tendency to focus on how we fall short when compared to others. Focusing on what we are lacking often leads to self-interested behaviors aimed at keeping up with the Jones’ in an attempt to measure up. The problem is that this does not lead to our intended outcome and has been shown to negatively impact mental health. Conversely, focusing on giving of ourselves has the opposite effect. For example, several studies have shown that when it comes to money, we report more satisfaction spending it on others rather than ourselves. We also find deep meaning and purpose when we are engaged in meeting the needs of others. Similarly, and ever-growing body of research has shown that focusing on what we do have and expressing gratitude is linked to positive mental health. When was the last time you gave of yourself to better someone else’s life? How often do you take time to reflect on those things for which you are grateful? If your answers reflect a need to rededicate yourself, you might start by developing a regular time to reflect, write, or talk about what you are grateful for. Opportunities to serve others are everywhere, and we often find the hardest part is not having enough time. You may start small by finding ways to serve those closest to you in small but meaningful ways.
Hopefully, you have had some time to reflect on areas where you are doing well and some areas where your efforts could lead to increased well-being. As with any positive change we make, something is always better than nothing. No matter how small your change efforts, you are moving in the right direction. Motivation increases as we act and you can create positive feedback loops that lead to improved mental health.
About the Author: Dr. Matt Brown is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He holds a doctorate degree from Texas Tech University and a master’s degree from Brigham Young University. He is currently Assistant Professor and Program Director in the Marriage and Family Therapy program at the University of Houston-Clear Lake and a therapist at the South Shore Center for Couples and Families.
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