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How to Become a Mental Health Therapist

Here is a little video I made detailing the process of becoming a mental health therapist. This was fun to make and hopefully left you all with more information on how to join in on the fight toward mental health awareness and recovery! The Wellness Warrior was designed to use as a platform where we can all start a dialog about health and wellness. That being said, I LOVE engaging with you all, reading your comments, and taking in your feedback. Thank you for tuning in, for visiting The Wellness Warrior and for wanting to be a part of this journey with me! Much love <3

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A Day in the Life of a Mental Health Therapist

Hi there, Wellness Warriors!!

I hope you are all doing well. Here is a little video I made to highlight some ins and outs of therapist life. It includes what a typical day looks like (specifically a day during a pandemic), what a therapy session consists of, and tips for choosing the right therapist. Enjoy!

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Choosing Between Helping Others and Helping Myself

Anyone who has been keeping up to date with my story knows that within the past two years I have worked incredibly hard to overcome my struggles with depression. In 2019, I went from wanting to die to feeling like my best self, and I established goals that would allow me to continue on a path of personal growth. I felt so proud of my accomplishments and level of motivation, and I felt inspired to continue working toward feeling mentally and physically healthy.

Fast forward to now, and I have to admit that I have reached a small speed bump in the road. In December 2019, I excitedly accepted a promotion from outpatient therapist to crisis intervention specialist at the agency that I am employed. I chose to continue seeing several outpatient clients part time, because I experienced some difficulty letting go and thought I could handle the workload. This means that I am currently working about 12 hours per day, 5 days per week. While I love what I do and often feel inspired through helping others, I am also ready to admit that I am finding myself increasingly frustrated.

I have always excelled at time management and have taken my professional responsibilities seriously. Throughout the past few years, I have been passionate about balancing my professional responsibilities with my personal needs, and I actually got to a place where I was incredibly happy with myself. I felt mentally health, focused, and determined to continue working toward becoming my best self.

Let us first acknowledge that progress is not always a forward motion and that we are almost guaranteed to experience back slides (after all, we are all human….. I think). The Wellness Warrior is a space in which I want to share my growth and be transparent with my struggles, and I wouldn’t be doing this site or myself any justice if I didn’t express my own frustrations.

I think within the past several months, I have slightly lost track of my main goal: To feel wholly healthy. I have been so focused in being there for my clients that I haven’t been present in my own life. Lately, I am mentally exhausted to the point where I’m having trouble focusing on personal relationships and interests. I’ve done minimal work toward my previously established goals and have not indulged in many of my preferred activities (as some may notice from my minimal updates to this blog).

Yesterday, I found myself calling out of work just so I could go outside for a hike and enjoy beautiful weather, and that is when I truly realized the severity of the issue. If I am working so much that I’m feeling I can’t enjoy my life without calling out of work, that is a huge issue.

I haven’t been taking the time to practice as much meditation, and I’ve noticed how my own thought patterns have reverted. My mind has been spinning out with my first reaction to events, which often times is irrational. I am less patient with others and with myself.

With all of this being said, I am struggling between choosing to help others and help myself. I love the work that I do, but I also have to acknowledge and consider when I am giving too much of myself to others and not enough to myself. I am finally ready to admit that I need to take a step back from my professional endeavors in order to better focus on caring for myself and being an active participant in my own life.

And this is where my Wellness Warriors coming in, because I have always struggled to say no when it comes to my career. What tips do you have with establishing professional boundaries? How can I empower myself to advocate for my own needs? How can I remind myself that, where my clients want to work with me, they don’t need to work me to achieve their goals?

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What No One Tells You About Being a Therapist

A therapist’s office is intended to be a safe, warm space that allows for others to express and process patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It’s a place where people go to feel better. As a helping professional, I have the privilege of being part of the personal development and growth of my clients. I am deeply passionate about what I do, and I’ll be the first one to admit that I still get goosebumps whenever a client experiences an “Aha” moment. That being said, the mental health profession is not one without challenges.

According to the Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS), it’s estimated that about 22% of adults in the city are diagnosed with Depressive Disorder, 16% of adult Philadelphians experience frequent mental stress, and 13.8% of teens experience suicidal ideation.

To paint a clearer picture, these statistics mean that in Philadelphia 1 in 5 adults are diagnosed with depressive disorder, and 1 in 7 high school students have reported seriously considering suicide. These startling numbers are not counting the undiagnosed or unreported cases. These rates have remained consistent within recent years, with the exception of a wild increase of opioid-related deaths and ER visits for drug overdoses. With the growing severity of the opioid epidemic in the United States, an already overwhelmed system seemingly only has so much wiggle room before it breaks.

Community Behavioral Health (CBH) is a non-profit corporation contracted by the City of Philadelphia to provide mental health and substance use services to Medicaid recipients in Philadelphia County. There are about 144 Community Behavioral Health organizations in Philadelphia, and I have worked for and with many of them. Although I love the work that I do with clients, working in community agencies has created an entirely new perspective on how therapists and participants are treated among the Community Behavioral Health system….. and I think we all deserve better.

I remember learning about proper ethics and counseling techniques in my graduate program, bright eyed as I geared myself up for a future as a helper. Looking back, it seems so naive for me to have thought that it would be easy. Admittedly, I often wish I could go back to school and pay closer attention to discussions on how to avoid burnout, but sometimes it seems that in the community behavioral health field, burnout is inevitable. Although it would not have changed my choice of profession, I wish I had been more prepared for the community mental health world.

Here’s what I wish I had known:

  1. There are not enough mental health therapists in the community behavioral health system. It seems as though a major theme within the therapist community is the feeling of being overwhelmed by a bogged down system. Community Behavioral Health has an incredible amount of participants in need of mental health care and not enough wo/manpower to provide the quality of care necessary to treat severe mental health symptoms. This means that the large number of participants receiving services are divided among the limited mental health professionals that exist, meaning higher burnout rates for therapists.
  2. There is a major focus on productivity. Full time therapists are given a certain number of clinical hours that they must provide per month, typically called productivity. For example, in my organization, the month of October held 160.63 available treatment hours. I need to achieve 66% of that, meaning I needed to provide at least 106 hours of therapy to meet productivity expectations. If I don’t, I risk being written up. So when we get into the nitty-gritty of things, my work performance is not determined by the quality of therapy I provide, but by the quantity of services I provide. Where I try to validate myself, it is sometimes hard to focus on my successes with clients when I am consistently reminded of “my numbers.” It also makes it more difficult to be understanding when clients cancel, which is often framed as one less hour toward productivity.
  3. Many organizations are turning to fee-for-service. Fee-for-service is pretty self-explanatory. In fee-for-service positions, therapists only get paid for the sessions they complete. This means that if a client does not show up, the therapist will either not get paid, or will get paid a small percentage of what they would have received. Oh, and fee-for-service therapists don’t get paid for the paperwork or outreach they do…. and let me tell you, in this field there is always a lot of paperwork and outreach to do.
  4. Community behavioral health is behind. Think about all of the ethical guidelines, evidence-based practices, and sensitivity training we learned about in school. Now, try to imagine trying to implement those practices in an organization that always seems 20 years behind the present status quo. This isn’t necessarily community behavioral health’s fault. It simply takes time to roll out new methods given the amount of education and training they require.
  5. Sometimes people don’t listen. I feel like I can talk about ethical treatment and appropriate care until I’m blue in the face, and it still doesn’t feel like I am heard. I often find myself thinking of therapists as the nurses of the mental health field– we have an incredible amount of knowledge, have spent years studying the subject, and care deeply about making sure our clients are receiving proper care… and it still feels like we are spinning our wheels just to be heard and respected.

And finally, none of this would matter if we didn’t care. Professionals typically don’t join the mental health field if they don’t care about the well being of others. This makes it even more frustrating when we can see that the overall focus is not on the quality of care we provide, but instead, on the success of the business. Although I can recognize that the business aspect is important, it just does not feel right to put the needs of the business before the needs of people. Helpers feel passionately about the injustices within social systems, because we care about the outcomes of the people we work with. It can be incredibly frustrating to see the above factors as barriers to doing what we love most– helping people.

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8 Ways to Find Work-Life Balance

A person’s ability to achieve a health balance between professional and personal life directly contributes to overall happiness and job performance. According to Small Business Trends, 66% of full time employees believe they lack a healthy work-life balance. For employers, this relates to poor productivity, low morale, and high turnover. For individuals, this means missing out on spending time with people and at events we enjoy. Even scarier, long term effects of an unhealthy work-life balance may include higher risk of depression and anxiety and higher risk of heart disease or stroke. Family Living Today and Now Sourcing investigated statistics across the globe, ranking the United States 30th out of 38 countries in work-life balance.

Recent statistics show that 11.4% of Americans work over 50 hours per week. As someone who still sometimes gets stuck in the whirlwind of the working world, I’ve compiled a list of methods in which we can all adopt a lifestyle that promotes a healthy balance between our work and ourselves.

  1. Figure out what a work-life balance means to you. As individuals, we all need different things to regroup and recharge. Some may need more alone time, while some may benefit from more time with loved ones. Identifying what exactly we need to feel a greater sense of balance is the first step in achieving it.
  2. Set manageable goals. Having a realistic idea of how much work we are able to manage in a day is crucial in avoiding setting ourselves up for failure. Create goals that are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound).
  3. Prioritize. Create a daily to-do list and start with the tasks that need to be completed that day. At the end of the day, if there are things that need to wait until tomorrow, they will be things that can wait until tomorrow.
  4. Learn to say no and delegate. We all want to be good at our jobs, but part of being a productive employee is recognizing if something will be biting off more than we can chew. Instead of saying yes, try: “Although I would love to be a part of that project, but I feel it may be best to focus on my current projects at this time. Maybe we can assign this to project to someone who can put the time into it that it deserves.” Be honest. Chances are we would rather be great at one job than just okay at several jobs.
  5. Be more productive at the office. Turn the cell phone off. Minimize distractions. Do what is needed to do in order to allow yourself to get the job done, which may help you……
  6. Leave work at work! This is the best advice I’ve gotten from a supervisor: “After work, allow yourself the time to process and reflect on the day as you collect your things and walk to your car. As you shut your car door and drive away, leave the work day where it is: behind you.” In addition, by being more productive in the office, we can limit the amount of work we are doing from home. Small Business Trends reported that 40% of employees believe it is acceptable to answer an important work email at the dinner table. Part of having a healthy work-life balance is making a clear separation between work and life.
  7. Take more mental health days. I hate taking days off, and sometimes I feel like I need “TAKE MORE MENTAL HEALTH DAYS” written in big, flashing letters above my desk. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with the fact that work goes on without me when I’m not there, and it’s hard to return and feel like I need to “catch up.” However, the more I allow myself a mental health day, the more I find myself in a better mindset to tackle the tasks ahead of me with ease.
  8. Have more fun. It’s hard to avoid spending time away from work simply gearing up to resume the grind. We can’t forget to have fun! Go outside, spend time with family, hit the gym. Social interactions and healthy self care skills have a direct positive impact on both mood and productivity.

Most importantly, we must be gentle on ourselves. If we find ourselves burnt out or overwhelmed, we can reflect and ask ourselves, “How have I been balancing lately?” It’s hard to navigate between wanting to be good at our jobs and wanting to be good to ourselves, but hopefully some of these changes in daily routine can help to alleviate some of the imbalance.