Category: <span>Therapy</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.


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?


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.



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.



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.


3 Side Effects of Therapy That No One Talks About.

The benefits of getting professional counseling are pretty known. Some benefits are learning to stand up for yourself, lowering symptoms of depression and anxiety, better handling your anger, increasing your self-esteem and improving your relationships.

But therapy also has other side effects that people don’t really talk about. Here are three of the most common ones.

Some of your relationships might end.

It’s very common for friendships or romantic relationships to have problems or even end after starting therapy. Just because you are working on yourself and growing as a person, it doesn’t mean that everyone around you is as well. As you work on yourself, you’ll start to see things that you didn’t notice before, such as how immature or negative certain people are.

Of course not all relationships are affected in a negative way. Just know that as you change the way you look at things, things around you are going to change.

After some therapy sessions, you may experience intense negative feelings.

Talking about uncomfortable things will bring up feelings that you’ve been ignoring. You were pushing certain feelings down  for a reason…because they made you feel like crap.  Why do you think people talk about changing but not many people are willing to do what it takes? Nobody wants to voluntarily feel bad.

As bad as it may feel, it’s part of changing. I like to use the analogy of washing a dirty pot. At first it gets really dirty as the grease and stuck on food comes off. But as you keep rinsing it, it gets cleaner and cleaner. As you work on changing negative feelings, there will be a point where it gets “dirty”. But don’t give up, it does get better.

You may be given the wrong diagnosis.

When you use your health insurance for therapy, you must be given a diagnosis. Diagnosis are given by assessing history and symptoms. A correct diagnosis rules out any physical reasons for problems, such as making sure thyroid levels are normal.

Because there is no brain scan or blood test that tell us what the diagnosis is, we only go by what is being reported. A correct diagnosis will look at the whole picture of your life; health, history, recent changes, etc. and not just a snap shot. When unsure, we are trained to give the least harmful diagnosis.

If you’re given the wrong diagnosis you can start wrongly identifying with it which can be harmful. For example, being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder when your thyroid was not normal or birth control pills had your hormones all over the place. Then blaming your actions on you “being bipolar”.


These “warnings” are part of the informed consent when you first start therapy.  Just reading these side effects can make therapy seem scary, and sometimes it is. But the benefits of therapy out weight the side effects. Make sure you discuss some of these concerns with  your therapist.


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About the author.

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



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