Hello, friends! I hope you’re well and having a good week. I’m struggling with what seems to be a never-ending winter here in Michigan and quite a bit of “spring fever”. We’ll get through it, I just keep hoping every day we hit a temperature under 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it’ll be the last time we do for a long while. While we wait for a thaw, I thought I’d address some common questions about therapy so here we go. As always, if you have questions, feel free to ask them on the Facebook page or in a private message and I’ll do my best to get you an answer.

Q: What exactly are you typing/writing while we’re talking?

A: Insurance companies require that we document services provided to prove that we’re a) providing a service, b) provide a service that is medically necessary, and c) we’re using treatment methods that have been supported by research as being effective for the illness. Most of my notes talk about a few different things: a) how my client (you) present (that means that I make some observations about how you’re looking and behaving on that day as that can be an indicator of an illness getting more severe or getting better.

I might take notes on how someone is dressed, how they’re talking [fast, slow, coherent or not] and the like but I promise there is zero judgment in it. I’m only looking for symptoms.), b) what we discussed in general terms (i.e.: Client reports an increase in depressive symptoms as evidenced by a decrease in sleep quality [waking up 3-4x per night] and decreased appetite. Client and therapist discussed possible triggers and coping skills/self-care strategies employed…), and c) any interventions I am using (the type of therapy, any skills we talked about, etc.).

Q: Why don’t therapists give advice?

A: It is so tempting to ask “what do I do?!” in really hard situations but the truth is, one of the things many of us need to build during therapy is self-esteem and/or confidence in our own decisions. Asking for advice is like going to a personal trainer and having them bench the barbell- you’re not building your muscles. Yes, it’s really uncomfortable to trust yourself or to live in the uncertainty of not knowing the answer but muscles only grow when they’re worked. You will value your own decisions much more than ours.

Q: How do you cope with hearing people’s problems all day?

A: First and foremost, it is infinitely more difficult to live with struggles and tragedy and trauma and mental illness than it is to hear about it. Yes, secondary trauma exists but that’s something that we talk about all the time. There are very few conversations between mental health professionals where the topic of self-care doesn’t come up. It’s part of our job to take good care of ourselves because we cannot be effective if we don’t. So we take the time to talk it out, to think about it, and to hang it all on a hook and go have fun. And fairly often we seek therapy, too.

Q: What should I do if I don’t like my therapist or if I don’t feel like it’s helping?

A: Please tell us! We’re pretty cool but we can’t read minds. Your job is to be a partner in your healthcare, not to make us like you or be “easy to deal with”. Chances are we’ll have some ideas about how to get out of a rut and we won’t take it personally. Honestly, these conversations have sometimes been really helpful in moving forward.

Q: How can I tell my parents that I want to see a therapist?

A: This can be a tough conversation, for sure. Being vulnerable enough to ask for help takes a lot of courage and can feel so overwhelming. First of all, I’d think of taking stock of how your parents feel about mental health. If they’re pro-mental health and maybe have sought therapy themselves, it can still be scary to ask for help because anxiety makes us feel it’s likely we’ll be shamed for it. But a simple conversation that mentions your symptoms and what you’d like help with can be enough.

Something like “Mom/Dad, I’m really having a hard time with depression and I think I need help. I’m having a hard time getting out of the bed in the morning and can’t think of anything to look forward to. I think I need to see a therapist.” can be perfect. Be prepared to either answer questions or tell them that you love them but don’t want to talk with them, you want a neutral party. Parents may ask a lot of questions. They may blame themselves (this is stigma coming out). I hope that this is enough and they’ll make the call. If they’re more stigmatized about mental health, you can bring in a teacher or school professional to help. Try having a conversation with someone safe first.

Q: What kinds of things can therapy help with?

A: Lots of things! Stress, sleep issues, weight issues, self-esteem issues, issues making/keeping friends, difficulty with relationships, career stress, depression (ongoing sadness), loss of direction in life, grief, familial stress, divorce, substance abuse, difficulty with compulsive behavior (gambling, hair pulling, lying, etc.), healing past trauma, eating disorders, and so many more issues. Most things that are disrupting your life can be addressed through therapy.

Connect with Perspectives Therapy Services to find the right therapist for you.

Kayla Valley is a Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW) who works at the Highland location of Perspectives Therapy Services. She became a therapist to help people struggle with the depression and anxiety that she understands intimately. She loves being a Michigander and is an avid sewist who loves spending time with her cats and sugar gliders.

Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland, Fenton and New Hudson, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.