Observations by a Mental Health Professional in the Community

So much of the life coach and psychotherapist experience is about confidentiality and what we observe gets held in our hearts and kept there for safety. But some experiences I'm sure you have all had. It's just that some of us (who have dedicated our lives to the human condition) see and hear things on an additional level and get impacted in sometimes unusual ways. You can probably relate!

In this month's saga of "Being a mental health professional out in the community"....

I've experienced two moments to share. One at the hair salon and one at the doctor's office. Simple every day moments. Places most of us experience.

To the hair dresser and her client near me who was getting her hair cut...

I could hug you both! The client - who appeared to be in her early 20's - shared a brave moment expressing anxiety that limits her ability to enjoy life and make certain decisions. Even decisions like getting her hair cut.

The hair dresser - who appeared in her late 20's - responded with, "Well sure. I know how that goes."

And they proceeded to share conversation about anxiety, mental health, self care, life choices and every day moments.

So here I am...holding back all the emotions of pride that I feel for two young women I know nothing about.

Many of us in the field dedicate our life to normalizing the human condition and finding ways to develop community for everyone...with a simple vision to make topics ok to discuss and share and learn from. So here today, I witnessed it roll off their tongues no different than if they were talking about any topic.

To those of you that do it every day, this moment is "no big deal". To those of us that know that (depending on when you were born or where you were born or other factors) those conversations would have never taken place and surely not in public and surely not without heavy weight.

There was no weight. There was just conversation between two self aware people who could hold space for many different realities and perspectives.

Those simple moments of witnessing mental health - that I know from my work not to take for granted - are gold.

Second scene:

On another note, I experienced a conversation with a medical professional who was conducting a routine medical intake before my physical exam (yes clinicians...walk the walk of self care).

She did her job by asking the questions the computer told her to ask but a great moment was missed. One of those questions was "I'm sorry I have to ask. I have to ask everyone. Do you have depression." 

That was the only mental health question or symptom question on the subject asked by the form on the computer.

Here's my issue with this and the information I shared:

While I greatly appreciate that routine medical procedures are now a place to address certain whole-person well-being issues, this was not the way to go about doing it in my opinion. 

First of all, there should be more training provided to normalize all mental health questions. There is no shame in asking these questions unless you feel the shame when you ask it. If you are comfortable asking about bowel movements then, as part of routine health, you can ask...

1. Are you eating more or less than usual?

2. Are you sleeping more or less than usual?

3. Do you find yourself crying more or being more irritable than usual?

Etc, etc.

Most of us don't know what depression or any mental health disorder is...much less what symptoms to look out for. Ask about the symptoms in lay person/regular person/non-professional terms that we can all answer. And while you're at it, check for other safety issues like domestic violence. Hand out resources to read on our own time even if we are not comfortable discussing with you right then and there.

The more aware we become of the golden opportunities, the more we can grab them and make the most of them for everyone's sake.

Humans are complex. And most of us try really hard every day. I walk through life observing and learning. And adjusting my practice to realities of real life interactions like these.

Gratitude to everyone that tries.

Rebuilding the Relationship with Yourself

Clients come to see me for many reasons but more often than not it boils down to the damage they have done to their most important relationship. That relationship is the one with themselves.

I don't say that to them until a few sessions have passed and I have enough evidence to show that the relationship is damaged. It's a little abstract and silly to some and so it's not one of my first questions but it will come. 

"How is your relationship with you?"

In my current practice, I work with adults only. At this stage in life, they have developed a part of them that parents (guides, protects, motivates and reprimands their inner child).

If you've rolled your eyes at the words "inner child" then you can call it by a different name such as "ego, mind, soul, spirit, subconscious, character, individuality, self, spirituality, essential nature, inner self, true being."

Often they see that inner child as the problem. The part of them that is out of control and needs to be suppressed. In fact it often has. And it often got a lot of negative consequences for being so true and free. Living a life where the inner child or the protective parent run the entire show can lead to a lack of well being. As in anything I promote, balance is the name of the game. 

If you just do what you feel or if you never do what you feel; If you speak your truth without thought to future implications or if you hold back your truth completely in hopes to avoid pain; If you are all about yourself or you are all about others. You see where I am going....neither extreme seems to be healthy for adults, couples, families, or communities. 

Honoring the different parts of us as EQUALLY important - as equally relevant, as equally CRUCIAL - can be the first step to cherry picking the best qualities of our "inner child" and the best qualities of our "inner protector" and having them work together, compliment each other's strengths and weaknesses, and make you the best you possible.

Exercise: take a moment, take a deeeeeep breath, close your eyes, take another deep breath. Ask, "what do you need?". Be silent. Observe the first answer that floated to the surface effortlessly. 

By giving that "truth" space - honoring it instead of dismissing it or minimizing it - you take a step toward that balance. If you have ignored or bullied your inner child for years, it's learned to hide. But it's still there. Show it by actions - not words - that you value it, that you will listen to it and that at the end of the day you will make the healthiest life moves for it even if it feels like it has to hear a "no" right now for bigger gains later. Slowly, that "inner spirit" will get louder and more accurate again (as it was when you were a very young child and before life got to you).

Be brave and try.


It Might Be Time to Change Counselors

Many therapists and coaches will support you toward change. But not so much when it comes to moving on from them.

While some people benefit from a long term (sometime even decades long) professional relationship with their counselor, often the reasons for staying are not actually beneficial for you.


Here are some of the reasons people stay too long:

  1. Change is scary and overwhelming
  2. Therapeutic relationships tend to mimic corrective parental figures and separation induces anxiety
  3. We are afraid to hurt our counselor's feelings - appear ungrateful or even feel like we are abandoning them

Here are some reasons counselors don't encourage you to move on:

  1. They don't see/are not aware that it's time - that you are ready
  2. They do not have healthy boundaries/their own unresolved issues and will take it personally if you leave
  3. They don't want to give up the income

Here are some indicators that it's better for you to move on:

  1. The stated goals of treatment have been met
  2. Several weeks have passed with no sense of movement toward progress
  3. You have more to do but you feel that the counselor has taken you as far as they can with their skill set and understanding
  4. You started keeping things from your counselor because you don't trust how they will handle it, you don't feel safe to express without judgement, or you are trying to maintain the image you think the counselor has of you


Any good life coach or therapist measures part of the success of their practice by your ability to handle life without them. If you have increased self awareness, self regulation, coping skills, positive/realistic self talk, body/mind/soul balance, and a healthy support system....that is the gold!

We start with the ending in mind. Even in my initial phone consults where you and I decide if we should consider working together, I ask "What is your definition of success? What would make you feel that it was time to end our work together?"

The focus of any good clinician is to support you in flying high. Feeling safe enough in your own being to take the chances toward the dreams you have.

Tune into your own experience in sessions. See how you feel 3-4 sessions later and if the sense of "I'm ready for the next chapter" is still there, have that conversation with your counselor. If there is a clinical basis to continue working together then all theory goes out the window and you do what is best for you. You keep seeing that counselor if it helps. 

I'm inviting you to be brave enough to look at your experience and then brave enough to do something about it.  After all, isn't that why you came?

If your counselor appears hurt or completely dismisses your feelings about moving on then you are most likely with the wrong match anyway. It is your needs and only your needs that matter in the therapeutic relationship. If you are putting your counselor's needs before your own then that is a clinical issue in and of itself to address - with them or with the next counselor.

Getting another professional's outlook on your goals brings in new energy to you and the work itself. Anyone who has done sessions knows it's work if you are doing it right - because you are creating real change.

Has it been a year or 5 or 10 since you met with a different life coach or therapist? Check in with yourself. Discuss it with them. Be brave to take care of you - because ultimately that is one of the biggest reasons you connected to this professional in the first place.


Tell Us You Are In Therapy

One of the greatest, and simplest, acts you can do is telling others you are in therapy.

Whether it's to your life partner, a close friend, family member or your entire Facebook feed, you will not believe the impact.

That one move of Sharing, Normalizing, and Opening Doors has a ripple effect that you will never know about. So let me share with you. Because I am on the other end of that ripple. I am the one that gets the call from your person who finally found the courage to talk to someone because YOU made it ok.

Throughout my years in Social Work, Psychotherapy and Life Coaching, I have heard from clients every now and again that it was that one conversation with you that helped them reach out.

Now, you don't need to make a big production out of it. You don't need to share what you are in therapy for or how things are going. In fact, the more matter-of-fact it is, the better. You go to therapy. You go because you have hope. You go because you have curiosity about yourself and this world. You go because you are willing to put in the hard work to sort out the emotional barriers to reaching your dreams. You go because you won't settle and you're starting to realize that you're worth it.

By sharing, you normalize.

When a person we actually know and care for does something then it becomes "no big deal". Depending on our life experiences, we might be surprised or even shocked at first but then it becomes less scary. Only the unknown is scary. If someone we know is talking to a counselor or life coach then it shatters the horrible, inaccurate, and debilitating taboo that "only crazy people need therapy and I'm not crazy".

Strong people go to therapy. Brave people go to therapy. Hard working people go to therapy. Determined people go to therapy. People who improve, learn and grow go to therapy.

In the same way you would tell a friend, "I hired a personal trainer at the gym for a few sessions to take it up a notch." is the same way you would tell a friend, "I hired a counselor for a few sessions to take my life up a notch."

Your friend/family member/coworker may never tell you they called me. And they may never thank you for your courage. So I'm thanking you today.

Keep being authentic. Keep normalizing the fact that strong people don't avoid challenges; they work for change. Know your courage gives us courage.