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Why You Should See a Counselor Before You’re in a Crisis

Why You Should See a Counselor Before You’re in a Crisis

Some people have always had to be intentional about their mental health. Either because of serious issues with things like depression or anxiety, or because they knew they needed help processing trauma, they haven’t had the luxury of leaving mental health on the backburner. Other people are what’s known in the industry as “high performing” — meaning their mental health hasn’t really had to be a huge concern. Whatever your situation, quarterlife is a season to get new kinds of serious about mental health.

At least, that’s what Brittney Moses thinks. This LA native has dedicated her life to transforming the way her generation thinks about mental health. She’s working on her thesis at UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and in the meantime, hosting a terrific podcast on the subject in addition to her website, which has all kinds of great resources. We’ve talked to her before here at RELEVANT, but wanted to get her thoughts on how people in the middle of their quarterlife should be thinking about mental health, and how to be more intentional about it.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What are some of the big misconceptions are about getting a counselor or a therapist in your 20s? Where do people tend to go awry in their thinking there?

Thankfully, I do think that this generation is a lot more open about therapy than previous generations and I think that social media has a lot to do with that. I think people now brag about having a therapist, which is actually pretty cool.

But there still can be some stigma out there. I know for me, personally, at that time, I was a newly single mom and trying to navigate going back to school and working. I had just gotten so used to figuring things out on my own that when you’re struggling with your mental health, when you’re dealing with depression or anxiety, you’re just kind of barely surviving. You feel like, “This is my problem. I don’t want to burden anyone else with my issue. I’m going to try to figure this out on my own.” And so if there was one thing I could tell myself in my early twenties, it would be that it’s never too early to get help, if you can.

Something that has been difficult, at least for me, is getting sort of paralyzed by options out there. There are so many people offering mental health services and you don’t necessarily have a metric for knowing when someone is a good fit for you or not. It can make it tough to know where to begin or if you’re really getting the best possible experience with counseling.

I relate looking for a therapist or to dating. You’re looking around, you know what fits, right?

One thing I want to tell people is to at first: Give it a little bit of time. In the beginning of having therapy services or a health care provider, you’re building a relationship. There’s a lot of intake where the therapist is just trying to get to know what is fully going on with you and do an assessment. So I would give it that time. Sometimes in therapy, it can feel worse before it gets better. You’re unearthing things that you haven’t really talked about before. It’s getting a little uncomfortable. That’s completely normal.

But there are some checkboxes for when you’re going into therapy. They should definitely be doing an assessment, asking what your symptoms over the past few years have been? What are your goals? That’s the thing that makes the difference between going to therapy and say, talking to your friend.

I know we like to say that our friends are our therapy and, sure, they’re probably supportive, but they’re likely not trained. And the difference is that a therapist is going to do an assessment with you. They’re going to help try to come up with goals with you that you want to work towards and provide evidence-based treatments — like cognitive behavioral therapy or some type of trauma-informed therapy — to help work on where you should start seeing some solutions. You should start feeling some relief in your life.

I also think that there’s still this idea out there that therapy is for when you have a problem. It’s like taking a car into the shop. You don’t call a mechanic when the car’s working fine. I think most younger generations understand that therapy is an option, but it’s not one they pursue until they’re actively struggling to the point where it’s creating real problems in their life.

This does apply for a lot of people who might consider themselves high functioning. It’s like, “We’re doing pretty decent. We might not have super low lows or be deep into the spectrum of different mental health challenges.” However, as long as you’re having a human experience, you’re going through things in life that are shaping you. You’re being faced with obstacles, with fears, even with messages that we internalize. Whether it’s on social media, about ourselves, about the world around us. And having someone to walk through that with you is a really beautiful thing.

I see a therapist biweekly. And sometimes I have really great weeks and I still check in with my therapist. It’s so great to have someone there who celebrates the small victories with you that you overlook. A lot of times, we think about mental health if it falls a lot into bad things like depression or anxiety. But another part of intuitive wisdom is saying, “Okay, what’s working in my life and why are those things working? How can I improve on those things? Or maybe I should keep doing those things because they’re working.” That’s another positive aspect. Therapy doesn’t have to be all negative. You don’t have to be in a crisis to have someone in your corner.

Two more quick questions and the first one is about resources. A lot of us don’t have a lot of them and mental health can be expensive. What are the options for someone who values mental health but doesn’t know if they can afford it?

There are definitely some like community grassroots options. For example, NAMI — the National Alliance of Mental Illness. I’m a Certified Recovery Support Group Facilitator there. They usually are planted in different cities throughout the country and they have support groups that are free. There’s also the National Crisis Text Line where you can text “home” to 741741. That was circulating a lot during the pandemic because a lot of people were struggling. I’ve been a trained crisis counselor on that line. And the people are wonderful, nonjudgmental. You don’t have to be suicidal. Any type of crisis that you’re going through, you can text in to check in with them.

As far as getting started seeing a therapist, if you don’t have insurance, I encourage checking out to see if you can apply for some type of state or government insurance that should also cover mental health care. You can also go to your primary physician and be referred to a behavioral health specialist or therapist within that network. Those are some places to start. And especially, if you’re in college or you’re part of a program, they usually have some type of counseling services on campus that are included in your student services. So definitely check that out. They usually give you a certain amount of sessions per quarter or semester. And then if you need more help, they will refer you out word. So these are all different places to start.

Last question. Should Christians be seeking out Christian counselors? Is there a benefit to that?

There definitely are some benefits. I just had a conversation with Dr. Holly Oxhandler. She is a part of the Baylor social work program and she’s done some research in that area. They did find that when people’s faith was included in their therapeutic services, they tend to get better, faster.

So it definitely is  important for therapists to be asking about what your belief system is and what you believe and try to integrate that in some way. Or what helps you, what are positive coping faith statements that help you or practices and encouraging that? I think it’s really important for sure, if you can have it.

However, any competent therapist should be able to help you regardless of their faith background. They are not there to push their beliefs on you. That would be unethical at a therapy session. And they can still provide you with evidence-based therapies for anxiety, depression, bipolar or schizophrenia, or whatever it is to help you feel better.

I always advocate mental health as a system of support. It’s a toolkit, right? Sometimes we want to find everything in one person, kind of like dating. We want that one person to be everything.

But the truth is that even when it comes to mental health, you have your faith community. That’s really important for that social support and building your faith in that spiritual development. And then you have your therapist. And if you’re lucky enough and you found someone who can integrate both, that’s beautiful. But at the same time, they can still have the resources and tools to help alleviate those mental health challenges. And then maybe it’s getting outside and having movement. Trying to have a nutritious diet. All of these things are working together. So I encourage people to look at mental health care more as part of a toolkit and a system of support instead of trying to find all things in one person.

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