In the game of life, no one plays alone.
We lean on family and friends, teachers and colleagues, doctors and other professionals to guide us through various challenges. Yet, when it comes to mental health many people are hesitant to reach out for help.
Seeing a psychologist for one-on-one therapy has proven benefits, but the fear of judgment is one of the most common reasons that people avoid seeking therapy for themselves or their children.
“People are afraid that they’re going to be labeled or perceived as bad parents,” says Dr. Ellen Fedon-Keyt, a licensed clinical psychologist who works in private practice in Dearborn.
Truths about therapy
But such fears couldn’t be further from the truth. Therapy is a judgment-free zone where adults and children gain greater self-awareness, work through difficult situations and learn strategies to deal with short- or long-term issues.
Therapists help patients identify social supports and effective coping methods – or “tools in a toolbox,” as they’re often called – to utilize when needed, Fedon-Keyt says.
“When someone works with a therapist they learn to recognize their own internal processes,” she says. “People who go through therapy are more adept at knowing their toolbox and being able to access that early on in their process.”
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach and a wide range of therapies are available. Play therapy is popular for young children, cognitive behavioral therapy is often used for kids with behavioral challenges and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is frequently used to treat trauma. The bottom line: Therapists are more than a person who is paid to listen to your troubles, they have different types of therapies and techniques to help patients be their best selves.
Experiential therapy, which addresses areas of concern using activities like roleplaying, was especially powerful for a mother and teenage daughter seen by Fedon-Keyt. The two had an extremely strained relationship but experienced a breakthrough in therapy through an activity aimed at better communication.
“It really was a turning point for them,” she says.
Another memorable moment for Fedon-Keyt was working with a boy who was just starting college who had received early and consistent treatment for his ADHD.
“This person had gotten services really early on and despite the very clear ADHD symptoms, they really had some great coping strategies and they were very proactive,” she says. “He was so empowered by this and doing so well. It was really great to see.”
Identifying a “good fit” therapist and the right form of treatment are important considerations.
“Finding the mode of therapy that works is important,” Fedon-Keyt says. “I think a good therapist is usually pretty astute in picking up when something isn’t working and shifting into a different mode of treatment.”
While some psychologists specialize in certain types of therapy, all are trained to tailor their approach to the individual’s needs.
“You want to make sure that you’re working with someone that you feel comfortable with and whose style matches what you need,” she says.
A family approach
Therapy can be useful for anyone, whether it’s for help with a temporary stressful problem or a long-term struggle with a diagnosis like depression. For parents seeking help for a child, the benefits of therapy are often two-fold as the therapist establishes a partnership with the family, Fedon-Keyt says.
“It’s very beneficial because I think it provides a way for understanding what’s going on with the child,” she says. “It makes it workable and understandable and treatable. It’s really a holistic kind of way with working with the family.”
Stopping the stigma
While therapy has become more accepted and commonly-discussed over the years, a harmful stigma still surrounds it.
“I like that more people are talking about their experiences and there seems to be less stigma, but there’s more work to be done,” Fedon-Keyt says. “I think that the old myth about somehow if you just work hard enough or try harder or just be stronger that you can get over something – I think that myth is really persistent.”
Parents can work to normalize therapy by talking positively about the experience and explaining it for what it is – a chance to get a little extra help.
“Younger children, especially, cue off of how comfortable their parents are,” she says. “What’s most important is that the child understands that this is an effort to be helpful – not to label or judge but to enrich the person’s life and help them through a difficult experience that they’re having.”
Seeking out help for yourself or your child is also an opportunity to model what it looks like to prioritize mental health – an important skill to pass on.
“In the broadest perspective, no one gets through life independently on their own,” she says. “Being able to ask for help or support is a really important resiliency skill for anybody and this is just a different way of doing that.”
For help locating a therapist, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website at samhsa.gov.