Category: Educational

Understanding LGBTQ

Regardless of your upbringing and personal beliefs, you can’t ignore that there’s a whole group of people that are still misunderstood at this day in age.

Once upon a time, being gay was considered a mental health disorder. It wasn’t until 1973 that “homosexuality” was removed from the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual (DSM)

All though we have grown and come a long way, there is still a lot of ignorance and judgements towards these individuals.

Here are some common questions I get from people who want to better understand LGBTQ individuals.

What is LGBTQ?

The letters stand for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning or Queer

Are Transgender people gay?

Being gay, lesbian and bisexual have to do with the sex someone is attracted to. Just like you have a preference of the people you find attractive; body build, height, color hair, etc., some people are attracted emotionally, romantically and/or sexually to men, women or both sexes.

Transgender has to do with the gender someone feels that they are. A male who feels trapped in a male’s body but feels like a female, is a transgender female. A woman who feels trapped inside a female body, but feels like a man, is a transgender male. Transgender individuals struggle with feeling comfortable in their own skin because psychologically they feel the opposite sex they were born as.

Someone may be transgender and still be attracted to the opposite or same sex. Gender is how the person feels, sexuality is who they are attracted to.

Is being LGBTQ a choice?

There are some people that  discovered that they were attracted to a person who happened to be the same sex or became clear with how uncomfortable they feel in their body, later in life. But for most people, from a young age, they already felt “different”.

Think about the ignorance and discrimination that LGBTQ individuals have to endure. Everything from workplace and housing discrimination, judgements from family and strangers, having to defend who they love, and dealing with actual assaults or threats. Do you think that they choose to put up with these things?

How do people know what they identify as?

Usually during the middle school years, it’s very common for teens to question their sexuality and their identity as they are trying to figure out who they are, separate from family norms. Some people even report feeling different as early as pre-school, they just didn’t know what to label it as. Some people know that they are lesbian, gay transgender or bisexual for a long time before they actually pursue relationships with other people or begin wanting to live as the different gender.

A person can begin to have emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction to different types of people and be afraid of speaking up for different reasons, such as religion, facing prejudice and for safety reasons.

Through pursuing different relationships, as well as life experience, it becomes more and more clear of how they identify as.

At what age should people “come out”?

There is no simple answer to this question. The risks and benefits of coming out are different for young people for several reasons. For some young people, they have families that are supportive and accepting no matter what. For these youths, the risk of developing depression and anxiety are decreased just because they have that buffer of a supportive family.

However, for young people who live in a less supportive family, they may face more risks in coming out. Out of fear of not being accepted for who they are, they may come out later in life, or not at all. Everyone who comes out may experience bias, discrimination, or even violence in their schools, work places and faith communities. But when a person has supportive families, friends and schools, it’s so much easier to deal with the negative impacts of these experiences.

What causes someone to be gay or transgender?

There is no scientific evidence that says that sexual and gender orientation is genetic or some form of “defect” For most people, there’s little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.

I have had clients that say that they chose to be gay. However, I believe that that attraction to the same sex had to already be there because it’s very hard to force yourself to be with someone you are not attracted to.

And all of the Transgender clients I’ve had, all state always feeling different and uncomfortable in their body. Not due to weight or size, but either hating their penis or breasts.

Is it a sin to be LGBTQ?

Looking at it as a sin has to do with people’s personal beliefs and teachings, not facts. Looking at it as a sin is another way that contributes to hate and discrimination. Religion is supposed to preach love and unity, not hate and separation of one another.

 

It’s important to remember that  who someone is attracted to or how they feel about their own gender is only a part of who they are. Just as you  may be attracted to the opposite sex, thats not the only thing that defines you. You might also be a parent, a brother, a student, a dancer, a teacher, etc. Our sexuality is only one part of who we are, not wholly who we are.

Next time you notice your own prejudices towards someone because of who they love or how they feel, question where that comes from. Is this way of thinking something you were taught?  Are you against something you don’t understand? It’s important to recognize your own limitations in order to contribute to a more accepting, connected human race.

About the author.

Liza J Alvarado is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice. She serves Adolescents, Adults, and Spanish speaking individuals in the Lehigh Valley, PA area.

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A Therapist's point of view: THE STIGMA OF MENTAL HEALTH

A stigma is when there’s disgrace or shame around a certain circumstance, quality or person. Some examples of stigmas people have are, having certain physical disabilities, certain diseases such as HIV/AIDS, sexual orientation, ethnicity and certain religions, to name a few. One of the biggest stigmas people have is dealing with mental health.

Now, this is just my opinion, but I think the biggest reason for the stigma of mental health is due to ignorance. Ignorance is simply lack of knowledge. We’re going into 2017 and people are still not properly educated on what mental health or treatment for mental disorders is.

We’re not taught in school about maintaining good mental health or improving our emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and with empathy.

The little bit that we are shown about mental health is usually in movies and TV shows. Typically the picture they portray is of a character who hears voices, hallucinates, has severe mood swings or kills people. So the image of mental health we get is of someone being “out of their mind”

It’s no wonder that so many people are hesitant to seek help, out of fear that they’ll seem crazy.

Some mental health diagnosis are more debilitating than others, such as Schizophrenia or Severe Autism. With these disorders, it is believed that there is something neurological or developmentally wrong. There are many people that from a young age showed symptoms of these disorders. Is that their fault?

 Why is it that we don’t look at Type 2 Diabetes (a purely preventable disease by exercising, not smoking, and maintaining a healthy diet) with stigma? But when it comes to mental disorders, something that they didn’t create because it was either genetic or caused by difficult circumstances in their life, we want to look at it with shame?

SO WHY IS OUR MENTAL HEALTH SO IMPORTANT?

The short answer is, because it affects everything in your life.

The way that you talk to yourself, how you treat others and the way you behave affects everything else in your life; such as relationships, vocation, and health.You can be the most talented person in your industry, be with your ideal man/woman, make lots of money, but if your mentality is not healthy, you won’t be able to truly enjoy those things, or even worse, mess it all up.

Let me ask you this. Why is it important to maintain good physical health? Why maintain a healthy diet, move your body regularly and drink plenty of water? To have a healthy body of course.

So what is wrong with learning to control your emotions and behaviors? To understand your patterns of thinking and do something to change it? To practice relaxation techniques, learn to improve your mood and practice self-reflection? Well, nothing is wrong with that. Maintaining good mental health is a priority in order to live a healthy, satisfying, happy life. That’s because everything in life comes down to our mentality.

 

HOW DO WE LEARN TO MANAGE THESE EMOTIONS AND NOT LET OUR EMOTIONS CONTROL US?

You can learn on your own by reading or watching self-help materials. Here’s a great article on how to improve your emotional intelligence. 

Learning from your mistakes will naturally help you grow as well. Or if you’re lucky enough to have someone in your life that is emotionally healthy, they can be a great teacher. But one of the best ways for you to learn how to control those emotions is through outpatient therapy. I look at therapy as “school for your emotions”

You can read about the different levels of therapy here.

Seeking outside help with something you’re struggling with or want to improve is actually a sign of a mature person.

If you’re having suicidal thoughts, going to the hospital and getting help is a sign of health and maturity.

Not that people who don’t seek help are immature and unhealthy. Instead, the misinformation they’ve been given keeps them away from getting the help they want and need. If more people understood how therapy works, more people would get the help they need. And when they get help, other areas of their life also improve.

My hope is that one day talking about taking care of your mind, practicing good mental health, and seeking help and guidance is embraced and accepted.

 

About the author.

Liza J Alvarado is a professional counselor in private practice. She serves adolescents,  adults, and Spanish speaking families in the Lehigh Valley, PA area.

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OUR 5 NATURAL EMOTIONS: And How To Manage Them

We tend to think that feeling sad or getting angry is a bad thing. As if there’s something wrong with you if you feel sad, stressed out, anxious, or angry. But the truth is that feeling these emotions is not the problem, it’s how we express them that can get us into trouble. If  you try to ignore and push away certain feelings, you never truly let them pass, and this could create problems later on. You want to learn to control your emotions, not let your emotions control you.  The following are the 5 natural emotions we all have and how to manage them.

 

ENVY

Envy is that feeling you get when you desire what someone else has or has done. It is this desire that sparks us to create and work towards goals.

If expressed in a healthy manner, you’ll be inspired to go after that thing you want and start working towards it.

But if that desire is not channeled correctly, it can turn into jealousy. Jealousy makes you hate on what someone has. You’ll criticize them and you’ll make up excuses as to why you don’t have what they have.

What can you do to express it in a healthy way?

When you see someone that has something you would love to have, be it money, a relationship, a certain body type, a car, etc., in your mind thank them. Say thank you because they are living evidence that it is possible. If they could have or be whatever you desire, so could you. You just have to learn what the steps are, and take action.

Even more, by you hating on what they have, you push that very thing away from having it because you’re telling yourself on a certain level, that it’s bad to have that. For example, it’s common for people to talk negatively about someone who they perceive to have a lot of money. “Rich people are materialistic” is a common negative thought. In a way you’re telling yourself that you don’t want to have a lot of money because then you’ll be materialistic.

So next time you notice yourself feeling jealous, send that person love and admiration.

ANGER

Anger is a natural emotion we feel when we somehow feel threatened. The threat could be physical, emotional or psychological. Anger is what motivates us to protect ourselves from these actual or perceived threats.

An example of a psychological threat is someone strongly disagreeing with you. Their opinion is their opinion, but if you perceive it as a personal attack, you’ll get defensive.

When expressed in a healthy way, anger can give someone motivation and strength when they need it most. For example, you might share a goal with a friend but instead of supporting you, they put you down and try to tell you why it’s not going to work. Instead of getting irritated and discouraged, use that energy from the anger to motivate yourself and prove them wrong.

Or you’re arguing with someone and they say something hurtful. If anger controls you, you become enraged and hurt that person back, physically or verbally by insulting them.

What can you do to express it in a healthy way?

Anger is an intense emotion so the first step to do is take 2-3 really deep breaths, exhaling longer than your inhale. This calms down your body by slowing it down from releasing more adrenaline. Then, either walk away to get space between you and the person who is upsetting you, or communicate clearly to them how they’re making you feel. To calm down even more, try doing something physical like going for a long walk or hitting something. Just try not to break anything.

GRIEF

Grief is the feeling we get when we loose someone or something close to us. It could be saying good bye for now, or forever. Grief can be triggered by the death of a loved one, a break up, moving away from friends and family or loosing contact with someone close to us.

With grief comes sadness, although everyone expresses grief differently and some people instead of getting sad, they get angry.

But if grief is not expressed right, it could turn into depression.

What can you do to express it in a healthy way?

If you’re sad, feel sad. It is completely healthy to cry, to be angry and feel lost. What is not healthy is pushing those feelings away and trying to ignore them. If you try to ignore your sadness, it will show up again later, and next time the feelings could be even more intense.

Writing in a journal, crying, taking a walk in nature, or spending time with supportive people, are some things that could help you express the grief. During this feeling, one of the best coping skills is to be around people and allow others to support you.

FEAR

Fear is our body’s way of protecting us from getting hurt. If we didn’t have fear, we would cross the street without looking or not run away from a loose wild animal.

We even feel fear as newborns. Babies are actually born with two fears; fear of falling and fear of loud noises.

For the most part, we live pretty safe lives. Unless you actually live in an unsafe environment, many of the fears that you face are created by your thoughts.

Fear not expressed correctly causes a lot of anxiety. Anxiety is fear, or worry, about something that hasn’t happened yet, so we make up stories about it in our head.

What can you do to express it in a healthy way?

When you feel threatened,  your body will go into fight-or-flight response and it will know what to do. You will automatically respond by fighting, running, and sometimes freezing up.

But if you are not in actual danger, most likely you’re worrying about something, causing you to feel afraid. Just imagining something can activate the fight-or-flight response.

Just like anger, you want to take a deep breath to calm down the fight-or-flight response. Then ask yourself questions to challenge your thinking. Some good questions to ask yourself are:

What are the chances of (your fear) happening?

What can I do to lower the chances of it happening?

Is this under my control? If no, let it go. If yes, try to find a solution to the problem.

LOVE

Love is our natural state, that’s why it feels good to show it and receive it. When allowed to be expressed and received, you need nothing else. Love is pure and doesn’t require anything from anyone.

Love that is not allowed to be expressed or received becomes obsession and controlling/possessiveness. In relationships, when someone acts jealous, it’s not out of love, but out of feeling possessive over that person.

Children who were not shown love and affection as children, or was somehow made to feel bad to express love, have a hard time expressing love as adults. For example, if a child  tries to hug a parent and the parent pushed them  away, they learn that it’s not good to be affectionate.

What can you do to express it in a healthy way?

True love doesn’t need or ask anything of someone. We donate our time and money because we care about others. We hold the door for someone because we want to be polite and kind. We don’t necessarily do those things expecting something in return or to get attention.

Show yourself and others love by showing that you care, verbally and/or physically. For yourself, take time to take care of you, set boundaries, and let that voice in your head be a friend, not a bully. For your loved ones, express your love to them. Try to show them, not just tell them, that you love them.  And for complete strangers, just be kind. Showing kindness, patience,  appreciation and consideration is a form of expressing love.

And this world could always use a little bit more love.

 

About the author.

Liza J Alvarado is a professional counselor in private practice. She serves adolescents,  adults, and Spanish speaking families in the Lehigh Valley, PA area.

 

 

 

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THE DIFFERENT TREATMENT LEVELS IN MENTAL HEALTH

Many people don’t seek the help they need when they’re struggling with depression, anxiety, trouble controlling their anger or going through a rough patch in life and need to talk to someone with a different perspective. And mostly people don’t seek help because they don’t want to seem “crazy”. The kind they show in movies of people hearing voices and seeing things.

The truth is that there are different treatment levels when it comes to mental health. Each level falls into two bigger levels; outpatient and inpatient. Outpatient is when you go to the therapy during the day, then go home. Inpatient means they have to stay in the treatment center for however long is recommended.

After a full evaluation, a licensed professional will recommend the level that would be best beneficial. Someone could start at a lower level and if symptoms don’t improve or get worse, they may need a higher level. Someone could  start at a higher level, and as symptoms improve, they’ll go to a lower level. And sometimes symptoms are so severe, that a person could be forced into a higher level.  Here are the different treatment levels in mental health from lowest to highest. The higher the level, the more severe the symptoms are.

Outpatient Care

Community Based Programs

These are usually free or very low cost support groups such as Grief groups and National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) groups. It offers support and strategies for a successful recovery.

Routine Outpatient Care (ROC)

  • Individual, Family, or Couples Counseling, once a week, 45-60 minute sessions.
  • Medication Management through a Psychiatrist or Nurse Practitioner.
  • Group Therapy once a week, once a month, or a few times a month.

Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

  • May include group, individual, and family therapy, more than 45-60 minute sessions.
  • Consists of frequent visits (usually 3-5 days per week) and an average of 3-4 hours of treatment per week for a set period of time (often 4-6 weeks, depending on the program)
  • ƒ Many programs are structured so individuals may work and continue with normal daily routines .

Partial Hospitalization (Partial Program)

  • Consists of frequent visits (usually 3-5 days per week) and an average of 3-4 hours of treatment daily for a set period of time (often 4-6 weeks, depending on the program) ƒ
  • Clients are referred to a partial program when symptoms are not improving or getting worse. The goal is to prevent the client from going into inpatient hospitalization. Or when a client is discharged from inpatient hospitalization, they may be referred to a “step down” partial program.
  • Many programs are structured so individuals may work and continue with normal daily routines ƒsince you attend this program during the day, then go home.

Inpatient Care

Inpatient Acute Care

  • This is where a person stays in the hospital because they need 24-hour care and daily doctor visits to stabilize psychiatric issues.
  • ƒ Recommended for people who aren’t able to care for themselves, or may be a risk to the safety and well-being of themselves or others. Such as someone who is having active suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide.
  • The stay can last for a few days until the person is stabilized.
  • People will attend group therapy and have meetings with a team of professionals, including a psychiatrist.
  • ƒ A family therapy session is important before discharge to discuss aftercare plans.

Inpatient Residential

  • At this level, all available and appropriate outpatient approaches, including intensive outpatient treatment and partial, have been tried first.
  • This level is supposed to be a short-term placement to stabilize the person until they can return home.
  • Primary treatment offered is group, individual, and family therapy in a supportive environment .
  • Should include weekly family therapy when possible.

Psychiatric Hospitals

  • This is the highest level of care and the one we usually see in movies. When people say “I’m not seeing a therapist, I”m not crazy”, they mostly think of this level.
  • Psychiatric hospitals specialize in treating serious mental health disorders, such as Schizophrenia, and severe forms of clinical depression.
  • There are different types of psychiatric hospitals. Some are for short-term stay and focus on people who are low-risk. Others are permanent residency where someone is unable to live on their own due to their mental health illness.

 

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About the author.

Liza J Alvarado is a professional counselor in private practice. She serves Adolescents, Adults, and Spanish speaking families in the Lehigh Valley, PA area.

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YOUR THOUGHTS ARE MORE POWERFUL THAN YOU THINK

There’s a famous experiment by a Japanese researcher named Dr. Masaru Emoto. Dr. Emoto did these experiments where he took water and put either a positive word or a negative word on the slide, put the slides under a microscope and photographed the water as it froze. Dr. Emoto believed that by thinking the positive or negative word, the water would freeze differently because the vibrations (energy)  of the words affect the structure of water.

What do you think happened to the way the water froze? Watch this short video here before continuing to read….

Pretty amazing right? You could do the experiment yourself if you really wanted to. Many people have done a home experiment by using rice. Here’s one home experiment using rice…

 

Negative thoughts, followed by negative feelings, are a root cause of many problems. Problems such as getting sick, being in an irritable mood for “no reason”, and feeling like you’re making no progress in your life.

Negative thoughts come in the form of complaining, talking bad to yourself, replaying hurtful memories, holding on to grudges, constant worrying, fear, and being mean to others.

So you might be thinking, “Oh my gosh, I think so many negative thoughts! What do I do?!”

It’s okay.  The good news is that one positive thought is stronger than multiple negative thoughts. Just simply start paying attention to your thoughts. When you catch yourself thinking a negative thought, simply try replacing it with a positive thought, or at least think something that makes you feel better.

Over time, it’ll be much easier to think good thoughts until it becomes a habit and thinking any kind of negative thought doesn’t feel right to you anymore. Even being around negative people will be irritating for you.

 

“The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change his future by merely changing his attitude.”

~ Oprah Winfrey

 

If you liked this post, share it with your friends. And remember to subscribe below to automatically continue to receive posts like this one.

About the author.

Liza J Alvarado is a professional counselor in private practice. She serves Adolescents, Adults, and Spanish speaking families in the Lehigh Valley, PA area.

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