So you are going to see a psychologist for the first time – now what should we expect? The thought of having to step into a psychologist’s room for the first time can be nerve-racking, and understandably so. Oftentimes, individuals may be apprehensive and would wonder if talking to a complete stranger is really going to help, or if opening up your innermost thoughts to a stranger was too much of a risk to take. However, rest be assured that these mental health professionals are well-versed in psychotherapy methods to help you manage your issues as best as possible, and will work closely with you at a comfortable pace. Just like in the treatment of physical illnesses by physicians, patient privacy and confidentiality are also primary obligations for psychologists. In this article, we hope to give you a clearer idea of what you can expect from your visit to a psychologist, especially if it is your first session.
First things first, it is important to understand that psychotherapy isn’t merely a one-off session. While the duration of treatment may vary from one person to another, the American Psychological Association (APA) reports that “recent research indicates that on average 15 to 20 sessions are required for 50 percent of patients to recover as indicated by self-reported symptom measures.” The type and duration of treatment also heavily depend on the nature and severity of each client’s conditions, and it would simply be unfair to make an overgeneralised statement. Regardless, it would be beneficial to go in with an open mind, and to have an honest conversation with your psychologist. It really helps to trust that the process works, while acknowledging that it takes time.
Meeting the psychologist
At the beginning, the first few sessions would aim to help one identify the most pertinent issue that needs to be dealt with. The psychologist will talk through with you gathering some information on your life history, your family’s mental health history, the problems you are dealing with, and analyse those details – no matter how insignificant they may seem at first – that could have possibly led to emotional distress or coping difficulties. For the psychologist, being able to get a good grasp of the situation and seeing the big picture is vital for formulating the treatment plan and treatment process, as it will help to determine the type of psychotherapy that is best suited for you. The psychologist is trained to listen and analyse your conditions in order to help you with your recovery. As such, it is equally important that you don’t hold yourself back from being fully honest with your psychologist. To a large extent, the patient’s participation in the therapy is an important determinant of the success of the outcome.
While we fully understand that it can be unnerving, these mental health professionals are trained to help you work through the challenges you face, and the therapy room is very much a safe, non-judgemental space. Goal-setting is one of the key aspects of psychotherapy, and it is exceptionally important to set goals from the start that you can use to track your progress. You may start by identifying personally meaningful broad motives, hopes and dreams – having a clear direction in mind will better steer future sessions towards alleviating symptoms of distress and tackling the root cause of one’s concerns. Don’t worry if you feel the need to change your goals or take a different approach halfway through the treatment process. Psychotherapy is a dynamic process after all, and increased self-discovery along the way can certainly give you a better sense of what needs to be changed.
Different approaches to psychotherapy
There are several approaches to psychotherapy that can be implemented in the following sessions. Not strictly limited to one or the other, psychologists may make use of psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies, cognitive-behavioural, interpersonal, and other types of talk therapy. They can help you focus on changing problematic behaviours, feelings, and thoughts to build on healthy habits, or teach you emotion-coping strategies to cope with your symptoms. Forms of treatment like cognitive-behavioural therapy also aim to help individuals recognise negative thought and behaviour patterns, thereby working towards a positive change. Each session is essentially a problem-solving session. By allowing yourself to talk to your psychologist about your most difficult moments, your feelings and the change you want to observe, the psychologist is then able to make use of his/her expertise to assist you. Many mental health professionals don’t limit their treatment to any one approach. Instead, they blend elements from different approaches and tailor their treatment according to each patient’s needs.
To make the most of the treatment process, “homework” may sometimes be assigned as between-session tasks to clients as part of your treatment. A variety of homework assignments exist – sometimes in the form of practising new skills, habits, and other coping mechanisms, or someone who is dealing with complicated emotions could be asked to record your negative thoughts in nightly journal entries. When you return for your next session, the psychologist would then check in on your progress, and address any issues that may have arisen while you were completing your tasks. For some clients the benefits of therapy can be achieved in a few sessions, while for other clients they might need more to improve. Empirical evidence supports the benefits of homework in promoting positive symptom change and increasing patient functioning, that is, the quality of a client’s participation in therapy through active application of what they learn will lead to improvements in their conditions.
Was the psychologist right for you?
Often during the conversation with the psychotherapist, or after the session, you may feel a sense of relief, elation, or anxiety and exhaustion. However you feel, it is important to take note of those feelings. Did the psychologist put you at ease? Did he/she listen to you carefully and demonstrate compassion? Did he/she develop a plan to guide you with your goals and show expertise and confidence in working with issues that you have? For the treatment to be effective, you need to be able to ‘click’ with the psychologist, that is you are able to build trust and a strong connection with your psychologist.
To end off, the first session with a psychologist is understandably a bit intimidating and overwhelming, but the first step in the journey to recovery is a critical step to regain your mental wellbeing.
Depression! It’s a common term for many things. “I feel depressed!”, “This is so depressing.” The medical definition of depression, however, takes a more definitive approach than just the typical expression of exasperation. If you display five or more of the above symptoms over a period of two weeks or if the symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment to normal functioning, there is a chance that you may be diagnosed with depression.
Is it that serious?
A study was done by IMH in partnership with MOH and NTU to find out about Singapore’s mental health. In Singapore, one in 16 people may have depression at some point in their lives. That is just one of the most common mental disorders in Singapore! The percentage of lifetime prevalence of depression has seen a steady increase from 12% in 2010 to 13.9% in 2016. What’s scary is that 3 out of 4 (78.4%) people with mental disorders are not seeking help!
To find out more about depression you can read our recent article: What Is Depression & How to seek help? So, what is CBT, and how does that help with depression? Glad you asked! Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, otherwise known as CBT, is considered the “gold standard” treatment for depression. It is a combination of cognitive and behavioral therapy that targets our limiting or unhelpful thoughts and behaviors which most of the time can be untrue to reality.
Normally the therapy takes 8-12 sessions where the patient and therapist work together to identify problem thoughts and behaviors. With that as a reference, the therapist will equip the patient with tools and techniques to change the way they think, feel or behave in the situation. The basis of this model is the assumption that a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are deeply connected. Thus, by actively taking part in changing the way we think or behave (which is honestly easier than changing our emotions), we can affect how we perceive certain situations that might have given us a hard time. Also, “homework” between these therapy sessions is useful to help practice the skills acquired during therapy.
That sounds complex and great but the big question is, does this work well for depression?
Well, over the last few decades there have been a plethora of studies to assess just how efficient CBT is. These studies have shown that CBT is not only effective but also produces solid results as a treatment not only for depression but also other mental illnesses! One study that has shown just how effective CBT would be is a study done by Hollon et al (2005). The study found that patients who underwent and withdrew from CBT were less likely to relapse than those who underwent and withdrew from medications. In another six studies, CBT combined with medications added a 61 lower relapse/ recurrence rate (Vittengl et al, 2009, in Otto, 2013).
To conclude, CBT is efficient and definitely better than not doing anything about our mental health. If you do want to seek help or learn more about CBT therapy, feel free to contact us.
Social media trends are constantly evolving in today’s information age.
Generation Z (individuals who are born between 1997 and 2012) are considered to be digital natives where they are surrounded by vast technological advances since birth (Seymour, 2019). In contrast to other generations like the Millennials (those born between 1981 to 1996) and Generation X (those born between 1965 to 1980), Generation Z grew up with social media, smartphones and rapid information sharing (Seymour, 2019).
There are many different types of social media and some examples include social networking sites, dating apps, gaming apps, blogging or vlogging platforms. Globally, the top ten most used social media platforms are Facebook, YouTube, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat and Skype (Global Web Index, 2020). One of the latest additions includes TikTok, an app that comprises short entertaining videos created and enjoyed by younger users.
Impacts on youths
Given the increasing popularity of social media in recent years, it is undeniable that social media plays an important role in our society today. Social media provides a new lens for people to exchange information and interact with others. As youths enjoy their social connections with peers on social media platforms, the increased use of social media will likely pose a risk to their mental health and well being where they will feel anxious, depressed, lonely and the fear of missing out (FOMO) (Robinson & Smith, 2020). Youths also tend to compare their realities with other people’s best moments in which depicts an inaccurate representation of a person’s overall life (Robinson & Smith, 2020). Besides, youth may experience cyberbullying from others on social media platforms. As a result, youths will likely experience low self-esteem and psychological distress, anxiety or depressive symptoms.
Parents and teachers can assist youths by emphasising their youths’ values and strengths in relation to the different aspects of their lives in order to help them navigate the labyrinth of social media platforms. In addition, parents and teachers can focus on recognising signs which youths may exhibit when they are victims of cyberbullying such as social withdrawal, changes in mood and avoidance towards discussing their online interactions with others. Youths can also be encouraged by parents and teachers to seek counselling support if they find it difficult to manage unpleasant feelings related to their social media use. Please make an appointment to speak with one of our health professionals (a psychologist or counsellor) should youths require counselling support.
There is often much confusion between the terms psychiatrist and psychologist. People may use these terms interchangeably, but this is not to be the case. While both psychiatrists and psychologists treat people suffering from mental health issues and behaviour disorders, they are not the same. When should I see a psychiatrist? Is psychiatry and psychology even the same thing? Who should I see first? Such thoughts may run through your mind when mental health treatment is brought up. In this article, we hope to clear the doubts and achieve greater clarity on who they really are and how they differ.
Before we begin, if you’re reading this article to find important insights on seeking help from a mental health professional, we would like to commend you for taking the necessary steps to help yourself or your loved one. Making such a decision can be very daunting, and your mind might be in a disarray with constant worries of familial, societal and cultural stigma. However, it is ever so important to remember that there is no shame or embarrassment in wanting to help yourself or your loved one get better. Mental health is equally as important as physical health and seeking help is a sign of strength rather than weakness.
What’s the Difference Between a Psychiatrist and a Psychologist?
Fundamentally, the biggest difference between the two is in the approach they take towards treating mental disorders, and the capacity to prescribe medications. Unlike psychologists, psychiatrists are trained medical doctors at their core. Amongst the network of mental healthcare professionals, psychiatrists are certified to provide neuropharmacological support that is deemed essential in stabilising certain mental conditions, such as where chemical imbalances in the brain are involved.
As medical doctors, psychiatrists play a crucial role in the diagnostic process, as well as the prevention and treatment of emotional, mental, behavioral, and developmental issues. While conducting assessments, they may also involve relevant physical examinations, blood tests, or pharmacogenomic testing to narrow down the scope of diagnosis. While psychiatrists specialise in the mental phenomena, such physical examinations cannot be omitted entirely especially if they provide important clues to help them rule out other possible physical conditions.
Psychiatrists also have the capacity to assess your medical history. Physical and mental wellness go hand-in-hand – psychiatrists will need to grasp the full picture before finalising on a diagnosis. On the Huffington Post, Carol W. Berman, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Medical Center in New York City, writes, “Because we learned how the body interacts with the mind, we can rule out physical disorders as a cause of mental illness. This is important, since a person may have a hyperactive thyroid, for example, which can trigger panic attacks, anxiety, insomnia, or anorexia. We can look at thyroid blood tests or have a patient consult an endocrinologist if we suspect the problem stems from thyroid disease.”
In contrast, psychologists are not trained medical doctors, and thus cannot conduct any physical examinations nor prescribe medications. Clinical psychologists however, possess an accredited Master’s in Applied Psychology at the very minimum, and can make a diagnosis for the patient if he thinks he has a mental health condition.
Psychologists typically make use of various methods of psychometric testing, personality tests, observations and interviews to come to a conclusion. But that’s not all – psychologists also engage in psychotherapy treatment, with common forms including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Psychotherapy aims to help clients identify their key issues and concerns, before moving on to create a treatment plan to achieve the desired outcomes. Often conducted over several sessions, psychotherapy equips the individual with problem-solving and emotion-coping strategies to overcome the problem. For example, if a client comes in hopes of seeking help for social anxiety, psychotherapy (such as CBT) would be greatly beneficial in tackling maladaptive, limiting thoughts and behaviours that fuel negative emotions.
While there are differences in qualifications and the methods of treatments applied by psychiatrists and psychologists, it is key to note that they still work closely together. For the optimal treatment of certain mental health conditions, psychiatrists may refer you to psychologists for concurrent psychotherapy. Likewise, if a clinical psychologist determines your condition to be better managed with medications, a referral to a psychiatrist can be expected. Often once a proper diagnosis is done, the psychiatrist and psychologist may work together to build a treatment plan for the patient, focusing on managing symptoms through the use of medications and psychotherapy.
Who Should I See First?
Where physical symptoms may be severe, or where it may be hard to take basic care of yourself, turning to a psychiatrist would be a good option. After all, psychiatrists are trained medical doctors who can also work with your primary care doctor (if any) to provide optimal treatment. It is also suitable for individuals who are unsure as to whether their physical symptoms are linked to other underlying medical conditions. In such cases, psychiatrists will be able to detect a medical mimic. To put it simply, take for example a presenting complaint linked to the shortness of breath. While it may seem like a panic attack, it is crucial to eliminate any other clinical suspicions of lung diseases such as pulmonary embolism.
On the other hand, you may choose to make a trip to see a psychologist if you think you have a less severe mental condition. For individuals seeking to overcome phobias or resolve difficult issues in life, it may be more effective to undertake psychotherapy. A Psychologist can help you work through your problems, deal with emotional challenges or cope with particularly traumatic life events so as to make positive changes in your life.
We can all play a part in alleviating our own or our loved one’s suffering by increasing our understanding of mental health disorders. If you’re still struggling with making a decision after much thought, making the first step to contact a professional would help. You can be assured that the team at Promises will serve with your best interests at heart, and will work closely with you to provide optimal treatment.