Therapy Takes Real Guts!
When I very first started doing therapy, I was seeing people at Fort Riley in Kansas. Working with the soldiers and their families really impacted me. I found a great reverence for their willingness to put their lives at risk and to go into the battle field with the hope of preserving the freedoms that we cherish. I also noticed that it takes an entirely different kind of courage and strength to recognize when they need to seek out help. This has given me a great respect for those who are willing to come in and face their demons. Now, I don’t think that everyone needs therapy, but the stigma that says, “therapy is for the weak,” is simply not true.
Another thing I learned is that mental illness is real. The emotional experience is not fake. Over time, I have treated several CEO’s and Commanding Officers. These individuals were anything but weak. They had the courage to say they needed help because what they were doing was not working. The final thing I learned is that mental illness is not a respecter of persons. It does not care if you are rich, poor, educated, uneducated, religious, or atheist. It does not care if you are social or shy, or if you’re a nerd or an athlete. It can happen to anybody.
After I left Kansas, I went to Wyoming. In a small town where the surrounding population was less than 5,000 people, we had 3 busy fulltime therapists. Where most people will only need treatment once or twice in their lifetime, it became apparent that it is more normal to have an issue at some point of your life than to never have an issue. I have seen that dealing with issues when they are small is easier than waiting until they are big. For example, did you know that the average couple waits seven years from the point that they realize that they have some relationship problems until they engage in couple’s therapy? It is more difficult to treat the issues at that point because of the accumulation of emotional pain experienced in those years can be immense. Now, if it was hopeless, Marriage and Family Therapists would not exist, so while it is not hopeless, it is much more difficult. Similarly, over the last few years a good portion of the clients I have seen have been children who have been recently discharged from hospitals because of acute mental illness. Interestingly, the majority of these kids were not receiving treatment prior to being hospitalized. Many of these kids were literally flirting with death before the urgency for treatment became known.
The message here is that sometimes real strength and courage is to “pull your boots straps up” and get some help rather than continue to endure. In no way does this imply that those who do not seek help lack courage as there are many reasons one may not engage in treatment, but rather, seeking help takes courage. I believe that any time someone purposefully acts to improve their life or the life of those they care about it is an honorable act whether it is going back to school, learning a new skill, or signing up for a marathon. My desire is to encourage those of you who have been considering treatment to reach out and take on the courage to receive the treatment that can improve your life. As a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I have had the gift of watching so many people improve their lives, and the lives of those around them. There is hope.
Starting School with Anxiety
Starting school can be an extremely stressful time for many kids. I still remember every year it was a little scary for me. I did not know my teachers, what they would expect, or if I would feel accepted by my peers. Even after 21 years of schooling, I still got nervous each time new classes started up. While these feeling are normal, and to be expected to some extent, some of our kids suffer great anxiety with the start of the school year. With anxiety, you are your worst enemy. Our brains are always learning, whether we want them to or not. What we learn is not always accurate. Our emotions and brains are tied together; they cannot be separated. Our brains think that the stronger an emotion is the more it must be true. Then, it attacks us back the other direction and our thoughts trigger stronger emotions. Boom! a terrible cycle is born. This is functional when we think about falling off a cliff, as it would prevent us from doing just that, but it is not so helpful when it is about school. School is not the same as falling off a cliff, it is an essential part of a child’s development and is necessary for a child’s future. Kids can face their start-of-school anxiety. Here are a few tips to face start-of-school anxiety:
1. The best thing to get rid of anxiety is to face it. When you run away, there is an immediate sense of relief, but this strengthens the
anxiety over time and it gets worse. Now, for those with severe anxiety, this statement is like saying, “If you cut of your arm off, over time you will be happy you did.” It sounds ridiculous. The problem is that the emotion is real, but the fear is not. The skills here is to do the opposite until the correct emotions catch up. If your child cannot handle big changes, start with predetermined small steps and gradually grow to bigger ones as your child gets comfortable with the changes. It is better to start small and not give up, than to start big and fail.
2. Relax. What feels good or is soothing to you? What one person likes, another one hates. For example, taking a hot bath…some think that is amazing, and some think it is medieval torture. Find what your child likes to do to relax.
3. Focus on the moment. Most of our emotional suffering come from thoughts about the past and/or the future. They are both not happening right now. Help your child to focus where they are at: notice the clouds, the scents around them, or their breath.
4. Remember even if the anxiety does not make sense, the feeling is still real. If you have tried to solve this on your own and have been unsuccessful, it may be time to consider seeing a mental health therapist. They can help your child work through the challenge. With good treatment, the research leans positively towards curing and/or lowering anxiety.