As a follow-up to a previous blog post I wrote about what we never talk about, here’s another thing we never talk about…when we need a therapist.
Mental and emotional well-being
I believe we all need a therapist for our mental and emotional health at some point in our lives. It might be a psychotherapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Or maybe a counsellor or social worker, or even a life coach.
Life is messy. There are marriages and divorces, births and deaths, illnesses and tragedies, career changes and job losses, relocations and retirements. And that’s just to name a few off the top of my head. No one escapes the ups and downs, twists and turns of a life well-lived.
I would even argue that seeing a therapist throughout our adult life would be the best thing for our emotional well-being. Unfortunately, I don’t think many of us do. It’s not even something we openly talk about.
Although mental health awareness has gotten a bit better over the years, it still has a long way to go. Maybe it’s discussed within the family but not out in public. There’s still a lot of shame. Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, fears, etc. are not a sign of weakness, or instability, or something we should necessarily be able to deal with on our own.
Over the last 4 years, I’ve been doing a deep dive into myself and how I connect with the world. I would like to live a more joyful and meaningful life. I read a lot of books, meditate, listen to podcasts, and have used the services of life coaches. I’ve gotten at least a nugget of wisdom from each and every one of these.
But this past year, I felt I needed extra help. I needed to talk with a trained professional. Someone who is objective and doesn’t know me. Someone with no preconceived notions of who I am as a person.
First challenge: Where to find someone? Where do you even start to look? Ask your family doctor if you have one although I know that’s not the reality for many people. You can ask friends and family if you feel safe doing so. And you can do online research. If you’re a student, you can utilize the resources at your school, and if you’re employed, you can go through your extended health care program or HR department.
And then there’s the process of determining if the professional is a good fit. Therapists are human beings too who come with their own biases, experiences, personalities, etc. Like anything else, you need to feel comfortable with that person. And above all, you need to trust that person if you’re going to open up and get any real benefit. Credible therapists will usually offer a free consultation. Even then, it’s hard to know if the relationship is going to work out until you’ve experienced a few therapy sessions. I would say go with your gut instinct and move on if it doesn’t feel right.
Second challenge: Cost. Even if you have extended health care benefits with your employer, it typically only covers a set amount per year. Often that can be eaten up in a couple of sessions. Ideally for me, I wanted to seek out a service or program covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP). I didn’t think there was anything available but a friend encouraged me to at least ask my doctor. The last time I inquired, there was nothing. But this time, I was surprised that a new program was in place. I filled out an assessment form and waited. It took about 6 months to hear back.
At first I went through a triage process with an intake person. After passing the first step, I then spoke with a student therapist and completed a couple of questionnaires to determine if I was a good fit for the program. Of course, being a woman who can sometimes think I’m not worthy (even for a mental health program) and doesn’t want to take a spot away from someone else more in need, I answered everything with qualifications. “I’m not suicidal or anything like that” and “I’m functioning okay day-to-day”. I was assured that if someone presented with suicidal thoughts or other dire symptoms, they would be immediately referred to other resources. I was not taking away a spot.
The next step, I was connected with a psychotherapist. There were more detailed assessments to complete to determine if I was suffering from depression or anxiety. Both can go hand-in-hand but typically one is more predominant and can affect the other.
After signing consent forms, walking through the plan for my therapy, and purchasing a workbook to use as a tool, we got started. The program runs for a maximum of 12 sessions and you and your psychotherapist determine the initial length and revisit as you go along.
Of course, you’re not going to solve everything in 12 sessions. However, it’s designed to give you some tools that you can continue to use on your own. Hence, the workbook.
Also, the online assessments had to be filled out before every session as a means of measuring my progress. Oh and btw, the sessions were all online. I believe, if you require it, you can meet with a therapist in-person.
All in all, I found the program worthwhile. Working through some of the worksheets in the book with my therapist helped me see how a situation can trigger an automatic hot thought and result in emotions and activities that don’t serve me. It taught me to pause and look for actual evidence that supports or dispels my hot thought.
It was a pain in the @ss documenting all of this, but it forced me to see and recognize patterns. After awhile, you start to recognize the unhealthy patterns without having to write them down. And the goal is to have this happen in shorter and shorter lengths of time so eventually it becomes automatic.
The program helped me to recognize the triggers or situations where I might be starting to go into a depressed state. And the steps or actions I can take (even if I don’t want to) to curb or lessen the depression.
Mental health resources
This program is called the Ontario Structured Psychotherapy (OSP) Program. You do need to be referred by a physician, but it is covered by OHIP. It uses cognitive behavourial therapy (CBT). The caveat is you can only go through this program once in your lifetime for depression, and one time for anxiety. My problem was depression so I can go back if anxiety becomes an issue. Another thing to mention is you don’t get to choose your therapist. One is assigned to you.
At the end of the sessions, my therapist told me about another mental health resource online where you can self-refer. No need for a doctor’s referral. Here’s the website: AccessMHA.ca
I don’t think many people know about the fully covered OSP program or the self-referral AccessMHA site. I certainly didn’t. It’s another thing we don’t talk about. So that’s why I’m writing about it. We should be aware of the limited mental health resources available to us and use them when we need them, even if we think we might not be worthy.
Until next time,
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i love your honesty and refreshing observations and tips. More people should feel comfortable talking about such an important subject Good for you Colleen.
Thanks, Nancy! I wish our mental and emotional health and asking for help was not such an uncomfortable, even taboo, topic of conversation.