We are nearly one-year into a global pandemic, therefore I’d say we are far overdue in talking about therapy. Therapy: Who needs it? How do you get started? Maybe you are interested in exploring therapy but you have decision fatigue—there are far too many options and you don’t even know where to begin. Today I’m going to try to simplify some of that for you. 

We are nearly one year into a global pandemic. Therefore I would say we're probably far overdue in talking about therapy who needs it. Why does it feel so scary? How do you get started? What can you expect? Maybe you're interested in exploring therapy, but you have decision fatigue because there are far too many options and you don't even know where to begin. So today I'm going to try to simplify some of that for you.

All right, let's talk about therapy. This is not by any means going to be an exhaustive resource on therapy. Instead it's meant to be a simplified one because I know this is a topic that many people are curious about, but it can feel very overwhelming. It can feel hard to know where to get started. So when I talk about therapy, generally, I'm speaking about mental health therapy, and we know that there are many stigmas around seeking support for mental health.

Personally, I feel like those who seek out therapy and mental health support are often the ones who are the most intentional and the most self-aware and the most likely to make progress because they see that they need a helping hand and they're open to reaching out and getting that helping hand. I worked as a child and family therapist for several years before going back to do my PhD. My master's degree is a clinical degree, which means it qualifies me to do therapy. And my PhD, is a research degree. Research degree does not qualify you to do therapy. Even if that research degree is in psychology, which that alone can be very confusing. And I'm going to break down for you a little bit about the different types of professionals that actually conduct therapy. I'm not currently working as a therapist myself, nor have I been for the past several years, but I am going to try to give you a broad overview, a simplified overview of the different modalities, the different professionals, and how to get started over the course of the past year.

We have experienced many internal and external stressors that have impacted our mental health and wellbeing. It's very likely that you have felt more anxious than usual over the past year or more depressed than usual over the past year. Now, sometimes when we think about mental health, we think it's all about our thoughts and feelings, but the truth is a lot of our moods and behaviors are profoundly impacted by the chemicals in our brain. There is very much inorganic piece to mental health. Mental health is more than just our thoughts. It's more than just our circumstances. Our minds and bodies are deeply intertwined. And because of this, we can see improvements in our mental health with things like physical exercise changes in diet medications. So therapy is one tool to support mental health, but there are many tools that we need to open our minds to.

And most often it's the combination of these tools that can be incredible powerful, maybe for you. It's exercise and therapy, maybe it's therapy and medication, but more than likely you'll benefit from more than one resource reaching out for a helping hand and support to improve your wellbeing does not make you weak. It makes you smarter part when you do so. You're working, not only to improve your own mental health, but also the health and wellbeing of your whole family. So as a professional, I am equally in support of changes in diet changes in exercise therapy, medications, all of these things can be really wonderful. But for the purposes of this episode, we're just going to talk about therapy. So let's talk about different types of professionals that help support mental health. First of all, let's talk about psychologists and psychiatrists. These two words are often mixed up. So a psychiatrist is an MD, a medical doctor, a psychiatrist give prescriptions. They can give you medication. Sometimes psychiatrists do therapy, but often they focus on medication management. Many people who see a psychiatrist will also simultaneously see another type of mental health therapist, which may be a psychologist. I remember psychiatrists are medical doctors who can prescribe medications. Psychologists cannot prescribe medications, but they can do therapy. Not all psychologists do therapy. Some psychologists do testing. They do IQ testing. They do educational testing and some people with advanced degrees in psychology.

Do you research? Now when you're looking for a therapist, you'll generally be looking for a psychologist that does therapy, not one that does testing or research, depending on where you are in the world. There are lots of other professionals who also do therapy. I can really only speak to the professionals in the U S but here we have licensed counselors, clinical, social workers, licensed marriage and family therapists. We have mental health nurse practitioners, psychologists, and I'm sure there are probably a few others I'm leaving out and to make it even a little more confusing here in the U S those a different professionals often have different letters after their names based on what state they're in. So at one state, a clinical social worker, which is what I am, might be an LCSW in another state. It might be an LSW or an LISW generally speaking, as long as you're getting a licensed mental health professional, try not to get too caught up in the letters after their name and what specific type of professional they are.

So rather than doing a search for a specific type of professional, I would encourage you to look for a professional that specializes in the area that you're looking for support in. So instead of saying, Oh, yes, I absolutely need a licensed professional counselor. Figure out what sort of challenge you're looking to address. Maybe it's I need someone that has special training and experience counseling. Same-sex couples. If that's the area where you're looking for support, you could go to a variety of different professionals. You go to a licensed counselor, you could go to a psychologist, you could go to a clinical social worker. That part is less important. As long as you have a licensed professional, it's more important to get a professional that has experience with the area that you're looking to address. Now, there are lots and lots of therapists who are generalists. They serve all different kinds of people with all different kinds of challenges.

And that can be fine, too. You might find a generalist that you really identify and connect with. Every individual's experience with therapy is different. One of the main reasons is that there are lots of different types of therapy and the type of therapy that you're going to get may vary by professional. And it may vary by what your needs are. If you're experiencing depression and you locate a therapist that specializes in a psychodynamic approach to therapy, you're going to spend more time reflecting back into your early experiences into your childhood, into past traumas. Psychodynamic therapy looks to really get at the root and the foundation of your mental health challenges to reduce those symptoms and to start improving your life. Now, if you're experiencing depression and you go to a therapist who practices cognitive behavioral therapy, you're going to spend a lot more time in the present talking about your current beliefs and thoughts and feelings and how those impact your behavior and your relationships.

There are lots and lots of other types of therapy, but psychodynamic and cognitive behavioral are two big umbrellas. There are other umbrellas, but I would say these are probably two of the biggest umbrellas under these umbrellas. There's lots of other types of therapy, too, but if we're looking to simplify, let's think about these two main umbrellas psychodynamic, which tends to be longer term and focuses on looking at the past and understanding how we got to where we are today and resolving some of those foundational challenges and cognitive behavioral, which tends to be focused on shorter term and looks at the thoughts and behaviors we're experiencing right now. So when you're looking for a professional, if you find someone, you have a recommendation for a therapist, just that treats depression, you might ask, do you tend towards more of a psychodynamic approach or a more cognitive behavioral approach, or just tell me a little bit more about the theories that you use in layman's terms, a true professional who really understands their philosophy to a core, should be able to simplify it and explain it in a way that you understand.

If they're talking above you and using a bunch of jargon, and you find yourself just nodding and smiling, keep asking questions, don't fall into the nod and smile trap. You don't have to fully understand everything about therapy, but as an informed consumer, it's a good idea to ask questions. So are you looking for a longer-term experience that reflects back on your childhood past traumas and really gets to the foundation, the underlying areas of challenges, or are you looking for something more short term to remedy the ways that you're feeling right now? Again, there are many, many other types of therapy as well. I'm trying to keep it really simple for you today, but these are some things to think about as you're choosing a therapist, as you're starting to move forward, there's a chance that if you've done therapy in the past and you feel like it didn't really work for you, or you didn't like it, it doesn't mean that therapy isn't right for you.

It just means that maybe it wasn't a right fit with the type of therapist, maybe their personality or the type of therapy that they were practicing. So don't give up, if you have one bad experience or even two bad experiences, maybe you just haven't found the right fit. Now I know that many of us can fear getting diagnosed with something. And if we go to therapy, we're afraid that it might make it official, that we officially suffer from an anxiety disorder or a depressive disorder or another type of mental health challenge. And that stigma can be scary, but I don't think that we should fear diagnosis, diagnosis exists so that we can help to clarify the challenges that you're having and find the right type of treatment you would want to be diagnosed before you were treated. I would want to know I have diabetes before my doctor starts giving me insulin.

So diagnoses exist to help identify treatments, effective treatments. And they also exist for insurance purposes. If you're using your medical insurance to pay for therapy, many types of medical insurances require that a therapist gives you a diagnosis in order to pay for services. So don't let the fear over getting a diagnosis, prevent you from seeking out the help that you need. In fact, sometimes a diagnosis can help you to get the support that you need. So I encourage you. If you're looking for extra support, if you're looking for a helping hand, you're on the right track, you're making an amazing decision, not only for you, but for your whole family, try not to get caught up in what type of professional that you're looking for. As long as you have a licensed mental health professional of some sort, you're off to a good start.

If you do have a particular challenge or struggle, it can be helpful to look for a professional that has experience in your particular area. But when you find some people that you would like to talk to, don't be afraid to reach out and have a quick call to see if you feel a connection to see if it's someone you could talk to. And if it's not that's okay, move on. There are lots and lots of options out there. Virtual therapy teletherapy can be really incredibly helpful. So even if you can't go into an office right now, I think you'll be amazed at how impactful virtual therapy can be. Thanks for tuning in. I hope that you found this episode helpful when you have a minute, leave a rating or review on iTunes that helps the show to reach more people, have a good one. I'll chat with you next week.

Denaye Barahona

Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She's a therapist for moms, an author, and the host of the top-ranked Simple Families Podcast. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, Netflix, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, Forbes, and numerous other media outlets.