2020 has been a tough year for everyone and has been particularly difficult on our mental health. People globally were encouraged to maintain positive mental health through a variety of resources, especially therapy. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma surrounding therapy with a strong belief that therapy is only for people who are suffering through a major crisis. But the reality is that therapy can benefit everyone!
The American Psychological Association reports that more than 59 million Americans seek care from a mental health professional each year, and about 75% of those who pursue therapy show a benefit. While therapy is definitely prescribed for people who have faced a crisis or trauma, it’s also perfectly fine to see a therapy for mental health maintenance.
“Crisis situations are typically scenarios where emotional distress is so severe that a person is no longer able to function or cope without immediate intervention. But even for those people who are only exhibiting mild emotional symptoms, therapy can be an effective tool to increase well-being and develop appropriate coping strategies,” said Lauren Vazquez Soberon, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist with a private practice located in Haile Village. “Additionally, a person not in crisis has more of their psychological capacity available for focusing on their mental health goals so they are actually excellent candidates for therapy at that time.”
According to Psychology Today, the mental therapy model has two probable goals: treating illness or promoting wellness. When we practice the latter, we are not only making a good choice for the current state of mental health but also practicing preventive mental health for the future.
There are many types of therapy as well. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy aimed at trying to recognize and change behaviors that may be affecting us poorly and discovering alternate ways of thinking and feeling. Therapists often work with their patients to assess how to deal with real life situations that may be affecting their mental health.
“Psychotherapy is first line treatment for many of those diagnosed with different mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety, but it is also useful for those coping with acute emotional concerns such as relationship issues, grief, illness or life changes. If you have specific concerns or goals that relate to your thoughts, feelings or behaviors, working with a mental health professional can help alleviate distress, enhance quality of life and work successfully towards your psychological goals,” Soberon said.
Another type of therapy is animal-assisted therapy where patients may work with animals like dogs or horses to help cope with difficult situations and promote positive well-being. In fact, the University of Florida typically brings puppies to the Reitz Union during finals week to help students who may be suffering from end-of-semester anxiety.
Art therapy involves the use of creative forms of art like painting, drawing, coloring, sculpting or even performance arts to help “people express themselves artistically and examine the psychological and emotional undertones in their art,” according to Psychology Today. Working with a credentialed art therapist, art therapy “can help people explore their emotions, improve self-esteem, manage addictions, relieve stress, improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, and cope with a physical illness or disability.”
Locally, UF Health Shands Arts in Medicine program is one of the largest comprehensive arts in health care program in the country. They work with patients and their families as well as hospital faculty and staff. Their programs extend out of the hospital into the community and involves integrative therapy as well as visual, literary and performance art, which includes music and dance.
Another growing type of therapy is called psychological coaching. Not required to be administered by a licensed professional, coaching focuses more on the present and future. Similar to sports coaches, psychological coaching focuses on the individual and their strengths to help deal with challenges and meet goals.
“Because therapy involves talking through issues, the process of intentionally exploring our concerns give us an opportunity to assess our thoughts, beliefs and attitudes about life. For many of us, our default ways of thinking in the midst of stress are mostly negative. We are creatures of habit who do not typically enjoy discomfort,” Soberon said. “So, when the discomfort of stressful situations hit, many of us automatically and unconsciously begin utilizing negative patterns of thinking. Therapy is a process of evaluating those ways of thinking and coping, and gives us the opportunity to challenge and replace negative patterns and behaviors with more positive and proactive approaches to life and our health.”
Finding Help: But Can I Afford It?
While therapy is beneficial, it may not always be covered by insurance and may prove costly to some. The good news is that the Affordable Care Act did expand coverage for an estimated 62 million more Americans. In addition, there may be free or low-cost community support options. Churches often host support groups open to all. The local branch of the National Alliance of Mental Health (NAMI) lists resources on their website that may be helpful. Visit the NAMIGAINESVILLE.ORG for more information.