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How To Get The Most Out Of Therapy

How To Get The Most Out Of Therapy

Written by: Andrew da Roza

Deciding to see a therapist is a big step – and staying in therapy requires a commitment to effect real change.   

It is not surprising that many hesitate before starting therapy. 

Some may be wondering how talking to a stranger can change their lives for the better. 

They may not know which therapist they ought to approach – and what they should be looking for in a therapist.

Others may hesitate because they are anxiously thinking ahead: “what happens if I don’t like the therapist?”; “what if the therapist doesn’t understand my struggle?”; “what if I don’t think that enough progress is being made?”.

They may also be wondering if they can change their therapist and if they can have more than one therapist. 

If you are struggling with these questions, thankfully, there may be some answers that put your mind at rest and give you the confidence to seek a therapist and engage in the healing process. 

 

Choosing the Therapist – The Qualifications 

Most clients can articulate why they wish to seek therapy – and have clear ideas about what is causing them distress or difficulty.

Clients with clinically diagnosable mental illnesses may have already sought help from a family member, friend, doctor, psychiatrist or religious leader. They may have even “Googled” their symptoms.  

If specialist help is needed, choosing a therapist with the relevant qualifications and experience will be the first step. 

In addition, you may wish to choose a therapist you are more likely to be comfortable with based on the therapist’s language ability, gender, culture and so on. 

 

What should I look for in a Therapist?

Research has shown that the positive connection a client makes with their therapist accounts for 36%-50% of the changes clients experience as a result of treatment. (1)(2) 

Sometimes called the “therapeutic alliance”, this is experienced by clients as liking and trusting their therapist.  

Some will bond strongly with therapists if they demonstrate empathy, warmth, unconditional regard and respect. They would like their therapist to be open, non-judgmental and curious about the clients’ struggles – to have a strong desire to “walk in the clients’ shoes”. 

Such clients make good progress in therapy when they feel understood and heard – as well as valued. 

Others may seek therapists who are good communicators and are well informed about the issues the clients are facing. They tend to bond with therapists who are able to impart and discuss information; offer practical suggestions; articulate action plans, goals and timelines; and support the clients in their motivation to take action to effect positive change. 

Many also seek insights into themselves, their emotions, the ways they react to people or situations; and their perspectives and intrusive thought patterns. 

By being more present with what arises in themselves, they seek to take more control over their own lives – to respond to people and situations instead of habitually reacting to them – and to accept and let go what they cannot control. 

These clients appreciate therapists who can assist in self-discovery. Therapists who are able to help articulate their “inner worlds,” and to reframe them. Therapists who empower them to navigate this “world” with more ease and confidence by playing to their strengths, rather than dwelling on what they perceive as their weaknesses. 

Interestingly, studies have repeatedly shown that the type of therapy used for individual therapy (such as cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalytic or psychodynamic therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, person centered therapy and so on) has only a marginal effect on the outcomes of therapy (3)(4)(5).     

So, the key to choosing a therapist involves articulating what you expect from therapy and your therapist, and what kind of person you think will best meet your emotional and other needs. 

It would be helpful to articulate what you want the therapist to do (and not do); and what your end goal or “vision” for therapy is. You can do this by first asking yourself the question: “what changes am I seeking that will make a real positive difference in my life?”. 

Many benefit from putting all this in writing and bringing it to the first therapy session to discuss it with the therapist. 

 

Beginning Therapy – And then Changing the Therapist 

On the first meeting with a therapist, some clients – though this may be rare – simply do not like or trust the therapist, or that they do not have the experience or knowledge to assist them.

It also sometimes happens that a client feels that the therapist is not present or really hearing the client’s narrative. 

Worst still, they may see the therapist jumping to conclusions – or solutions. They may feel disrespected and “unheard” – and that they are being left behind, while the therapist is “racing” ahead of them. 

Other clients may feel that the therapist is judging them or telling them what to do, think or feel – and not to do, think or feel. The clients may feel anxious, disempowered, dismissed, angry or offended. 

If this happens to you, let your therapist know. If you don’t see any change in their approach, rest assured that changing therapists is likely to be helpful. 

 

Changing Therapists Along the Way 

One situation that you may wish to avoid though, is changing therapists regularly. This is because continuity in therapy is one of the keys to progress. 

Therapy is very much a journey. 

Whether the goal is self-discovery, empowerment, executing action plans to change behaviour, building confidence, or managing anxiety or depression. The journey has stages, and keeping the same guide on this journey is likely to facilitate progress.

If you are in the middle of your therapeutic journey, and you wish to change therapists, it would be helpful to articulate clearly why you want to do this. 

Is the therapeutic bond broken – and cannot be fixed? Is there little or no progress in your clearly articulated goals? Have you changed the goals and discussed them with your therapist – and it is clear that the therapist will not be able to assist? 

Some clients simply feel that therapy has become “stale”; or they feel as though they are attending therapy to “tick the box” and to show others that they are willing and able to change. 

Whatever the reasons, write them down. Discussing them openly and honestly with your therapist is likely to help. 

If you wish to make a change, ask the therapist for a referral to another therapist, and give permission to the current therapist to brief the new therapist. You may wish to join in this discussion.  

This is more likely to ensure that your therapeutic journey continues without disruption. 

One situation you may wish to be conscious of, is changing therapists solely because the therapeutic work has become difficult. “Jumping ship” may not be the answer. 

There is no doubt that therapy can be very challenging – perhaps the most challenging thing you have ever done. 

The challenge could arise because the insights are uncomfortable (or even painful); the changes in behaviour require a lot of motivation to sustain; a change in perspective seems counterintuitive; or because the anxiety, intrusive rumination or low mood seem relentless.  

Changing therapists may not be the answer – and may simply delay or disrupt the difficult therapeutic work ahead of you.

It is likely to be more helpful to articulate these challenges, write them down and discuss them with your therapist.    

 

Having more than one therapist

Some clients may need more than one therapist. 

A client may have an individual therapist who assists the client on their own personal journey. 

They may also have a couples’ therapist to address their relationship with their partner. In that event, the therapist treats the couplehood as “the client” – and provides equal support to both parties and works towards their joint goals.  

Other clients may also have a family therapist to address the relationships within the family. Again, the therapist will see the family as “the client” and assist with the family goals.

Couples and family therapists tend to provide specific modes of therapy, which have proved effective for couples and families.  

In the case of individual, couple and family therapy, in most cases, it is generally considered unethical and a conflict of interest for one therapist to play all three roles. 

The therapist cannot best serve the client’s, couples’, and family’s interests while wearing all three “hats”. 

Once a therapist tries to do this, they may (for example) feel obliged to keep secrets from one person in the couplehood or others in the family. This may reinforce the unhealthy dynamics of secrets and deceit that brought the clients to therapy in the first place.

Conflicts of interest create confusion, anxiety, anger and disappointment for clients. 

Keeping to ethical boundaries is more likely to ensure that the therapeutic journey is not sabotaged. 

Unethical conflicts of interest also arise if a client is seeing two different individual therapists.

Broadly, therapists are obliged to decline to see a client if they already have an individual therapist they are actively working with. 

Having two therapists engaged in the same work exposes clients to confusion, anxiety and conflict, and is likely to disrupt a client’s progress in their therapeutic journey. 

If you are considering seeing two therapists for individual therapy, it would be helpful to clearly articulate why you think this will assist – and to discuss this openly with the therapists.

Some clients may change therapists to “find the right answer”; the “best answer”; or the answer that fits their “view of the world”. That “view” may be the same “view” that has been causing them the trouble – and motivated them to seek therapy in the first place. 

All this is worthy of open and honest discussion and exploration. 

Another situation in which other therapists may be involved occurs when a client has an individual therapist and also attends group therapy. Group therapy can be a very effective way to continue the therapeutic journey, once progress has been made in individual therapy. 

Again, therapists commonly use specific modes of therapy for groups. 

 

Working with Multiple Therapists 

If you are working with multiple therapists, it is helpful to let them know who else you are working with, and what goals you (e.g. as an individual, couple or a family member) have agreed to pursue with the other therapists.

From time to time, it will assist to share with your therapists what you took away from the other therapy sessions, how the sessions are progressing and what plans you have agreed with the therapists.

It is always open to you to ask the therapists to communicate with each other and to coordinate treatment. 

It is also your right to maintain confidentiality and not to coordinate treatment – but “dovetailing” these different therapy sessions is more likely to help optimize your outcomes.

The Promises Healthcare website provides assistance to clients to identify their issues and provides photographs, names, languages, qualifications and experience of the specialists who can assist: https://promises.com.sg/about-us/our-team/

We hope that you will be able to find the right help from us.

 


  1. Horvath, A.O., Del Re, A.C., Fluckiger, C., and Symonds, D. (2011). Alliance in individual psychotherapy. Psychotherapy, 48, 9-16. Doi:10.1037/a0022186
  2. Duncan, B. (2014). On becoming a better therapist – evidence-based practice one client at a time. (2nd Ed.) Chapter 1, pp.23-24. The American Psychological Association, Washington DC. 
  3. Stiles, W.B., Barkham, M., Mellor-Clark, J., & Connel, J. (2008). Effectiveness of cognative-behavuoural, person-centred and psychodynamic therapies in the UK primary-care routine practice. Psychological Medicine, 38, pp 677-688. Doi:10.1017/S0033291707001511
  4. Benish, S.G., Imel, Z.E., & Wampold, B.E. (2008). The relative efficacy of bona fide psychotherapies for treating post-traumatic stress disorder: A meta-analysis of direct comparisons. Clinical Psychological Review, 28, 746-758. Doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2007.10.005. 
  5. Duncan, B. (2014). On becoming a better therapist – evidence-based practice one client at a time. (2nd Ed.) Chapter 1, pp.9-12. The American Psychological Association, Washington DC. 
Bipolar and Schizophrenia – Symptoms, Treatment and Recovery

Bipolar and Schizophrenia – Symptoms, Treatment and Recovery

Written by: Dr. Joseph Leong Jern-Yi

Understanding Bipolar & Schizophrenia

Both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia were considered severe mental illnesses with no recovery in the past. This is not true in modern psychiatry as we have developed more effective treatments such as medications (psycho-pharmacology) and psycho-social interventions (psycho-therapy and psycho-social rehabilitation) which help patients improve their quality of life as well as reduce symptoms and restore function.

Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia may have similar symptoms which are disturbances in thinking, feelings and behaviour. The major difference is that bipolar disorder is classified as a mood disorder whereas schizophrenia is classified as a psychotic disorder. Mental healthcare professionals make diagnoses based on reports of patients, caregivers, or other information sources as well as observations made during the assessment interview.

Experts have also formulated that schizophrenia and bipolar disorder may be a spectrum disorder with schizophrenia on one end and bipolar disorder on the other end with schizoaffective disorder in the middle of the spectrum.

What is more important however is not the exact diagnosis alone but rather the identification of symptoms so that treatment can be effectively targeted at the relief of the symptoms, restoring function and improving quality of life. This targeted symptom approach has proven to be one of the most effective ways of helping persons recover from these brain conditions.

Let’s discuss some of the common symptoms –

Delusions, which are untrue, unshakable, and unshared beliefs which can exist in both brain conditions.

For example, delusions of persecution which are beliefs of being targeted, being followed, being sabotaged (persecutory) are common in schizophrenia while delusions of grandiosity such as believing that they are particularly important persons and have special powers or ability to save the world (grandiose delusions) are more common in bipolar disorder. For persons with schizoaffective disorder, they might have both persecutory and grandiose delusions at the same time. It also has an underlying co-occurring mood disorder.  

Hallucinations which are perceptual disturbances such as hearing voices which are not heard by others, seeing, smelling, tasting or feeling things which are not present are more likely to happen in schizophrenia.

Severe mood swings and manic episodes where the person has fast speech and high energy levels are associated with abnormal spending, socialising, exercising, or expanding businesses with the need for very little sleep over a few days and weeks are more likely to happen in bipolar disorder.

More than half a century ago, most persons suffering from these brain conditions were isolated and confined to asylums as there were no effective treatments until the discovery of medications that can change brain chemistry. Neurotransmitters which are chemicals responsible for brain and other bodily functions were discovered. Noradrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine disturbances were more likely causes in bipolar disorder while dopamine imbalance was a more probable cause of schizophrenia. See https://dana.org/article/neurotransmitters/

 

The Help Of Modern Medicine

Modern psychopharmacology offers an array of medications which can act on various neurotransmitter sites in the brain. Several medications and several rounds of adjustment and fine-tuning may often be needed to achieve stabilisation with medications with relief of symptoms. This is best done collaboratively with the patient, psychiatrist, and caregiver at the consultation with all the medications brought in for review.

Adjusting to a new medication through an effective therapeutic trial may take at least 2 weeks, starting with the lowest dose and increasing dosing to a maximised symptom relief dose over 2 months. 

Medications need to be taken daily to be effective, and this is best done using a pill box and with supervision from a loved one. Medications are served by nurses in the inpatient hospital setting who ensure that the correct dose is directly observed to be taken by the patient – however, this is often lacking in the outpatient setting leading to the return of the symptoms causing distress and dysfunction.

 

Bipolar & Schizophrenia Treatment Methods

Comparing bipolar disorder and schizophrenia to other brain conditions may be helpful in understanding how one can better achieve remission and recovery. 

Epilepsy is a brain condition where there are electrical firing of neurons causing disturbances in thinking, feeling and behaviour. To stay in control of oneself, the doctor may recommend various combinations of anti-epileptic medications to prevent another seizure. In fact, the model of kindling in epilepsy has been used to understand mental health treatment in this highly readable resource essay – https://aeon.co/essays/should-the-kindling-concept-direct-mental-health-treatment

If you speak to someone with experience with epilepsy, they will tell you about ‘warning signs’ and the ‘confusional state’ after a breakthrough seizure.

Similarly, for those struggling with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, one becomes more aware of ‘warning signs’, and ‘confusional states’ through direct feedback from loved ones who are observant and psycho-educated by healthcare professionals. Charting, monitoring and sharing your experience are key to success in achieving remission and recovery. Use this mood chart and share it with your mental healthcare professionals for more in-depth analysis – https://loricalabresemd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Personalized-Mood_Chart.pdf

Symptoms management starts with monitoring your symptoms and the response to the treatment – what makes it better, what makes it worse, whether it is mild, moderate or severe. The frequency, intensity and severity can be charted so that effective treatment of psycho-pharmacology (active use of medications) and psycho-social interventions (psycho-therapy and psycho-social rehabilitation) can be targeted to achieve the best outcome for you.

 

Recovery Is Possible

Your mental healthcare professional can coach and pace you so that it will not be overwhelming. Recovery starts with taking it one day at a time. Be gentle with yourself. Learn to trust and entrust your healing to people who care about you. Learning from feedback as well as charting, monitoring and sharing your experience with loved ones – trusted family or friends or co-workers greatly enhance effectiveness.

Atomic habits by James Clear is an excellent book which illustrates the importance of charting, monitoring and shaping your habits, on the premise of improving 1% daily leading to more than 365% improvement in one year. This is Youtube illustrates how that can happen – “How to become 37.78 times better at anything”. 

There are many services available at Promises Healthcare and Community Partners which can help reduce symptoms, restore function, and improve quality of life. Recovery is possible and becomes a reality with appropriate support and adequate skill training. With the right help and support, persons in recovery can live meaningful and satisfying lives.

Here are some real stories that illustrate many facets of mental health and recovery:

The Neurobiology of TMS

The Neurobiology of TMS

Written by: Dr. Sean David Vanniasingham

Principles of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

In the 1800s, world-renowned English physicist Michael Faraday discovered the principles of electromagnetic induction. Fast forward to the 21st century, Faraday’s discovery was harnessed into the clinical practice of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for the treatment of mood disorders. Based on Faraday’s Law, TMS can stimulate brain neuronal circuits with tiny electrical currents induced by a changing magnetic field.

 

Application of TMS in Singapore 

In Singapore, the practical application of TMS is employed in the form of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). In rTMS, magnetic pulses are delivered in trains at specific frequencies. “Fast” (high frequency e.g. 10Hz) stimulation increases cortical excitability for the treatment of depression. Whereas “slow” (low frequency e.g. 1Hz) stimulation reduces cortical excitability for treating anxiety disorders. Furthermore, TMS can be targeted at focused regions of the cortex for superior precision treatment of specific conditions e.g. rTMS at 1Hz to the right orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) reduces intrusive obsessions in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Mood disturbances such as depression are increasingly understood as disorders of connectivity in neural networks linking cortical and subcortical grey structures of the brain. Functional brain imaging has shown dysfunction in cortical regions such as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), as well as deep grey matter structures including the amygdala, nucleus accumbens, hippocampus and hypothalamus. These brain circuits are pivotal for executive functioning, regulation of emotions, reward processing and preservation of memory and cognition. They also link the nervous system to the endocrine system, which mediates the body’s response to stress. 

 

Neuroplasticity and TMS

Evidence suggests that TMS induces neuroplastic changes in these circuits. Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections. TMS helps readjust neurotransmitter (e.g. serotonin and dopamine) levels in a variety of brain regions. TMS also appears to exert a neuroprotective effect on the brain. Research has shown that TMS decreases brain inflammatory factors reducing oxidative stress on the brain. TMS also boosts the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), encouraging neuronal growth in regions such as the hippocampus which is vital for learning and memory. It is postulated that the anti-depressant properties of TMS may also help in normalizing the body’s neuroendocrine stress response system.

 

rTMS has achieved its place on international treatment guidelines as an augmentation treatment modality to be strongly considered in treatment-resistant depression. It is reported that 30-40% of depressed patients may have inadequate responses to anti-depressant medication treatment. The direct neuronal effects of rTMS may explain why rTMS may work for this group of patients. 

 

rTMS for OCD Treatment and other neurological disorders

In May 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of the NeuroStar TMS system as an adjunct for treating adult patients suffering from OCD. Promising research is ongoing for the clinical application of TMS in treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), addictions, chronic pain, insomnia and many other neurological disorders.

 

TMS and recovery

With further advancements in TMS research and the incorporation of TMS in routine clinical practice, there is strong hope for recovery and the regaining of optimal functioning for patients afflicted by complex neuropsychiatric conditions.

 


References

1) Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Clinical Applications for Psychiatric Practice

2018 American Psychiatric Association Publishing, First Edition

2) The Science of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation 

William M. Sauvé, MD; and Lawrence J. Crowther, Meng

Psychiatric Annals, Vol44, No.6, 2014

3) Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation increases serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor and decreases interleukin-1b and tumour necrosis factor-a in elderly patients with refractory depression 

Xiangxiang Zhao, Yanpeng Li, Qing Tian, Bingqian Zhu and Zhongxin Zhao

Journal of International Medical Research 2019, Vol. 47(5) 1848–1855

4) What is repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation and how does it actually work?

Paul Fitzgerald, Professor of Psychiatry, Monash University

The Conversation AU, published May 13 2021

Quantifying Stress and How We Can Manage It

Quantifying Stress and How We Can Manage It

What comes to mind when you hear the word “stress”? Perhaps an imagery of you worrying about meeting certain deadlines, finding means to pay off that housing rent, or cramming knowledge to do well in the upcoming exam? 

 

As with everything else, stress can be beneficial as long as it’s present in moderation. While a certain level of stress may be necessary to provide motivation and encourage positive growth, excessive and unhealthy levels of stress may cause undesirable mental and physical health consequences. Stressors may be long-term, such as the routine stress related to the pressures of school, work, family, and other daily responsibilities, or short-term occurrences brought on by sudden changes, such as losing a job, illness, or facing dangerous situations. With that said, how can we quantify this feeling of emotion or physical tension? How do we know if the level of stress we are facing exceeds the healthy range? 

 

Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory

In 1967, Psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe created the Social Readjustment

Rating Scale (SRRS), now commonly known as the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory, a scale which aims to measure the likelihood of a stress-induced health breakdown. The inventory consists of a list of 43 life events, with each called a Life Change Unit (LCU). The events are ranked according to a “mean value”, which correlates to a weightage reflecting the severity of the life event. For instance, the death of a spouse would be worth 100 points, while minor violations of the law would be worth 11 points. The inventory takes a comprehensive approach to measuring stress, and does not solely include negative life experiences. Other processes of change can also contribute to stress, some of which may not necessarily be adversarial. The scale takes into account other events such as pregnancy, revision of personal habits, or changes in residence or a new school.  

 

Take the stress inventory!

 

Once you have gotten through the list of life events, tally your score for the respective Life Change Units that apply to you. According to the Holmes-Rahe statistical prediction model, a total score of 150 or less would suggest a relatively low amount of life change, and a low susceptibility to stress-induced health breakdown. A score between 150 to 300 would indicate a 50% chance of health breakdown in the next 2 years, and a score of 300 or more would indicate an 80% chance of health breakdown in the next 2 years.

 

Stress Management

Navigating life stressors is of great importance – it prevents one from suffering from the far-reaching impact of a burnout, which can manifest in terms of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. Stress that comes with change is inevitable, but you can always adopt new, healthy approaches to navigating tumultuous times. 

 

  • Maintain the pillars of healthy living. When you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by new day-to-day adjustments, it is easy to neglect your basic needs. This includes eating well, sleeping (at regular hours), exercising and having social time. While we understand that trade-offs may be necessary, strive to maintain normalcy and avoid compromising on them as much as possible. Try sticking to your usual bedtime routine, eating balanced meals, staying hydrated, and sticking to your exercise routine. At the same time, avoid turning to unhealthy coping strategies such as increasing alcohol consumption. There is a strong correlation between your physical and mental health – by taking care of your body, finding comfort and relief amidst adversity will come with greater ease.


  • Rely on your social support system. Talking to your friends, family or any trusted person about your worries can take a load off your mind. At times, speaking to them can also give you some insight and advice from a 3rd person’s point of view, which may aid you in navigating through difficulties. Of course, seeking help from a mental health professional is also an option. Therapists can help you work through and process any negative emotions, and guide you through particularly stressful situations with problem-solving strategies. 


  • Take time for self care. Self care is a practice that is often overlooked. While some people associate self care with treating themselves to luxurious meals or having a staycation, self care can be as simple as taking time to read your favourite book, or engaging in a hobby. It does not have to be long periods of time, but even a short 30 minute rest can be very helpful in relieving stress. Doing so will also help increase productivity, since you can return with a fresher state of mind. 


  • Revise your thought patterns. When the going gets tough, it is natural that we may assume the worst, or have a bleak outlook. However, that can feed into the vicious cycle, heightening stress levels. Take time to assess your thought patterns. Practising mindfulness or other relaxation techniques can help you think more clearly, and to regain control over your spiralling thoughts. In addition, try generating positive thoughts, and affirm yourself that things will improve. Remind yourself of how you have successfully navigated past challenges, and focus on your strengths. This way, you’ll feel more empowered. 

 

Stress is part and parcel of life, and a natural way that our minds and bodies respond to major life changes. However, we can always improve on the way we handle stress, and in a manner that is to our benefit. If you or a loved one is struggling to cope with stress or any major life events, feel free to contact us and seek help.

 


References:

https://www.stress.org/holmes-rahe-stress-inventory (Accessed 19/04/2022)

Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

Dr Rajesh Jacobs Speaks with Expat Living on the misconceptions of psychiatric medication

Dr Rajesh Jacobs Speaks with Expat Living on the misconceptions of psychiatric medication

There are many stereotypes about mental health medication. One acute misconception is medication dependence and addiction – that it’ll be difficult to stop these medications once people with mental illnesses get well and recover.
Dr Jacob Rajesh from Promises Healthcare speaks to the editorial team from Expat Living to help debunk some of the myths and tells us more about new techniques like Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation.