Category: <span>Self-improvement</span>

Thinking of Starting Therapy? Here are 5 tips.

Seeking help when you’re going through a difficult time in your life can be hard. You might feel embarrassed, intimidated, scared and confused.  Maybe you already had experience with therapy and it wasn’t a good fit for you. But don’t let these things stop you from getting help.

Not all therapist have the same style of doing therapy. And a lot of factors come into play when trying to find a therapist.  Here are a few things to look for that can help you find the right therapist for you.

1. Make sure you and the therapist are a good match.

Many studies have been done that show that the most important thing in therapy is the client-therapist relationship. You’re going to be talking about very personal things. So you have to make sure you feel comfortable with your therapist. I really believe you can tell from the first session, sometimes by the first contact, if you and your therapist are a good match. It is completely okay, actually it is your right, to look for another therapist if you feel that it’s not a good fit. And trust me, the therapist will appreciate this too. “Interview” the therapist before you make an appointment to ask about their therapy style, as well as their experience with specific issues. It’s also ok to schedule with a few therepists and see which one you prefer.

2. Seek a therapist that has experience and training in the area you want to improve.

Check to see if the therapist works with, or at least has some experience, with the issue you’re having. If you’re looking for help with post-partum depression for example, you want to see if the therapist has some experience with women’s issues. If your 5-year-old is struggling with a trauma, you want to seek a play therapist or someone who works with children and trauma. See a marriage and family therapist for relationship problems.

You can get some information about the therapist’s backgroung off their website or simply ask when you contact them.

3. Check insurance benefits.

If you’re going to be using your health insurance to help pay for therapy sessions, check to see how many sessions you’re allowed to attend. Some insurances have unlimited sessions and others only give you a certain amount of sessions that they’ll cover. A lot of insurances have different rules for medical services versus behavioral health services.  I only warn you about this because one of the worst experience is to find a therapist you really like, only to be forced to stop attending because insurance did not cover sessions and you can’t afford to continue. It’s very frustrating when this happens.

4. Make sure the therapist provides appointment hours that fit your schedule.

Psychotherapy is a process and requires multiple sessions. Sometimes just a few sessions, other times for months or years. Again, you don’t want to start with a therapist you like to only have to stop going because you can never fit in appointments into your schedule.

5. Ask around.

We’re more likely to buy something or go somewhere that someone we know recommends. We already know them and somewhat can trust their judgement.  Ask people who you trust if they can recommend a therapist.  This also includes reading online reviews. Hearing someone else’s experience could provided some comfort in reaching out to the therapist.

Reaching out for help can bring up uncomfotable feelings. But think about how much more you can deal with your current stressors all alone. You don’t need to figure things out alone. Counselors are here to help.

About Liza J Alvarado, MS, LPC

Liza J Alvarado is a professional counselor in private practice. She serves Adolescents, young adults, and Spanish speaking families in PA.

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5 Ways to Block the Negativity of the World.

Choose to see all media on your terms.

We all know everything in the news is fear-based.  With stories on violence, poverty, crimes, war, and now the elections. It can get overwhelming if you’re constantly watching and reading the news.

Pick a specific time to browse different websites, apps, or TV channels in order to stay informed, but don’t get stuck there to the point where you become overwhelmed.

This also goes for social media. Try not to constantly go to social media whenever you have some downtime. Be in the present moment instead of mentally escaping by distracting yourself with social media.

Another suggestion is to turn off notifications on your phone. If your phone is always going off with alerts, that can be mentally over stimulating. Instead, manually go into your apps whenever you want, instead of being sucked into the apps by these notifications.

Expose your mind to productive information.

Everything your mind sees, hears, and feels are seeds. If your mind is mostly exposed to negative things, you’re going to feel negative. Instead, purposely listen to music that makes you feel good. Watch shows and movies that teach you something. Listen to audiobooks and podcasts on your commute.

Sometimes we can’t help but be around things that don’t make us feel good. Even more reason to add healthy things to your mind. I like to look at it as “watering down” the negativity.

We are surrounded by many unhealthy things by default. It is your responsibility to take control of what your mind is exposed to.

Set limits with people that make you feel stressed.

Learning to set boundaries is very important. Boundaries are just limits you have for yourself and others in order to protect your emotional well being. Check out a previous post on dealing with negative people.

If there are people that you have to deal with on a regular basis and they tend to put you in a bad mood or test your patience, you have to set a time limit of how much time you will spend around them.

If you deal with these negative people on a daily basis, set a limit on the topics of conversation, or keeping it strictly about whatever thing you have to talk about.

Surround your mind with higher minds.

Now that you’re cleaning up your social space and setting limits with negative people, you have to fill that space with people who think differently. If you personally know someone who is healthy, happy, and successful, learn from them. Try spending more time with them.

But most likely you don’t know anyone personally to spend time with them. Instead, surround your mind with these people through books, videos, podcasts, etc. You don’t have to be physically around positive influences. You can surround yourself with them through the products they put out. I have many mentors that have taught me about business and healing, that I have never personally met.

Even if you can’t get rid of the negative people in your life, you can water it down by filling up a lot of your downtime listening to these better influences.

We live in the information age. Anything you want to learn is online. Including ways to improve your mental and emotional wellbeing. What better way than to learn from people who have already done the work.

Focus on what you can control.

When feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself, “can I control this?” “What can I control?”

Focusing on things you have no control over is a waste of energy and time. It only frustrates you even more. You have to find a way to let it go. You can’t change it.

If you do have control, focus on finding a solution and problem-solving. When you focus on what you can control, it gives you a sense of empowerment. Stress and anxiety decrease since you’re taking action.

Remember, your health and wellbeing is your job. Be the guard of your own mind. With practice, you’ll make it a habit to protect yourself from the negativities of the world.

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.

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How To Challenge Negative Thoughts.

The way we speak to ourselves is the foundation to self-esteem and self-love. The goal is for that voice in your head to be your best friend. But when you have a lot of negative thoughts, it could seem like there’s a bully living in your head.

Most of your self talk comes from past messages you’ve heard or witnessed from people, from the feedback you’ve gotten from the people closest to you, indirectly from social media, past experiences and the information you’re exposed to from media. Notice what they all have in common? Negative thoughts mostly come from external sources. You were not born with them. Life taught you these thoughts.

How do you challenge these negative thoughts?

The first step is noticing that you’re even having a negative thought in the first place. We can’t change something we’re not even aware that we’re doing.

Once you realize you’re in a negative thinking loop, tell yourself “there it goes again” or “ I’m doing it again” this just helps you check yourself into the present moment and get out of your head for a second. This is what’s called being mindful. You are paying attention to your thinking.

Once you’re aware of the negative thought, question where it came from. Ask yourself “where did this thought come from? Did someone say something to me? Am I reliving the past by remembering past negative events?”

What you’re doing here is trying to find the source. Is the source a good judge? For example, let’s say you say to yourself “I’m so fat and unattractive.” Where did you pick up that thought? Maybe an abuse ex used to say those mean things to you. Maybe it was past or current bullies. Maybe it’s coming from messages you heard family say about other people. Or maybe it came from you being hard on yourself.

Again, the point here is trying to pinpoint where that thought came from. We are not born with these negative thoughts. Life teaches us these negative messages.

The next step is to then question your thoughts. Some questions to ask would be;

  • Is this thought 100% true?
  • Whats the evidence for AND against this thought?
  • What advice would I give a friend?
  • Am I imagining a scenario or replaying facts?
  • What do I need/want right now?
  • What can I control?
  • What’s a solution?

Finally, replace that thought with either looking at it differently or finding a solution.

The reality is we all can only control the way we REACT to people/circumstances and the way we LOOK AT THINGS. What’s a positive thing you can take about the situation? If there’s nothing positive, at the very least take it as a learning experience so you don’t repeat the same thing.

You can focus on solutions by problem solving and asking for help.

You can also replace the negative thought by playing around with words. For example, instead of saying to yourself “I’m a looser” replace it with “Everyone makes mistakes” or “If someone else has accomplished ____, that’s evidence that it can be done” When replacing the thought, it has to be believable. If you don’t believe it, it won’t work.

These are broad examples as I don’t know your personal situation. But the steps are the same regardless of the circumstances. With practice and consistency, it does get easier to challenge negative thinking.

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Helping A Loved One Struggling With Mental Health

It can be confusing and frustrating when someone you care about is struggling with mental health symptoms and you don’t know what to do. It’s natural to want to fix things as you care about them and want to see them feel better. I know it’s hard, but this is something you can’t just fix. However, there are many things you can do to help them improve their state of mind and mood.

Educate yourself

One of the simplest things you can do is find information on what your loved one is struggling with. If their struggling with Depression, Anxiety, Grief, an Eating Disorder or anything else, do research and find out common symptoms. Simply educating yourself helps you understand what they’re feeling and most importantly, it could help you become more patient. No one chooses to struggle with a mental health disorder.

You don’t have to know what it feels like to be of help. Understanding more about their struggles, helps you take a step back and not get frustrated with them.

Ask them what do they need from you.

Again, naturally we want to be of help and fix things. But maybe you trying to help is not helping at all. Simply ask them what can you do to help them.

For example, people with Depression struggle with being around people but at the same time feel isolated. Ask them if it’s ok for you to be around them physically but not talk. Or if you’re far away, ask how often is it ok to check in with them.

Be supportive.

Being supportive may sound obvious, but sometimes you may have good intentions but are not being helpful at all. I see this a lot with clients who struggle with Anxiety. People who struggle with anxiety are constantly worried and thinking ahead. Loved ones with good intentions say things like “just relax” or “don’t worry be positive” This is not helpful at all. Instead find out what they are worried about and focus on finding a solution. You can reassure them that you’re there for them no matter what.

Encourage them to get help.

When you feel like you’ve tried to help but the person is still struggling, encourage them to get professional help. You can suggest different Mental Health apps where someone can chat with a licensed professional, such as talkspace.com or betterhelp.com 

You can even go with them to their first appointment with a therapist for emotional support. Getting help can be overwhelming. Being there supporting them can make it easier. 

Take Care of Yourself

We can’t give to others what we don’t have ourselves. One of the best ways to help others is to make sure that you are good. When you are rested and have energy, it’s so much easier to be a good friend and be there for others. But if you’re struggling with your own problems, trying to be there for others can feel draining. 

Make sure you’re practicing your own self-care by doing little things to feel good or having your own hobby

Relationships are work. With these tips hopefully you find a way to be of help to someone.

About the author.

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

 

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THINKING STYLES KEEPING YOU IN A NEGATIVE LOOP

Everyone struggles with negative thinking from time to time. Some people have negative thinking 80% of their day. But how do you change this? The first step is to catch yourself doing it. The fact that you are aware of the negative thinking is a great first step. But then you have to challenge the negative thoughts.

The following are the different thinking styles that could be feeding your negative thoughts spiral. Therapists call these Cognitive Distortions. See if you can recognize the style that you tend to use the most and make a conscious effort to change it.

ALL OR NOTHING THINKING

Also known as Black and White thinking. This is where you see things as all or nothing or thinking in extremes. For example, thinking “either I do it right or not at all” Or “I stumbled on a question in the interview, I ruined it” Or thinking people are either a success or a failure, good or bad, etc.

EMOTIONAL REASONING

Emotional reasoning is similar to all or nothing thinking. When you’re emotionally reasoning, you’re assuming that because you feel a certain way, what you think must be true.

For example, ” I feel nervous, I know something bad is going to happen” when in reality, you may just be feeling anxious because you’re doing something for the first time, which is normal to feel that way.

JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS

Jumping to conclusions is when you assume something. There are two types of jumping to conclusions: Mind Reading and Fortune Telling.

Mind reading is when you image that you know what others are thinking and feeling. Avoid this by asking questions to clarify how that person is feeling or what are they thinking. Fortune telling is when you try to predict the future. For example, saying to yourself, “I’m not even going to bother asking, they’re going to say no” Unless you are a fortune teller, ask for clarification. Assuming things will almost always get you into trouble.

LABELLING

Labelling is when you assign labels to yourself or to other people. Some examples of labelling are saying things like ” I didn’t get the job so I’m a loser”, “I made a mistake,I’m useless”, “She’s always late to work, she’s irresponsible”

When we label, we’re judging. Be aware of your judgements of others to help decrease labelling.

MENTAL FILTERING

Mental filtering is when you only pay attention to certain types of evidence. For example, only focusing on your failures and not looking at your successes. Or only looking at the facts that fit what your belief is and dismissing what doesn’t fit your belief.

OVER-GENERALIZATION

Overgeneralization is when you take one experience and generalize it to ALL experiences. If you have ever said “Nothing ever works out for me” or “I always loose” you have overgeneralized. This thinking style keeps you feeling low and unmotivated.

SHOULD

Using critical words like “should” or “must”can lead you to feel guilty or as if you have already failed. When we apply should to other people it can cause frustration.

Simply put, should thinking appears to make you think that there is a rule that you have to follow and if you don’t follow it, it’s bad. That’s when you feel guilty and get hard on yourself. This also leads to feeling disappointed with others because you have put on this expectation on them.

DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE

This style is when you discount the good things that have happened or that you have done. This thinking style is very common in people with low self-esteem and low confidence who tend to think that nothing they do is good enough.

MAGNIFICATION & MINIMIZATION

Magnification is when you blow things out of proportion making something seem more important or worse than it really is. This thinking style is a common symptom of Anxiety and Depression. With anxiety, you think of worst case scenario.

With depression, you can magnify things by thinking the worse of yourself or a situation when in reality there is a solution.

Minimization is the opposite, this is when you inappropriately make something seems less important than it really is. For example, you may be struggling with depression but explain it away by telling family you’re tired or “just in a funk”

PERSONALIZATION

Personalization is when you blame yourself or take on the responsibility for something that was not your fault or is not your responsibility to carry.

This thinking style is common when you feel guilty but in reality you did nothing wrong, so it’s not yours to carry.

Another example of personalization is when you assume that what a person does or says is directed towards you, taking things personal. If you’re experiencing this kind of thinking, you will also compare yourself to others, a sure way to keep your confidence low.

If you catch yourself stuck in any of these thinking styles, take a few deep breaths to physically calm down. Then question your thoughts by asking yourself certain questions. Common questions to ask yourself to challenge negative thinking are;

Is this 100% true?

What’s another explanation?

Is this a fact or my perception?

What’s another way to look at the situation?

Am I assuming?

With practice, you’ll become more self aware of your thinking styles and it gets easier to question them and shift your thinking. 

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.

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