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Pushing in the Other Direction

Michelle Paul, director of The PRACTICE, offers tips on when to seek mental health support and why it matters, especially during Mental Health Awareness Month.

People  |  May 25, 2018  |  By Karyn S. Hollingsworth
hallway sign for counseling

Michelle Paul says two myths persist about psychotherapy – that therapists are going to do something scary like analyze or “head shrink” a client; and that there’s something inherently wrong with people who seek help. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so it’s the optimal time to, well, talk about it.

As a practicing psychologist in Las Vegas since 1999, Paul has worked to dispel these myths. She joined UNLV’s psychology faculty in 2004 as associate director of clinical training for the Ph.D. program. Since 2012 she’s trained future clinical psychologists as director of The Partnership for Research, Assessment, Counseling, Therapy, and Innovative Clinical Education (PRACTICE), a community mental health training clinic at UNLV.

The need for mental health support is widespread but at critical mass in Nevada. According to the 2017 State of Mental Health in America report, the state ranks 51st in the nation in high need for and low access to qualified mental health professionals – a need exacerbated by the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas. In response, The PRACTICE offered crisis counseling, served as an information hub for the campus and surrounding community, and continues to provide support services to survivors.  

A woman smiling Paul offers the following tips on finding the right emotional support whether you’re recovering from a tragedy, diagnosed with mental illness, or navigating life’s everyday ups and downs:

Mental health matters

Sigmund Freud and psychologists have boiled the core of human existence down to work, love, and play. We’re able to engage in those activities in a more fulfilled way when our mental health is better attended to. Mental health affects physical health too. The two are not distinct and separate; they are closely interrelated. Even if you have a physical condition, the way you think and feel about that condition can be the difference between an improved or deteriorating outcome. Mental Health Awareness Month reminds us to check our biases against mental health and mental struggles at the door.

Seek a safe space

One of the most powerful things you can do for your mental health is seek out a safe space. Some people find that in their church groups, with their friends, or in their golf buddy groups. We often encourage our clients to tap into those natural networks of support, but not everyone has those. If people don’t have a safe space to share their shame, their weaknesses, or their vulnerabilities, that’s a clue to access mental health services.

Watch for signs

Common signals of depression or anxiety are:

  • Struggling on a day-to-day basis with your emotions;
  • Being easily triggered into anger;
  • Feeling tearful, and you can’t seem to stop the feeling;
  • Feeling sad and lonely;
  • Not participating in activities;
  • Feeling like you’re trudging through life;
  • Feeling like you don’t want to be here anymore.

If it’s been a couple of weeks or months, and you’ve tried other things — maybe you’ve gone to a primary care provider, been prescribed an antidepressant, read a self-help book, or tried talking to friends but it’s not helping — then it’s probably time to ask for help.

Mind your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors

If any of those – your thoughts, feelings, or behaviors — is interfering with your life significantly in your work, your play, your relationships, or your physical health, then it’s time to seek out a professional.

Look for major life changes

Marriage, divorce, a new baby, a new job, moving, or a loss can trigger stressful emotions. Any amount of change at some level activates that because we like to know what to expect and to feel that we’re in control. Psychotherapy can help you make sense of your response to changes and help you find healing in those areas of emotional need.

Find a good match

Don’t be afraid to say “this isn’t working for me.” Good therapists will be responsive to that. Master therapists are excellent at forging relationships, and they bring their clients’ voices and preferences into the room. Good therapists are really attentive to the individual and cultural differences that their clients bring to the space. After six meetings or so, if you’re not feeling appreciably different, then it’s time to have a conversation with your provider about the direction your therapy is going.

Participate and ask questions

Bring yourself to the process and make a commitment to work. It’s not a passive process. Go in and ask questions. A good thing to ask is “How will this treatment help me reach my goals?” They should be able to explain to you what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it. When people engage in that collaborative process, change can happen. In therapy, people do tend to walk away feeling lighter, less burdened, less ashamed, more secure in who they are, and how they’re going to tackle their lives from day to day. You might be in a downward spiral; therapy will help you to stand and begin to push in the other direction.

For more information, visit The PRACTICE or call (702) 895-1532.