Online Therapy

Psychotherapy is a great tool in mental health and is often used to combat the symptoms of depression, anxiety, panic disorder, schizophrenia, and many other mental health issues. However, for some people accessing a therapist just isn’t feasible, whether due to transportation issues, disability, or physical limitations, meaning that traditional therapy likely isn’t an option. Fortunately, there are new ways to access the same care received with talk therapy without even needing to leave your home through online therapy.

A major benefit the American Psychological Association (APA) has seen with online therapy is the comfortability level of being online rather than face to face. Patients, especially young adults, find that sharing their personal thoughts and concerns with a stranger is less intimidating via email, text, and even video calls.

There is still much to be pioneered in the future of online therapy. One of the most recent developments has been the tool named the  Mind Elevator. “A client enters a thought or feeling, hits submit and the tool evaluates that thought or feeling on a colorful scale that is like a big rainbow with sad and happy faces. The tool then provides a sentence of feedback and encourage the person to modify that thought or feeling to make it more positive, less self-critical or less negative or pessimistic. It also keeps track of several successive entries, so it responds to a whole chain of thoughts and feelings, not just the one that was most recently submitted,” as described by Dr. Sherry Benton in her article titled Reducing mental health disparities through online therapy. Artificial intelligence tools such as this can help aid those who are in need when a friend or a therapist isn’t available. They are specifically beneficial to patients with low-intensity needs and high motivation for engagement.

There are a few factors to be cognizant of when beginning your online therapy. In the United States especially, laws regarding psychiatry, psychology, therapy, and counseling differ from state to state. It is important to check the licensing of any “professional” you seek out as it is easy for someone to imitate these types of professionals online. Because of this, many insurance companies do not support this type of mental health care, therefore will not cover the cost. Just like starting at any other doctor’s office, make sure you do the proper research because the benefits you reap from online therapy can be extremely rewarding.

Mental Illness in America

We’ve come a long way as far as cultural perception and stigma surrounding mental illness are concerned. As far back as ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, mental illness was viewed as divine punishment or unholy possession, and this perception continued on through the Middle Ages. In America, by the time the 18th century rolled around the perceptions had changed but the stigma had not. Although supernatural factors were no longer believed to be the common cause of mental illnesses, the lack of understanding and preconceived ideas about mental illnesses perpetuated the desire for the confinement of these individuals.

The first major move in the treatment of mental illness in America came from Dorothea Dix, an American teacher and author turned activist who sought to expose and change the horrific conditions of the mental institutions that existed throughout the nation. In the 1800s, the stipulations for institutionalization were vast and arbitrary. On top of the horrific terms on which people could be committed, the conditions in these places were shockingly terrible. One example of this occurred at Auburn Prison in 1821where the majority of 80 male patients in solitary confinement either broke down mentally or committed suicide. Dorothea saw the injustices these people faced — in her words, being kept “in cages, closets, cellars, stalls, pens! Chained, naked, beaten with rods, and lashed into obedience!” —and pledged to help them the best she could.

Over a 40-year period, Dorothea was directly responsible for the United States government’s funding of 32 state psychiatric hospitals across the country. While her work did wonders for the advancement of people who are mentally ill, it also lead to mass institutionalization where any people seen as public nuisances or were viewed as dangerous were committed to these institutions.

The early 1900s offered some strides as well as some fallbacks. The use of electroshock therapy became widespread in the treatment of mental illness, often without the use of anesthesia. Patients were also subjected to frontal lobotomies and hydrotherapy where patients were submerged in or blasted with water as means of treatment. However, in the 1950s, new medications that could help stabilize unstable patients mixed with funding cuts to large, scandal-ridden state hospitals lead to deinstitutionalization which dramatically reduced the number of patients being held at these centers.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in the series of Mental Illness in America.

How Common are Mental Health Problems?

Mental health problems in the U.S. are more common than you realize; every year over 42 million people in the U.S. suffer from some kind of mental illness such as bipolar disorder, depression or schizophrenia. Other types of mental illness are anxiety disorders, mood disorders, psychotic disorders, eating disorders and personality disorders.

Additional mental health problems include stress response syndromes. Stress response syndromes happen when a person develops emotional or behavioral symptoms when faced with a stressful event or situation. Stress events that cause stress responses are a major illness, a natural disaster like a tornado, death of a loved one, divorce or marriage, or a major move overseas. Those who suffer from these dissociative disorders suffer with severe disturbances or changes in memory or identity.

Keep in mind; there are many things which can cause mental illness such as inherited traits. It probably is no surprise that mental illness is more common in those who have blood relatives who have a mental illness, and genes linking certain conditions are being described frequently. Another factor is exposure to environmental stressors before birth such as alcohol or drugs.  In utero exposure or circumstances can bring about epigenetic changes which will shape one’s life for better or for worse.  Imbalances in neurochemistry or brain chemistry are often biochemical reason or a cause of mental illness.

It’s no surprise, I’m sure especially to the younger generation which carries much school debt that stressful life situations include financial problems and can be an additive factor to one suffering from mental illness.  A childhood with abuse or neglect, and a limited social network can set the stage for mental illness.

There are several effective strategies that can be taken that reduce and in some cases reverse mental illness.  One of these pillars is psychotherapy.  Psychotherapy is when mental illness is treated by a trained mental health professional through counseling discussions. Psychotherapy delves into a person’s feelings, thoughts and behaviors to begin heal or improve a person’s well-being. Medication is also prescribed for some mental illness conditions. Case management is another way to treat mental illness and coordinates services for a person with the help of a case manager which can be likened to a “project manager”.  Hospitalization may be necessary for certain patients given circumstances.  Group therapy through support groups, or peer support also may be beneficial in numerous cases.

Other treatments that you can do for yourself, include treating yourself with respect and kindness, not being overly critical of yourself, making time for hobbies or other relaxation strategies.  Even small things like finding time to read a book or do a crossword puzzle. It can not be emphasized enough how important it is to eat nutritious food, exercise, get enough sleep, and to be surrounded by positive or nurturing people; those who are family-oriented and those who support you with your way of life.  Giving back by volunteering to help others, being mindful and learning how to deal with stress through journal writing or simply looking for the humor in life. Taking a moment to be grateful or just going outside for awhile and appreciating what you see; all are activities that can help treat and prevent certain mental health problems.

To conclude, mental health problems in the U.S. are more common than you realize; however, there are many effective treatment strategies which can mitigate mental illness or ideally prevent.

Factors That Matter for Behavioral Addictions

Behavioral addiction is categorized by an individual engaging in a non-drug related behavior repeatedly.  Common behavioral addictions include gambling and shopping addiction, hoarding and impulsive stealing.  Such addictions can damage an individuals employment, personal relationships and mental health issues.  Although not all behavioral addictions are in conjunction with a mental health issue, many individuals do suffer from a mental disorder that can lead to a behavior addiction.  When an person needs to be treated for a psychological disorder and an addiction it is known as a dual diagnosis.  Common psychological disorders that “co-occur” with a behavioral addiction can include impulse control problems, anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder and personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder.

Dual Diagnosis

While mental disorders can contribute to behavioral addictions, individuals with certain personality traits have been found to exhibit behavioral addictions.  Studies have shown that individuals who score high on impulsivity and risk seeking behaviors on personality assessments are more likely to have a behavioral addiction.  On a behavioral assessment, people who scored low on harm-avoidance are also more likely to exhibit a behavioral addiction.  Such studies have shown as well that people with specific sets of personality traits are likely to have a behavioral addiction.  Personality traits of high harm-avoidance, personal conflict, psychoticism, and lack of self-direction showed to be correlated within individuals who suffer from an internet addiction.  Individuals who scored high on impulsivity were more likely to have trichotillomania, an addiction of skin-picking or hair-pulling.

Substance Abuse

When an individual has a behavioral addiction he or she is addicted not to a substance but is addicted to the feeling he or she gets from the behavior.  For instance, someone who has a behavioral addiction to gambling has the reward feeling of excitement from winning.  That excitement generated by the behavioral action of gambling seeks the same thrill of winning over and over which eventually leads to an impulsivity to gamble to the point that it can have a negative impact on his or her daily life.  Although many behavioral addictions are not influenced by drug abuse, studies have found that such factors as drug and alcohol abuse have a significant impact on the behavioral addiction.  Studies found that individuals who were addicted to gambling were about 3.8 times more likely to display alcohol abuse.  While substance abuse has not been found to influence a behavioral addiction like gambling, hoarding, or trichotillomania, it does increase the risk of developing a behavioral addiction.

Genetics

Genetics can be a factor that matters to mental health patients as well.  Some individuals can be predisposed to a behavioral addiction by having a relative such as a parent or sibling that has a behavioral addiction.  Studies have shown that those that have a relative with a behavioral addiction and/or substance addiction are more at risk for developing a behavioral addiction.  Genetics has been shown to be responsible for an individual developing a behavioral addiction by up to 20%.  Similar research studies about addictions have found that genetics can put a person at risk of developing a behavioral addiction by 64%.

Sources
Projectknow. “Behavioral Addictions.”  Projectknow.

Recovery. “Choosing a Top Inpatient Behavioral Disorder Recovery Center.”

Alavi, Seyyed S., Ferdosi, Masound, and Setare, Mehrdad.  “Behavioral Addiction versus Substance Addiction: Correspondence of Psychiatric and Psychological Views.” International Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Creative Treatments for Anxiety Patients

To be clear, every now and then everyone experiences anxiety and stress; that is normal. Examples of anxiety are worries or fears we have about facing an examination or an interview with a potential employer. These emotions are normal; however, when anxiety interferes with your sleep or work, then it becomes a problem. To state anxiety more clearly, anxiety happens when a reaction of ours is out of proportion with what might be normally expected in a situation.

Besides accepted and well-used ways to treat anxiety, there are other more creative ways that can help such as with Yoga or acupuncture. Yoga works for some because it combines breathing techniques, meditation and stretching; all of which can help you relax and lessen your feelings of anxiety. Acupuncture has long been used to help with depression and other health concerns. Acupuncture also treats anxiety. Many think that acupuncture works by stimulating natural painkilling chemicals in the brain. In addition, it is also helpful in reducing or eliminating anxiety.

There are also nutritional supplements that lessen anxiety such as B-12, Chamomile in tea and the Passionflower supplement. Most importantly, creative arts therapies are an effective way to treat anxiety. Creative arts therapies can be given individually or in a group therapy setting. For example, music therapy for children lets children use musical play to express and regulate emotions, listen to relaxation music to lessen their stress and allow them to communicate their feelings to others.

Another creative way to treat anxiety is with dance/movement therapy. With dance/movement therapy, those suffering from anxiety can develop a deeper awareness of themselves, their emotions and how to manage their body and mind responses to situations that are anxiety provoking. For example, a dance movement therapy session will sometimes bring in role-play often throughout the activities.

Then, there is art therapy. Art therapy works for some because it provides opportunities in self-expression, improved self-regulation and development of coping strategies. Most importantly, art therapy enhances deeper communication into anxiety producing situations by encouraging creativity and then verbally describing how it feels to the therapist.

Other ways to lower anxiety are to exercise, avoid smoking and alcohol, eat a balanced diet, drink more water, get plenty of sleep and massage your muscles.

To conclude, everyone experiences anxiety now and then; however, when it becomes chronic, seek out ways to calm the anxiety, such as those listed above and find relief from anxiety!

References: https://www.cnnh.org/addressing-anxiety-in-creative-arts-therapies/