The reality that everything might not be okay can be scary to think about.
For any number of reasons, you may find yourself in the position where you need to seek professional help outside of yourself, your peer group, and your loved ones.
This straightforward guide will take you through the few first steps you should take on your journey to seeking professional help from a qualified mental health professional.
Figure out what issues you are actually having, and if these issues are severe enough to warrant seeking external assistance. We all experience varying levels of distress at some point or another. This could be for any number of reasons. Distress is a term used to describe negative feelings and experiences, which could possibly take the form of the following (not an exhaustive list):
For most individuals, distress is a short-lived response to a particularly negative or stressful event. In this case, although the distress experienced is unpleasant, it does not usually lead to more serious issues in the long run.
In other cases, when the distress experienced is occurring frequently and is intense in severity, this may be an indication to seek professional help from a trained and qualified mental health professional.
To accompany the first point, determine the severity of the issues you are experiencing.
While there is no quick or easy answer to what level of severity warrants seeking professional help, it is typically recommended to audit whether your experience has the potential to significantly impact your functioning on a daily basis.
As distress may present itself in any number of ways for different people, here are a couple of questions that may help you to determine how severe your experience is:
Have my negative feelings or experiences lasted for a long time (weeks, months, years)?
Do I find that my distress appears larger than the actual problems I may be facing?
Do I find that I am frequently distressed, yet not sure why?
Has my distress interfered negatively with my ability to live my life in the way that I want to live it?
Have I been turning to the use of substances (alcohol, drugs, etc.) to make me “feel better”?
Do I continue to feel distressed even when good things seem to happen in my life?
If you have answered Yes to any of the above questions, it is highly likely that you are dealing with something that requires the need for professional assistance.
Now that we have determined that your distress has reached severe proportions, it would be a good time to check how this distress is impacting your functionality and relationships with others.
When the same problems persist, causing negative problems in particular areas of your life that are important to you, it is time to take your experience even more seriously.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Is my increased intake of alcohol (for example) making others dislike being around me lately?
Am I finding it difficult to carry out or complete my usual activities and commitments?
Am I having a hard time interacting with family, friends, or other acquaintances?
Have I been deliberately avoiding certain people and/or situations because of constant feelings of anxiety?
Have I been exhibiting new behaviors that have threatened or damaged the relationship I have with friends or family members?
A Yes response to any of the above questions indicates that the issue is no longer just of feeling distress, but it is also significantly impacting the way that you navigate the world around you.
If your academic, professional, or relational pursuits are being hindered by your experience, then you should seriously consider remaining on this path to seeking the professional help that you need.
Now that you have audited your experience of distress and acknowledge how severely it is affecting you, your life, and the people around you, you may be more convinced that seeking help from a professional may be the next best move for your life to retain functionality going forward.
But what is the next best step right now?
This is where it would be recommended that you figure out the options that are available to you.
For instance, your insurance may be able to cover the cost of professional mental health services, as well as may have a directory of approved providers available to their clients.
Your General Practitioner or Family Doctor may be one of the best first points of contact. They may be able to provide you with a referral to a qualified professional within your medical/insurance network, as well as may be able to conduct any first screening tests that you may need for a diagnosis going forward.
There are a number of resources available online and offline, and while these may differ by country and region, it is important that you do some checks to see what options are open to you.
7Cups.com, for instance, provides a directory of trained Listeners that could be your first point of contact when you may not know where to start, are often able to point you in the right direction. There are also programs available to speak with a qualified therapist for a low cost.
Check with your local Department of Health and canvas the mental health services that they may have widely available on a free or low-cost basis. Your community health center may be a great first place to check out to figure out what services may be available and the sliding scale that they employ.
Now that you’ve taken the first steps to figure out the ‘Where’ of the resources that are available to you, the next important step is to figure out the ‘Who’ may be the best to help you.
There is a number of different kinds of professionals that are qualified and capable of providing mental health services. The thing is to make a decision on which kind would be the best to help you.
Here are a few of the most common types of mental health professionals that you may encounter:
Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC): an individual that has obtained a Masters-level degree in psychology, whether in counseling or a closely related field and is trained to diagnose and provide counseling to an individual or group.
Mental Health Counselor: an individual that has obtained a Masters-level degree and several years of supervised clinical experience, and is trained to provide counseling to an individual or a group.
Certified Drug & Alcohol Abuse Counselor: a counselor that has obtained specific training in alcohol and drug abuse, and is qualified to diagnose and provide therapy for an individual or a group.
Psychologist: an individual with a doctoral degree in psychology, who has obtained at least two years of supervised professional experience, which includes a year-long internship with an approved internship site. They are trained to diagnose, as well as provide therapy for an individual or a group.
Psychiatrist: a medical doctor that has been specially trained to diagnose and treat mental and emotional illnesses. Like other medical doctors, they are qualified to prescribe medication, and this is often a hallmark of their treatment.
While this list is in no way exhaustive, and hopefully not overwhelming, it does serve as a good starting point for the kind of treatment that you believe would be the best fit for you.
Not only are there a number of different qualified professionals that provide services for mental health, there are also a number of different kinds of therapy that any of these professionals may have a specialty or expertise in.
Some examples are:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Again, the above is not an exhaustive list by any means but should give you a good idea of the options that are available to you.
The good thing about this whole process is, you are not stuck with one decision. If you try out one therapist/kind of therapy for a while and find that it does not mesh well with you, you have the option to seek help in another niche.
So, you’ve decided what kind of therapist and the kind of therapy that you would like to pursue, well, now it is time to seek out reviews and recommendations from people who have been where you have been, and have gone on to see a therapist.
It is a quite vulnerable and sensitive experience to begin therapy and open up about every corner of your past and present, so finding a therapist that you believe that you can trust with this vulnerability is key to a sustainable professional relationship. This is your health at stake, and as much as you can avoid it being jeopardized in any way, the better.
There are a number of websites that exist to provide a platform for consumers, clients, and patients to share their feedback on their experience with a particular professional.
Healthgrades.com and Vitals.com are two of the most popular platforms for healthcare consumers to offer their reviews and feedback for the healthcare providers that they have worked with.
Keep an eye out on your trusty Yelp app as well, as many professionals and practices are reviewed on that platform. It’s not just for finding your next expensive gastronomical experience after all.
Google reviews are also a great place to check. After all, if your potential provider has an almost non-existent online presence, it might be cause for concern (depending on what you find important).
Even with all of these options to find reviews, also remain open to finding word-of-mouth recommendations from your school community, neighborhood, or even just your friendship circle.
Okay *whew* You’ve made it! For the most part at least.
Not only have you been able to dig deeper into what you are experiencing, taking conscious note of how it is affecting your daily life, as well as make the decision to seek professional help, you were able to shift through the slew of options available to you to find the best professional for you!
Now, at this point, it is time for you to take your mental health consistently seriously. What this means is:
Attend your sessions regularly, and on time.
Participate in said sessions, and actually engage with your mental health professional.
Give yourself the opportunity to dig into any revelations or past traumas that may be unearthed.
Self-reflection is always a good practice to have in your daily life, and a simple tool like consistent journaling can help you to bolster all the things you learn about yourself and the world around you as you go to therapy.
Your mental health matters and therapy can be an essential aspect in ensuring that your overall health remains in tip-top shape.
We are all likely to pay attention to the status of our physical health and will tend to have an almost expert-level response to handling it.
Let’s employ a similar attitude for our mental and emotional health. It deserves attention, focus, and dedication too.
Originally published at medium.com