mental health

Beginner’s guide to seeking therapy: What you should know

Zoe Andin

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Beginner’s guide to seeking therapy: What you should know
Need professional help but don't know where to start? Here is a quick guide to help you along your path to therapy.

No one can deny how difficult this year has been. Going about our lives during a pandemic has been a massive challenge for people, and even the systems and institutions around us.

The mental healthcare landscape in the Philippines has not been at its most optimum, even in pre-pandemic times. COVID-19 has aggravated this, with the National Center for Mental Health reporting almost 5,000 crisis hotline calls since March of 2020. Mental healthcare providers are also struggling with low salaries and a lack of government support.

This crisis adds another layer to an already-heavily stigmatized sector of health. So, what can those struggling with their mental health do?

Elephants in the room

Despite efforts to educate, many still believe that mental illness is merely mindset that one can “leave behind” or “move on” from. According to Dr. Anna Cruz, Diplomate of the Philippine Psychiatric Association and faculty at St. Luke’s Medical Center College of Medicine, some patients are also discriminated against in the workplace because of their mental health status. These misconceptions lead to shame and judgement, making people afraid and uncomfortable to speak up when they need help.

Mental healthcare is also quite inaccessible. National health insurance provider PhilHealth only covers up to P7,800 in hospitalization cost, not including consultations and medication. Despite provisions in the Mental Health Law that call for more accessible mental health resources, national mental healthcare centers are underfunded and meagerly supported; private clinics often charge more.

However, there have been several improvements along the way. Cruz sees the “pause” in daily life brought about by the lockdown has pushed people to becoming more attuned to their mental health and wellness, and become more open to conversations about mental well-being. It has also encouraged a better integration of technology.

“Mental health care providers were also forced to become innovative and creative in terms [of] providing their services, through Telemedicine,” said Cruz.

Signs to look out for

The United States National Institute of Mental Health lists several symptoms to look out for if you think you need consultation, therapy, and similar interventions. These include:

  • Changing sleeping habits like irregular sleep, insomnia, sleeping too much;
  • Difficulty focusing on work, or carrying out other everyday activities like chores;
  • Overeating or a loss of appetite; and
  • Irritability, fatigue, and restlessness

Take time to try to identify where your feelings of distress might be stemming from. It could be caused by grief and loss, the stress of working and studying primarily from home, or a lack of control or power in the current crisis. 

Cruz also emphasizes that it is normal to feel stress and anxiety, especially during a global crisis.

“But if you are noticing that these feelings are already getting in the way of how you live your life, affecting your work productivity, relationships, or even the way you view yourself, it might be good to consider seeking professional help,” she said.

Do your own research

There are different kinds of services available at various costs. Non-profit centers like the Ateneo Bulatao Center and the Philippine Mental Health Association offer assessment and evaluations, and counseling. The National Center for Mental Health provides psychological examination, crisis management hotlines, and drug rehabilitation. 

The Medical City’s Center for Behavioural Health also which several mental health care services (inpatient or outpatient), as well as wellness programs.

Cruz puts consulting a mental healthcare professional such as a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist as the first step.

You may also want to inform doctors whom you may be seeing for other health matters. This step is especially important in this current situation if you have pre-existing health conditions that may be affecting your mental health. Given COVID-19 social distancing measures, not all mental healthcare centers will be open for walk-in consultations so it is best to check and schedule appointments in advance.

You can also ask family and friends who have been seeing therapists for referrals. However, keep in mind that the help you will need may not be the same as what they have been receiving so getting your own assessment done is vital.

Remember: Progress is not linear

Addressing health concerns, especially mental health, means adjustment and changes. It is important to be open to these. There will be some days when therapy sessions feel like a breakthrough, but there will also be days where you don’t think you can handle it. Communicate this with your therapist and take your time.

Openness is key in seeking help. “Your first session with the therapist will be different from future visits,” said Cruz as the first session will be setting goals and getting to know each other.

“Future visits will be more therapeutic in nature. Each session will probably be a little different from each other, depending on the goals that you will set together.”

Cruz also shares that because of the virtual nature of consultations, having a clean space will be of help to minimize distractions for all parties. Privacy is also essential to encourage open conversation and confidentiality.

Change is natural

Seeking help for the first time may bring up unusual feelings, especially if you aren’t used to talking about your problems. “[After a session,] you will probably need to do something to help you unwind and rest,” said Cruz.

If after some time, you and your therapist feel that you have not made much headway and feel that it is time to consult another professional, do not worry. This is not a sign that something is irreparable. Ask your therapist to refer you to someone they trust so that the transition will be smoother.

In a time of great stress and anxiety, it is completely normal to need the guidance of someone else who is willing to help. Mental health and wellness is a constant work in progress and with time and help, we will get through this. –

Zoe Andin is a Rappler intern.

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