How Does Sex Therapy Rescue Your Love Life? – 6 Incredible Ways

It is not a great topic to reveal that many people suffer from various sexual issues. Sex is an important aspect of people’s lives, and dealing with it may be challenging at times.

There are a variety of sexual disorders that make it difficult for people to connect with others. Certain sexual dysfunctions can disrupt relationships and negatively impact an individual’s overall happiness.

Many sexual problems are linked to mental health problems. Some of these challenges will be physical, but knowing how to approach things differently from a mental perspective can help improve the situation. If you’re concerned about your sexual life, a sex therapist may be able to help.

Understanding Sex Therapy

Sex therapy is a form of counseling in which couples or individuals can talk to a mental health professional like a sex therapist, marriage and family counselor, social worker, psychologist, or healthcare practitioner about their sexual health difficulties.

Practitioners of sex therapy aim to assist their clients in identifying and treating issues relating to their sexual health and dysfunction. Contemporary sex therapy tends to stress a few different directions:
• Being mindful (being aware of your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and emotions)
• Psychotherapy (using talk therapy, not just medication)
• Inclusiveness (adapting sex therapy to be more inclusive of different sexualities)
• Couples-oriented (looking at the role of partners, not just the individual)
• Attitude-shifting (changing an individual’s perception of sex)

How does a Sex Therapist Improve Your Life?

There are a variety of issues that counseling may assist with. Many sexual disorders are resolved with the proper use of therapy, and people will move on toward a more fulfilling sexual life.

Sex is an important aspect of people’s lives, and dealing with it may be challenging at times. There are a variety of sexual disorders that make it difficult for people to connect with others. Certain sexual dysfunctions can disrupt relationships and negatively impact an individual’s overall happiness. These include:

1- Problem With Sexual Arousal

Many people seek sex therapy because they are experiencing sexual arousal issues. For people in committed relationships, sexual arousal disorders may be quite challenging, and it might be frustrating not to perform sexually for someone you care deeply about.

A sex therapist can assist with male erectile dysfunction or female painful intercourse problems. Collaboration with a sex therapist is an effective strategy for figuring out what’s causing these issues. A person’s ability to experience arousal is frequently affected by a condition.

2- Conflicted About the Relationship

A partner who is suffering sexual dissatisfaction is a common example. In this case, it’s best to go to counseling on your own first to understand yourself and your sexual concerns better, then invite your partner in.

3- Lack of Desire

A person who is suffering sexual boredom is a frequent example. In this instance, it’s best to go to counseling on your own to understand yourself better and your sexual difficulties, then bring your partner in.

4- Lack of Motivation

An increasingly frequent condition happens when people lack interest in sexual fantasies or behavior and suffer pain or relationship troubles. Treatment entails several steps.

Therapists help clients recognize negative attitudes toward sex, investigate the causes of such attitudes, and develop new perspectives on sex. Clients may be asked to keep journals of their sexual thoughts, view romantic videos, or construct fantasies when the focus switches to conduct.
Therapists also address any relationship problems.

5- Traumatic Sexual Experiences From The Past

Patients benefit significantly from sex therapists’ ability to help them come to terms with prior sexual events that may be affecting their sexual desire or performance.

Sex therapists have expertise in working with rape and sexual assault victims. It can be a difficult journey, but various therapeutic strategies can help. It will take time to talk about the issues and re-establish your comfort level.

6- Intimacy Issues

Another prevalent sexual condition that prevents people from getting close to one another is intimacy difficulties. During sexual intercourse, some people seek an intimate sexual engagement yet have difficulties doing it. Many people are ashamed of getting intimate with another person to avoid having sexual relations altogether. It can make the individual with whom they interact feel incompetent, resulting in general discontent.

A qualified therapist may help persons with physical difficulties and other concerns interfering with intimacy between two adults in a relationship. It may include individual treatment and also couples counseling.

Maintaining a deep and emotionally intimate sexual connection with one’s partner as the relationship progresses and changes may be a big issue for certain relationships. However, with the right treatment and skilled sex therapists, some sexual issues are quickly resolved.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1- What does a sex therapist deal with?

Generally, sex therapists listen to concerns and offer therapy and instruction. They assess if the issue is psychological, physical, or both. They also collaborate with other medical and surgical experts to treat the medical causes of sexual problems.

2- What are the four critical principles of sex therapy?

The new sex therapy’s basic foundations include:
• A solid understanding of physiology, endocrinology, and metabolic function.
• Psychotherapy should be used only when organic factors have been excluded or identified
• Treatment of couples as a unit by dual-sex therapy teams,
• An intensive short-term program

3- Is sex therapy regulated?

Sex therapy requires no additional regulation since the language of the existing practices acts in marriage and family counseling and psychology cover most of the activities now constituting sex therapy and thereby limit the practice to licensed counselors.

For more information and how to locate a licensed sex therapist, use the search directory on Psychology Today.

6 Useful Tips to Keep Your Mind and Body Healthy

People these days are often so busy with work and their responsibilities that sometimes they forget to take care of their mental and physical health. 

However, if you keep this up, you risk your chances of burning out and developing certain illnesses that may be hard to treat later on. This is why it is important to take the necessary steps to ensure that your mind and body stay in top condition, especially during these troubling times when the world is currently under a global health crisis. 

Apart from avoiding the development of serious ailments and conditions, one of the benefits of keeping yourself strong and healthy includes saving yourself the trouble of paying for expensive hospital and doctors’ fees. 

With this in mind, you can do more activities while prolonging your life expectancy in the process. Read on to learn more about how you can ensure that you stay healthy. 

De-Stress

Stress can come from an abundance of factors that you face in your everyday life. If you do not find ways to remove stress from your body, it can contribute to the development of serious medical conditions like high blood pressure and heart disease. 

Luckily, there are many ways you can try to de-stress, such as listening to relaxing music, lighting a scented candle, meditating every night, or even treating yourself to a massage. 

Exercise regularly

Breaking a sweat regularly keeps your body in good shape and allows you keep your muscles from going stiff. At the same time, you can maintain a healthy weight range and boost your strength, which can affect your overall appearance as you age. 

Watch your diet 

A healthy diet is one of the best ways to ensure that your body stays healthy and gains the necessary nutrients to function properly. Eating a variety of foods that are right in minerals and vitamins can be beneficial, especially for those at a higher risk of developing genetic illnesses such as diabetes. 

Take a break

Overworking yourself will do you no good and only put your health at risk. Always remember to take a few short breaks during the day to refresh your mind and stretch out your body. By doing so, you also allow yourself to perform better and reduce the amount of time you need to recover at the end of your shift. 

Get checked 

Apart from maintaining a good diet and exercising regularly, make it a habit to regularly get yourself checked out by your doctor. While you may feel fine, this is a good way to know if your body has developed any early signs of complications that can be prevented quickly. In most cases, going for a check-up annually or bi-annually is recommended. 

Talk to a counselor

Keeping yourself mentally healthy is another way to look out for yourself and prevent problems from escalating. When certain situations seem to be too difficult for you to handle, seek out a professional counselor to talk to about your concerns and gain guidance on what you can do to reduce your stress and anxiety. 

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late

The majority of people today find that regularly keeping up with an exercise routine and a balanced diet is too tedious. In most cases, people succumb to the convenience of modern-day creations such as instant-cooked foods filled with unhealthy preservatives while spending most of the day sitting down on the couch glued to the television or our phones. 

If you do not change your lifestyle into a healthier one, you risk major consequences later on in life that you may regret. Never wait until a doctor tells you that you need to exercise more and keep a good diet. Start taking care of your health today. 

When Giving Thanks, Don’t Forget Yourself

As we give thanks at the holidays, it’s easy to overlook someone important: your past self.

While it’s well documented that gratitude toward others can improve wellbeing, two University of Florida scientists find that gratitude toward your past self also has benefits.

Does thanking yourself seem a bit…selfish? The researchers, UF psychology professor Matt Baldwin, Ph.D., and undergraduate student Samantha Zaw, think not.

“Despite the fact that past gratitude is self-focused, it reminds people that they’re part of a bigger story and that they have the power to grow,” Baldwin said. “It’s possible this promotes a pay-it-forward type of mentality.”

Gratitude is what psychologists call a self-transcendent emotion, one that lifts us out of the everyday and expands our perspective, which can help us get along with each other better. In a recent experiment, Baldwin and Zaw asked participants to write brief gratitude letters. The first group thanked someone else, the second thanked themselves, while a third, the control condition, wrote about a positive experience they’d had. Zaw and Baldwin then surveyed the participants about their self-perception after writing the letter. Although the results are not yet published, early analysis shows that the exercise gave the other- and self-focused gratitude groups a sense of redemption and helped them feel they were morally good people. However, the group that wrote to themselves scored higher on both measures.

The past-self group also saw a benefit the others didn’t: an increase in the self-awareness measures of clarity, authenticity and connectedness.

“Unlike gratitude toward others, being appreciative of ourselves carries an added benefit of truly understanding who we are and feeling connected to ourselves,” said Zaw, a McNair Scholar who has been working with Baldwin since her freshman year as part of UF’s Emerging Scholars Program.

Zaw and Baldwin’s research — the first known data gathered on past-self gratitude — was inspired by a Reese’s cup. When Baldwin’s co-worker, boredom researcher Erin Westgate, returned to the office after pandemic lockdown, she was delighted to discover a peanut butter cup she had squirreled away in her desk.

“She texted me like, ‘Oh my gosh, my past self left my future self a Reese’s,’” Baldwin recalled. “I was like, ‘Wait a second. You’re expressing gratitude towards something your past self had done. We have to study this.’”

As Zaw and Baldwin dug into previous studies, they found plenty on gratitude toward others and a few on self-compassion, but nothing on past-self gratitude. They designed the letter-writing experiment to test its effects, presenting their findings at the Society of Southeastern Social Psychologists in October and at the upcoming meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in February.

If you’re curious about the benefits of self-gratitude, Zaw offered a way to try the experiment at home, maybe as a new Thanksgiving tradition. Take a few minutes to write a thank you message to someone else, and another to yourself for something you did in the past. Sharing what you wrote could foster connections between loved ones, she said, but the exercise can also pay dividends if you try it on your own.

“At Thanksgiving and Christmas, we focus on other people, but self-care is really needed too, especially if we want to feel more clear about ourselves,” she said. “Maybe it can even lead to a better vision for ourselves for the next year.”

A Lifeline for Primary Care Amid a Crisis in Youth Mental Health

Most mental health care in America doesn’t happen in psychiatrists’ offices – especially when it comes to children, teens and young adults.

Instead, young people with depression, anxiety and more turn to the same people they already go to for all kinds of other health issues: their pediatricians, family doctors, school-based clinics and other primary care providers.

But where do those providers turn when they need more help in handling the mental health concerns of their patients – especially more serious issues that they’re not trained to handle?

If they’re anywhere in Michigan, they can turn to the team at MC3.

For nearly a decade, the MC3 program has helped thousands of primary care providers throughout the state care for the mental health needs of young people up to age 26. It also aids providers caring for pregnant women and new mothers of any age who have mental health needs.

More than 16,000 times since 2012, MC3’s psychiatrists and pediatric behavior specialists from the University of Michigan have connected directly with more than 1,800 primary care providers by phone, for consultations about their patients.

Together, they’ve mapped out plans for handling ADHD in young children, suicide-prevention safety planning for teens and symptoms that might signal schizophrenia in young adults.

There’s no charge to providers or their patients, thanks to the program’s funding from state and federal grants.

For providers whose patients recently had a mental health emergency or are waiting for an appointment with a child psychiatrist or a psychiatric inpatient bed, the service can literally be a lifeline: one in five of the consults involve a patient who has expressed suicidal thoughts or harmed themselves.

How it Works

MC3 also offers video-based telehealth appointments to connect patients of participating providers with psychiatrists. U-M and Michigan State University experts have also created a wide range of training options for professionals available on the MC3 website.

Though the demand has grown in recent years thanks to the pandemic, the program has room for more Michigan providers to join the network and get access to its services.

Each connection starts by contacting one of the trained professionals in MC3’s network of Behavioral Health Consultants, located throughout the state. MC3 also works closely with the state-funded Community Mental Health agencies across the state.

“Only about 3% of the children, teens, young adults and moms that our participating providers have consulted with us about are in treatment with a psychiatrist. We’re providing access to specialist-informed care to young people who wouldn’t otherwise have it,” said Sheila Marcus, M.D., who heads the pediatric component of MC3 and is a professor of psychiatry at Michigan Medicine, the University of Michigan’s academic medical center.

“The reality is that no matter where they live and no matter what their family’s income level, most of these patients would not have easy access to a specialist because of the critical shortage of such providers,” she added. “In some counties, there are no local providers trained to provide this level of care.”

Primary care providers inside and outside Michigan can also access MC3’s free online resources, even if they’re not enrolled in the program.

These include prescribing guides for mental health medications and online provider education, to equip them to provide diagnosis and care that might not have been part of their formal professional training. Much of that training offers continuing education credits that can help physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and certified nurse midwives keep up their license.

“For me, MC3 has been a game changer,” said Lia Gaggino, M.D., who first interacted with the MC3 team through her pediatrics practice in Portage, Michigan and now is the team’s consulting pediatrician. “Since its inception I have used their services for children and teens who presented with very complicated mental health concerns. I wished I had had a psychiatrist to help me and then MC3 appeared and offered me a lifeline. Their services changed my prescribing practices and improved my skills and I am so grateful for their advice and support. I encourage my colleagues to sign up and call –MC3 is there to help us!”

Local Care Amid a National Emergency

As the nation grapples with a national emergency of rising mental health concerns among young people, MC3 and similar programs in other states are expanding access to critical psychiatric services at a time when demand is soaring.

The national organizations that declared that emergency in October called for more support of mental health care in primary care settings, as well as efforts to overcome the national shortage of mental health specialists for young people, especially in rural and low-income areas.

That shortage is what drove the creation of MC3 in the first place.

Michigan is third from the bottom among all states in supply of mental health professionals for young people. Only Washtenaw County, where the University of Michigan is located, meets national population-based criteria for having enough mental health providers specializing in children and teens.

The pandemic has made matters worse across Michigan and the United States. A national report from November 2020 showed that anxiety and depression in pregnant women have more than doubled, and emergency department visits for mental health concerns in children had risen by double digits since the pandemic began.

Joanna Quigley, M.D., another MC3 consulting psychiatrist from Michigan Medicine, recently presented data at a national meeting showing that 30% of MC3 consults during 2020 focused on pandemic-related concerns.  

The pandemic has prompted MC3’s team to plan to offer extra training to help providers identify the needs and handle the concerns of children traumatized by experiences they or their families have had during COVID-19.

Trauma-informed care is also important for children who even before the pandemic experienced very disruptive life events.

Terri Rosel, NP-C, a nurse practitioner at Cherry Health in northern Michigan, wrote to the MC3 team: “I work in a small student health center in Cedar Springs and am the sole provider in the office. Since starting this job four years ago I have had the pleasure of seeing so many students with mental health concerns. I felt ill-equipped at times to help them with my degree as a family practice nurse practitioner. I would utilize MC3 often to help with treatment plans for these wonderful kids who needed help but could not get into psychiatric services soon enough.”

As the program continues to grow, it will partner more with schools through a direct connection with the TRAILS program that offers mental health awareness and support services.

Positive Feedback from Providers

The MC3 team has surveyed participating providers and found that 99% agreed with the statement that “following phone consultation(s) I felt more confident that I could effectively treat patients’ behavioral health problems.”

The team published other findings from its survey of providers, and responded to feedback by making changes.

The quotes they received from providers are equally compelling.

“This service has been absolutely ‘practice- changing’,” said one. “As we have more and more patients with mental health issues and limited local resources- we are essentially the only option for these kids. Having MC3 support helps us make good treatment decisions and is also ‘on the job training’ which we can apply to future patients.”

In fact, MC3 data show that 25% of the interactions help the patient avoid a higher-level of care that may be difficult to access, such as a psychiatric hospital bed or emergency psychiatric visit.

One of the maternal health providers who joined MC3 recently said, “I can’t even express how this service has enhanced the care I can provide. In the past, we’d screen and diagnose and then send moms out. We’d place referrals and hope that folks could navigate the complex system. Now, with MC3, I can collaborate with psychiatry, start meds or treatment, and access community resources that I am confident they will be able to access. It’s really been invaluable.”

America Has an Anger Problem – Can Better “Mental Nutrition” Fix It?

America is a pretty angry place these days. Formerly respectful spaces like school board meetings have become bitter battlegrounds. Some people are harassing healthcare workers and threatening restaurant staff for enforcing COVID protocols. Others are openly furious with the vaccine-hesitant. Everyone, wherever they stand on the (deeply divided) political playing field, is outraged about something.

Sure, anger is part of the human condition, but have things always been this bad? Elaine Parke thinks not—and she has a plan to get America the anger management tools it needs.

“We’ve stopped listening to one another because we’ve become addicted to our own narrow and sometimes selfish points of view,” says Parke, author of “The Habits of Unity: 12 Months to a Stronger America…one citizen at a time” (Outskirts Press, 2021, ISBN: 978-1-9772-4276-1, $21.95, www.12habits4allofus.org). “And we seem to have lost sight of the notion that we’re personally responsible for our own behavior.

“It’s way past time for us to take a collective deep breath and treat others with dignity, respect, and civility—and listen to them—whether we agree or not,” she adds. “It’s urgent that we make this shift now.”

Dialing down our ire is easier said than done. We are living in extraordinarily stressful times. But there’s more at play. Parke says we are shaped by the messages we consistently consume—and in today’s connected world, a lot of those messages come from our digital diet.

“Social media isn’t solely to blame for stoking our emotional flames—in fact, it was designed to be a source of information and to bring people together,” Parke clarifies. “But if your newsfeed is making you an angrier person, it’s on you to either log off for a few days or reassess the kind of content you’re engaging with. When we choose to focus on stories that are positive and nourishing, we go a long way toward resetting our emotional equilibrium.”

Parke’s “The Habits of Unity” is her attempt to help people take charge of what she calls their “Mental Nutrition.” Much in the same way that we (hopefully) approach the food we eat, we need to develop the discipline to make more nutritious mental choices every day. Her book’s 365 “one-magic-minute-a-day” motivationals make it easy to hardwire these choices into habit.

With her simple, doable framework for uplifting ourselves, boosting our mental health, and practicing unity, Parke hopes to get everyone focused on the same branded behavior each month. The idea is that the sheer force of all that concentrated positive energy sparks a unity revolution that rises from the ground up and sweeps the nation.

Yet, until that happens, we can leverage the power of  “The Habits of Unity” on a personal level by forming one good habit per month:

January: Help Others

February: You Count

March: Resolve Conflicts

April: Take Care of Our Environment

May: Be Grateful

June: Reach Higher

July: Become Involved

August: Know Who You Are

September: Do Your Best

October: Be Patient and Listen

November: Show a Positive Attitude

December: Celebrate Community, Family, and Friends

Those who’ve tried it say the plan is easy to put into practice. It feels good, so you’ll want to keep doing it. And there’s a ripple effect. As you become more positive, centered, and respectful, others will be drawn to you and your relationships will improve.

“As these ripples expand, they will improve the emotional climate in our country and make it easier to seek common ground, instead of lashing out,” says Parke. “But we can’t sit around waiting for others to take action. Each American must recommit to making our country a welcoming, affirming melting pot—instead of a stewing pot.”

Five Tips to Ease Kids’ Social Reentry

Tavyev’s strategies include:

Staying engaged at home. Tavyev, also an assistant professor of Pediatrics at Cedars-Sinai, pointed out that kids who turned 2 or 3 during the pandemic might have little experience interacting with people who don’t have masks on. “We can’t just give up masks,” Tavyev said, “so that places more impetus on the family to disconnect from their screens and interact with children face to face.”

Trying to curb screen time. Children’s own screen time can also present a challenge. “If kids’ social interaction is being replaced with screen time, you could have exponentially more work in front of you,” said Tavyev. “You’re going to have to break that addiction before they will want to go out to do social things.”

Encouraging sports and games. Organized sports and other types of play—most of which happen outdoors—can help replace screen time and ease children back into social situations. “It’s something social, but lightly social,” said Tavyev. “It isn’t two hours of intense personal interaction, like a birthday party might be.” For children who aren’t attracted to team sports, Tavyev suggested activities such as martial arts classes or swimming, which are individual pursuits but still happen in a group. Younger children might enjoy group play with balls or parachutes, she said.

Letting younger children learn from conflict. When younger kids do come together, the occasional tussle if two reach for the same toy is a learning opportunity. “If they’ve only been interacting with friends on screens, you’re at home with your Legos and they’re at home with their Legos, so no negotiation has to take place,” Tavyev said. She recommended that parents let children older than 2 or 3 work out in-person conflicts for themselves. “Tell them you believe they can figure this out, whisper ideas and encouragement, but don’t come in and be the mediator,” she said.

Putting fears into perspective for older children. “For children who are feeling awkward and afraid at school or with peers, talk through the worst-case scenario,” Tavyev said. “Encourage them to imagine what might happen. Maybe they’re going to say something foolish. Maybe people will laugh at them. Whatever it is, play it out. Then stop and ask, ‘Was that so bad? Is that something that you truly could not recover from?'”

While some conflict, awkwardness and uncertainty is to be expected, Tavyev advised parents and teachers to be on the lookout for children determined to avoid interaction with others.

“If younger children aren’t showing an interest in their peers, and that is accompanied by language delay and repetitive or ritualistic behaviors, it’s time to seek help because those are signs of autism,” she said. “Parents should also seek help for an older child who was previously interested in social activity and seems to have lost their interest, because this might be a sign of depression.”

Tavyev also encouraged parents to take heart, because everyone is in the same boat. And while the brain’s ability to grow and change is at its height during the first three years of life, neuroplasticity persists well into adulthood.

“Social interaction, comfortable distance while talking, and all kinds of subtle, nuanced things have probably changed for billions of people around the world,” said Tavyev. “So even if children have missed out on certain social things, it could be that some of those things are going to become obsolete anyway. How will that change this generation of children? I honestly have no idea, but they’re all in it together.”

Anxiety Effectively Treated with Exercise

Both moderate and strenuous exercise alleviate symptoms of anxiety, even when the disorder is chronic, a study led by researchers at the University of Gothenburg shows.

The study, now published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, is based on 286 patients with anxiety syndrome, recruited from primary care services in Gothenburg and the northern part of Halland County. Half of the patients had lived with anxiety for at least ten years. Their average age was 39 years, and 70 percent were women.

Through drawing of lots, participants were assigned to group exercise sessions, either moderate or strenuous, for 12 weeks. The results show that their anxiety symptoms were significantly alleviated even when the anxiety was a chronic condition, compared with a control group who received advice on physical activity according to public health recommendations.

Most individuals in the treatment groups went from a baseline level of moderate to high anxiety to a low anxiety level after the 12-week program. For those who exercised at relatively low intensity, the chance of improvement in terms of anxiety symptoms rose by a factor of 3.62. The corresponding factor for those who exercised at higher intensity was 4.88. Participants had no knowledge of the physical training or counseling people outside their own group were receiving.

“There was a significant intensity trend for improvement — that is, the more intensely they exercised, the more their anxiety symptoms improved,” states Malin Henriksson, doctoral student at Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, specialist in general medicine in the Halland Region, and the study’s first author.

Importance of Strenuous Exercise

Previous studies of physical exercise in depression have shown clear symptom improvements. However, a clear picture of how people with anxiety are affected by exercise has been lacking up to now. The present study is described as one of the largest to date.

Both treatment groups had 60-minute training sessions three times a week, under a physical therapist’s guidance. The sessions included both cardio (aerobic) and strength training. A warmup was followed by circle training around 12 stations for 45 minutes, and sessions ended with cooldown and stretching.

Members of the group that exercised at a moderate level were intended to reach some 60 percent of their maximum heart rate — a degree of exertion rated as light or moderate. In the group that trained more intensively, the aim was to attain 75 percent of maximum heart rate, and this degree of exertion was perceived as high.

The levels were regularly validated using the Borg scale, an established rating scale for perceived physical exertion, and confirmed with heart rate monitors.

New, Simple Treatments Needed

Today’s standard treatments for anxiety are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychotropic drugs. However, these drugs commonly have side effects, and patients with anxiety disorders frequently do not respond to medical treatment. Long waiting times for CBT can also worsen the prognosis.

The present study was led by Maria Aberg, associate professor at the University of Gothenburg’s Sahlgrenska Academy, specialist in general medicine in Region Västra Götaland’s primary healthcare organization, and corresponding author.

“Doctors in primary care need treatments that are individualized, have few side effects, and are easy to prescribe. The model involving 12 weeks of physical training, regardless of intensity, represents an effective treatment that should be made available in primary health care more often for people with anxiety issues,” Åberg says.

The Importance of Self-Reflection

We’ve all heard of self-reflection, and I’d wager most of us would feel comfortable defining it. But generally, self-reflection exists more as a concept that’s understood in theory rather than in practice. How many of us genuinely self-reflect consistently? And how could we? Why should we? Today’s world is full of information, activity, and resources; it’s hard to find the time or sufficient justification for why self-reflection is needed in the first place. Yet, it’s that abundance that makes self-reflection all the more essential right now. In the following, we’ll take a look at what self-reflection is, why we all need it now more than ever, and the value it can bring into our lives.

What is Self-Reflection?

In the simplest terms, self-reflection is setting time aside to evaluate and give serious thought to your emotions, behavior, motivation, thoughts, perspective, and desires. It’s about going beyond the surface level to find the “why” behind these elements of ourselves and the experiences we have. The idea of self-reflection is to gain a more profound, rawer understanding of yourself. And for those unfamiliar, you’ll find that with that understanding comes empowerment and clarity that simply cannot be captured otherwise.

Today’s world is more advanced than it’s ever been and constantly reminds us of what’s out there and available to us. But within this environment can lie a trap. A trap that convinces us that the answers we need to the hardest questions are out in the world for us to find, rather than within ourselves waiting to be unveiled. With that being said, let’s dive into the reasons why self-reflection is more vital than it’s ever been.

Why Now?

Covid & the Climate of Uncertainty and Hostility 

We start with a somewhat obvious one: the present state of society. Over the last year and a half, we’ve all likely felt like we’ve been carrying extra weight around. The air of uncertainty combined with what seems to be growing polarization and hostility has placed a lot on us personally and societally. In times like these, in particular, self-reflection can be a great friend to us. It can help us stay grounded and sharpen our ability not to lose perspective. Just because you engage in self-reflection doesn’t mean the world will change or problems will go away, but it can certainly help in your ability to manage said problems and stay true to what brings you fulfillment in life.

The Modern, Digital Age

Let’s be clear; this piece is not intended to portray our modern advancement as a negative. There are certainly great benefits to it. However, there are legitimate downsides we’ve all likely experienced. Whether it be social media, the internet as a whole, the many gadgets we use, etc., the point is that there have never been more distractions in the world that make it incredibly hard to stay within ourselves. Every day, we’re constantly reminded of what else is out in the world, what others have that we don’t, and people’s perceptions of us. A failure to keep these reminders in check is a recipe for all kinds of negative mental repercussions. Self-reflection can help you in this regard. It’s an incredible tool for staying focused on what you have in life, what matters most to you, and understanding your true identity, no matter what others may think.

Mental Health Crisis

It’s no secret that mental health issues have become a national, if not a worldwide, concern. More and more young people report suffering from mental health problems, and of course, the issue has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. And while we’ve evolved tremendously in our acceptance of mental health struggles, we still have a long way to go, particularly with helping people navigate these difficult times. Self-reflection is not a cure-all approach, but it certainly won’t hurt in managing mental health issues. As mentioned before, when done right, self-reflection ultimately can be empowering and fulfilling. And as we’ll see next, there’s a lot of value it can bring into your life, whether mental health has been a problem area or not.

The Value of Self-Reflection 

Tool for Learning & Growth

We naturally tend to believe we know ourselves well, which is a fair assumption. However, you’d be surprised how much you don’t know about yourself if you don’t self-reflect often. Not everything is always as it seems on the surface. Sometimes our emotions are driven by something else deep within ourselves, or perhaps our behavior was motivated by a force we had never considered before. We’re far more complicated creatures than we give ourselves credit for, and it can often be hard to keep up without taking the extra time to retrace and reconsider. Self-reflection opens up doors that perhaps have never been seen before, let alone opened. And with that knowledge comes the power to learn, evolve, and grow as a person.

Vessel for Self-Peace

This builds off that understanding touched on before. By having a more authentic conception of yourself, you can make better decisions and engage in behavior that you know will ultimately be rewarding to you. For example, not everything we enjoy doing is necessarily beneficial for us in the long run. Sometimes we engage in behavior that gives us what we need at the moment but leaves us empty in the long haul. It can be hard to truly realize what’s good for us and what’s not until we take that time to dive deep within. And once we do, we have more control over our ability to feel at peace with who we are, where we’re going, and what matters most to us in life.

Your Life GPS

Where those previous points lead you is here, a conceptualized roadmap for life. Now, let’s be clear, a big part of life is the unknown, taking chances, learning from experience, and simply “living.” However, most of us often have an overwhelming feeling that we have no idea where our life is going, what we want from it, and where to go next. And that’s precisely where self-reflection and that understanding of self can help. You’ll be able to better understand what fulfills you the most, what you want to get out of your time here, where you want to go next, and how you might be able to do that. Self-reflection will not give you all the answers or allow you to map your entire life step-by-step, nor should that be desired anyway; that’s what living is for. But it can help you on your journey towards getting those answers, learning from your experiences, growing as a person, and finding your purpose in life.

Conclusion

It’s important to know, value can only be experienced if you approach self-reflection with discipline, legitimate intent, and consistent action. Self-reflection also requires a willingness to be honest with yourself and possibly confront areas you may have been reluctant to in the past. But, what you get from self-reflection and how you do it is really just up to you. Below, I’ve included a few resources to help you get started. If you’re new to this, try different ones out and see what sticks for you. Don’t look at self-reflection as a daunting task; it’s meant to be helpful, not stressful. You have to find what brings the most value to you. And hopefully, this journey will leave you feeling empowered, more connected with yourself, and more clear on what you want from this life.

Resources to Get Started:

https://positivepsychology.com/introspection-self-reflection/

https://www.minimalismmadesimple.com/home/self-reflection/

https://www.wikihow.com/Self-Reflect

Let’s End the Shame That Silences Victims of Domestic Violence

October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but let’s make it our mission year-round to end the one important thing that, paradoxically, is both a dire consequence of domestic violence and a factor contributing to its perpetuation: shame.

Sadly, victims of domestic violence often feel a deep yet unwarranted sense of shame, as if they were somehow responsible for their abusers’ actions. As a result, they are afraid of speaking up to seek support, or denouncing their abusers.

The Vicious Cycle

Many of the women I interviewed for my book, “Hear Us Speak: Letters From Arab Women,” have been victims of abuse. Sadly, the notion of shame arose time and again during our conversations.  A Kuwaiti painter whose husband beat her regularly told me that the last time he did so, she wound up in the hospital with a deep cut on her forehead.  The doctor asked her what happened, and she answered, “I fell down.” She was too ashamed to tell him the truth. A Gulf business woman whose husband also physically and emotionally abused her told me: “I try not to hate myself, and I fight against the pervasive shame I have carried with me for so long. I have finally begun the long process of recovering my self-worth.”

The reasons for this sense of shame differ according to circumstances and cultural context. One common thread is abusers everywhere are often masters of gaslighting. Gaslighting is what occurs when an abuser tries to control a victim by twisting their sense of reality. It destroys victims’ trust in themselves and their ability to make decisions and act freely. Another cause of shame, prevalent in cultures such as that of the Arab world I come from, is a widespread belief that when abuse occurs, it is because the woman did something to provoke it. In other words: society tells people that women are to blame. This creates deeply ingrained feelings of shame and disgrace among women who suffer from abuse of any sort.

What Can Be Done?

Speaking up is the very thing that will help abuse victims heal and bring the vicious cycle of abuse to an end. That’s why we must end the shame. For change to happen, we must encourage victims to speak. Here are a few steps we can—and must—take:

Give those in abusive situations or cultures the tools to believe in their self-worth.  These include conversations, education, support groups, mentors and role models.

Help them understand that they have a right to their own thoughts, opinions and emotions. As a part of this process, we must examine and unravel entrenched belief systems and ways of thinking that claim the contrary. We must also call out gaslighting wherever it occurs to end its toleration.

Spread the message that abuse is NOT the victims’ fault and that it’s always unacceptable. This message must be heard within families, communities, workplaces and at the government level. It must be incorporated into the education, social services and law enforcement systems.

Fight for better legislation protecting women – and its implementation. In much of the world, there’s a lot more work to be done to ensure not only women’s equality, but also, their safety and basic human rights. The Middle East is one example of a region where women suffer abuse without protection from the courts, or where laws that do offer protection are often ignored.

Help tell the stories of those suffering from abuse. Doing so builds awareness and empowers victims to stand up for their rights. It is precisely what I’ve done in Hear Us Speak, for that very reason. Its messages are universal. I hope the book encourages conversations around domestic violence, Arab women’s issues, and women’s issues as a whole.

The Jon Gruden Case and Why the NFL Still Isn’t Serious About Social Justice

On October 11th, the National Football League (NFL) community was shocked when news surfaced that Las Vegas Raiders Head Coach Jon Gruden announced his resignation just five weeks into the season. Gruden was one of the most high-profile figures in the NFL over the last 20 years, serving both as a Super Bowl-winning Head Coach and Monday Night Football Commentator. His resignation came after a slew of emails sent by him were made public that included a racial trope, antigay language, and a generally wide range of hurtful and insensitive rhetoric. The news was groundbreaking and hard to fathom for many who had beloved Gruden over the years, but there’s more to the story. The focus has rightfully been exclusively on Gruden and his fall-from-grace. Still, the lens of judgment has failed to focus on the multi-billion-dollar organization that has facilitated such behavior for far too long: the NFL. In the following, we’ll break down the necessary details of the Gruden case and why his resignation was essential. But we’ll also take a look into the NFL and what this case means for an organization that has a lousy track record of failing to support social justice issues, its players, and what’s morally right.

Details of the Case

As tends to be the norm in situations like this, there are many moving parts and details that are perhaps too complex to cover for this piece. With that being said, we must understand the chain of events here to better comprehend the whole picture.

From a public perspective, the Gruden ordeal began on October 8th, just a few days before his resignation. That Friday, The Wall Street Journal published a story revealing that the NFL was investigating Gruden for using a racial trope in a 2011 email to describe the NFLPA Chief DeMaurice Smith. Additionally, WSJ also reported that the NFL had been analyzing over 650,000 emails as part of their investigation that had begun back in June of 2021. The NFL’s investigation was spawned from a separate investigation on the Washington Football Team for workplace misconduct – a perhaps even more disturbing case if you’re unfamiliar.

In part of the NFL’s investigation, they came across the initial email in question, sent to then Washington Team President Bruce Allen. At this point, the NFL stated that the investigation had been launched under NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s direction. Goodell had then received a summary of the inquiry earlier in the week the story was published. The NFL also stated that it was sharing emails related to Gruden to the Las Vegas Raiders, who then employed him as their Head Coach.

The WSJ story broke headlines and sent a shockwave throughout the league. Many instantly began calling for Gruden’s resignation and action from the NFL. However, the NFL simply stated at the time that it was reviewing Gruden’s status for potential discipline. Gruden went on to coach his team’s game that Sunday, and it seemed as if a suspension, at best, was looming in the near future for Gruden. But then Monday came around.

On October 11th, The New York Times reported that Gruden was cited using anti-transgender, antigay, and much more offensive language in additional email correspondence with Bruce Allen for several years. Once again, the story shook up the league, and it seemed inevitable that Gruden would not escape this one. By the end of the day, Gruden met with the owner of the Las Vegas Raiders and would shortly thereafter announce his resignation as Head Coach.

A Word on Gruden

Before we look at this issue in a broader scope, we must be clear on Jon Gruden and his fate. Without question, his fall-from-grace was well-deserved, and he certainly doesn’t belong on an NFL sideline, now or ever again, for that matter. Gruden was a beloved coach and personality for many years, but no resume or persona outweigh actions. If we’re serious about shifting societal norms and scales of what’s accepted and not, then individuals who engage in such behavior must be dealt with in such a fashion. But with that being said, there’s a bigger issue at play here that hasn’t gotten enough press, and that’s the continued incompetency and lack of authenticity from the NFL to take social justice issues and questions of morality seriously in favor of the bottom line.

The NFL’s Culpability

Let’s start with the case in question. For starters, it’s a bit questionable that an investigation of emails, especially once the initial one was found, took nearly five months. According to the NFL, it took from June to the second week of October for a summary of the investigation’s findings to be presented to the Commissioner, the same one who supposedly launched the investigation in the first place. Even if this is true, it shows a severe lack of legitimate and effective protocols in place at the NFL to take matters like this as seriously as possible. Five months is far too long for a multi-billion-dollar organization that claims these issues are among their top priorities.

Then there’s the inaction after the initial story. Gruden faced no discipline, not even an indefinite leave of absence when the initial racist email was made public. For a league that has recently launched a massive social justice campaign that allows players to wear decals such as “End Racism,” “Stop Hate,” “It Takes All of Us,” and more, it’s highly problematic that they let Gruden go on to coach a game just a few days later. Plus, they hadn’t even met with and briefed the team that employed Gruden as their Head Coach: the Las Vegas Raiders.

The way this whole case played out and the lack of action from the NFL is concerning, to say the least. It begs the question, what happens if the second story never came out? Better yet, what about the first? It makes one seriously wonder if this issue would’ve ever seen the light of day. When it comes to racism or any form of hate for that matter, we all know by now that it takes more than just being opposed to the actions; you have to be anti-racist, anti-hate, and do more than just launch a multi-million-dollar PR campaign. I said before, and I’ll say it again, nothing outweighs actions here. And once again, the actions, or lack thereof, show that the NFL is still miles behind in taking social justice issues seriously.

Closing Remarks

It may seem as if the criticism of the NFL is perhaps too harsh for just this one incident, but the point is, it’s not just one incident. The way the NFL handled the Colin Kaepernick situation and players kneeling during the national anthem is a perfect example of a league that has failed to evolve and support its players above all. This is the same league that has banned multiple players for over a year for Marijuana usage, yet they hesitated with Jon Gruden. This is also the same league that has repeatedly shown that they don’t take domestic violence or sexual misconduct actions seriously either. The NFL has a bad track record when it comes to how they handle social justice issues, and if this case proves anything, it’s that they haven’t seemed to learn much of a lesson. A PR campaign might inspire some change, and we can all support that, but when your actions don’t reflect your words, then words mean nothing.

Trigger Warning: A Chinese Father Saved More Than 300 People at Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge

“I understand these people. I know they are tired of living here. They have had difficulties. They have no one to help them.” – Chen Si

Since the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge was first built in 1968, an estimated 2,000 people have died from suicide involving the bridge. According to data from 1995-99, in China’s first national survey in 2002, death from suicide accounted for 3.6 percent of the country’s total deaths. During that period of time, 287,000 Chinese people died from suicide every year, putting the average suicide rate at 23 per 100,000 people.

Chen Si, also known as The Angel of Nanjing, has been patrolling this bridge every Saturday for more than 20 years and has managed to save more than 300 people from death by suicide. He is a 52-year-old father from Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province of the People’s Republic of China. Following the loss of a close relative to suicide, Chen Si has taken up this cause because someone needs to.

A Long History

The relationship between mental illness and suicide is controversial in China. Those who follow traditional Chinese philosophy are not encouraged to express their feelings, nor are they encouraged to expect their environment to change to suit their needs. Therefore, intense misery and feelings of despair may go unrecognized, and suicidal symptoms are not easily detected by Chinese medical professionals. In fact, many doctors working in rural areas do not understand the symptoms of depression and often receive low salaries, which discourages more doctors from entering the mental-health field.

Gender Differences

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, China’s suicide rate in the 1990s was 20 per 100,000 people. In the 1990s, female suicides were higher than male suicides by a factor of three. While China remains one of the few countries with a higher suicide rate among women than men, recent data shows that these disparities have evened out. In 2016, suicide rates among Chinese men and women came up almost even at 9.1 per 100,000 men and 10.3 per 100,000 women. Overall, China’s suicide rate in 2016 was 9.7 per 100,000 people, which was among the lowest globally.

A 2002 survey also revealed that 88 percent of females who died from suicide used agricultural pesticides or rat poison. Although China initially eliminated highly toxic pesticides to improve the safety of its farm produce, the elimination also had a substantial impact on the reduction of deaths from suicide among women. Research shows that men tend to attempt suicide through violent means such as hanging, whereas women tend to attempt suicide with medication. Overall, most studies indicate a decline in suicide rates among all gender and regional categories in China. The studies also recommended targeted suicide prevention programs, particularly for people in rural areas.

Shifting Tide

Women’s freedom, urbanization, and decreased access to toxic pesticides are key reasons behind the decline in suicide rates. According to Jing Jun, a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, “female independence has saved a lot of women.” The founding of New China in 1949 in combination with the opening-up policy in the late 1970s and the continuous growth of China’s economy has led to more equitable opportunities for women. Additionally, urbanization removed certain social constraints leading to more freedom for women. For instance, escaping an abusive partner or household may be easier in a city than in a small village.

Despite a decline in death by suicide rates in China, this is an area that we should pay more attention to. Chen Si acts as an angel, but he cannot do this work alone. He hopes that officials consider building a net across the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge to prevent deaths by suicide. 

Resources Available

The Crisis Intervention Centre, the first of its kind in China, was established by Nanjing Brain Hospital to provide psychological advice and support to Chinese people. The Centre also has a hotline, which can be reached at 862583712977.

The Lifeline Shanghai at (400) 821 1215 is a free, confidential, and anonymous support service that is open 365 days a year from 10am-10pm GMT+8. 

Facebook and other social media platforms also offer many virtual support groups for individuals experiencing hardship. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 is a 27/4, free and confidential resource to support people in distress, prevention, or in an active crisis. Users should utilize the translate function on these web pages to adjust for language barriers, if necessary.

Can I Ask My Therapist About My Diagnosis?

“I don’t know if I did the right thing. Maybe I shouldn’t have.”

Power differentials are present within the helping profession and may cause the helpee to feel inferior to the helper, particularly in a client-therapist relationship. Oftentimes, clients are in a position where they feel reliant on guidance from their therapist. If there is a significant power imbalance, clients may be hesitant to ask questions and unsure of their role in the reciprocal helping relationship.

On a Reddit social media post, a female client with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) posed this question: “Can I ask my therapist about my diagnosis?” The client has been working with her therapist who is a psychiatrist. The relationship between the therapist and client is fairly new. During one of their sessions, the therapist mentioned that the client might be autistic but they were unsure. The client was previously tested as a child, but the results did not confirm autism or autistic traits. Because the therapist has not confirmed the client’s diagnosis, the lack of uncertainty is creating terrible chaos in the client’s head, as she would like to know if she is or is not autistic. The client is thinking about repeating this question in her next session but is unsure whether it would be rude, pointless, or wrong. Unsure whether or not her therapist is capable of diagnosing autism, the client has tried to persuade her therapist into revealing a diagnosis, but the therapist redirected the conversation.

This is something I’ve brought up with reluctant therapists as well. I understand the reasons they may not want to disclose that info to a client, but at a certain point it’s like if you had to go to the doctor every week to get an MRI and they just told you they’re just concerned with working on your symptoms.” – u/HyaAlphard

Informed Consent

An article on Informed Consent written by Annette Johns discusses how the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) Code of Ethics (2005) defines informed consent as “a voluntary agreement reached by a capable client based on information about foreseeable risks and benefits associated with the agreement.” Social workers have an ethical responsibility to seek informed consent from their clients at the beginning of the therapist-client relationship. Clients also have the right to refuse or withdraw consent and to have an opportunity to ask questions.

It is also important for clients to be engaged in the decision-making processes throughout the duration of the therapist-client relationship. In fact, informed consent and full transparency are integral to the relationship between a client and therapist and ensures the client’s right to self-determination, autonomy, dignity, and confidentiality. Social workers should use clear and understandable language to inform clients of the purpose, risks, limits, and reasonable alternatives to services.

Receiving a Diagnosis

Clients should be a part of the decision about whether to be assessed for a diagnosis. If the client is willing, the therapist has a responsibility to disclose the advantages and disadvantages of receiving a diagnosis. One advantage is that receiving a diagnosis can be comforting to clients who have been struggling with symptoms. Some clients find relief and feelings of validation when they can put a name to it, as well as decreased guilt, shame, and feelings of isolation. Receiving a diagnosis can also open up resources for the client and strengthen the relationship between the therapist and the client. However, clients should also be informed that diagnoses can stick with people, following them to and beyond adulthood even if they were misdiagnosed.

Suggested Questions to Ask

The client should feel comfortable to ask their therapist questions and express their needs throughout the duration of the therapist-client relationship. When the therapist suggests a “working diagnosis,” it should also be understood that the client is the most important member of the diagnostic process and has the right to obtain clarity by asking questions, taking notes, and being actively involved. Although the questions below are based in the medical profession, they are relevant to all clients. Out of seven questions posed by Helene Epstein, here are four relatable key questions:

What kind of test(s) will I have?

It is important for the client to know what kind of tests the therapist plans to administer. There are many different types of tests and ways to identify the source of a client’s concern.

 Why do you think I need this test?

It is important for the client to understand why their therapist is even recommending the test in the first place, as not every test is essential, and some may be invasive or expensive. The client has the right to ask whether there’s an alternative, if it is costly, or if the test is necessary.

What do I need to do to prepare for this test?

While not every test requires specific planning, some might. If this is not communicated in advance, the client may have to reschedule.

When will I get the results?

Depending on the test and other extenuating factors, waiting times for results may vary. Clients should consult with their therapist for more details.

Clients have the right to be fully informed and fully engaged. Although asking questions may seem rude or wrong, it is not. It is important for clients to be informed about decisions being made on their behalf.

Start with these questions and see if they help give you the answers you need. It’s important you use your voice in client-therapist relationships and prioritize your needs. At the end of the day, the treatment your seeking is for you, so do what feels right.

Trigger Warning: Holistic Public Policy Can Save Lives From Suicide

At the age of 17, I lost my older brother, David, to suicide. As a gay man in his early 20s, David struggled with mental health conditions and social isolation. His loss affected my family, his friends, and me forever. It was then that I decided to dedicate my life to suicide prevention.

His loss, and the loss of so many others, makes the 2020 data showing that the suicide rate in the United States has increased by 1.4 percent even more upsetting. Michigan’s suicide rate has increased by over 33 percent since 1999, and among young people ages 10 to 24, the rate has climbed by 56 percent since 2007, making it the second leading cause of death for that age group.

Despite these sobering statistics, I’m confident that we can prevent suicide.

In the past couple of years, Michigan has taken great steps toward suicide prevention and mental health promotion. In a past legislative session, Senate Bill 228 established the State Suicide Prevention Commission, and House Bill 4051 established a statewide mental health crisis line. The passage of each of these bills highlights our legislators’ commitment to saving lives – but there is more we can do.

We need a holistic set of public policies that works to promote well-being and ensure safety across all contexts in which our young people live, learn, and play.

For example, in 2019 Sen. Curtis Hertel, Jr. introduced Senate Bill 532 to mandate suicide prevention instruction for K-12 students and professional development training for public school teachers and staff. As of the start of 2020, Michigan was one of only 15 states that encourages such training but does not require it. In comparison, 18 states mandate suicide prevention training but do not specify if it must be annual. Whereas 13 states have mandated annual suicide prevention training for school personnel.

In addition to training, 22 states also mandate comprehensive school policies on implementing suicide prevention education, responding to students in crisis, and handling suicide deaths. Again, Michigan has no such mandated policies.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), in partnership with The Trevor Project, the American School Counselor Association, and the National Association of School Psychologists has developed a Model School District Policy on suicide prevention. The document outlines policies and best practices that school districts can follow to protect the health and safety of all students.

Outside of the school, numerous other policies can help save young lives. For example, while federally mandated, Michigan is among a staggering number of states that currently have no laws guaranteeing mental health parity — the assurance that insurance companies will cover mental health care in the same way they cover physical health care.

In addition, 20 states now have laws banning conversion therapy – the practice of counseling or psychotherapy that attempts to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The negative effects of such practices are well documented and include increased suicide risk, decreased self-esteem and well-being, disrupted healthy identity development, and increased social isolation. As it stands, Michigan only partially bans conversion therapy for minors, along with four other states. In total, 20 states ban the practice for minors outright, 3 are still settling the issue in court, and 22 states have no policy or mandate regarding the practice.

As a researcher, advocate, and brother, I know we need policies that are proactive rather than reactive, address multiple contexts, and dismantle the stigma around suicide. We can and must do more to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.

Social Worker Mental Health: An Ethical Dilemma?

Social work can be an incredibly personal profession- exposing social workers not only to others’ traumas but often forcing them to face triggering experiences from their own pasts while on the job. The personal experience that a social worker brings to the table can often be one of their greatest strengths. It can increase their capacity to connect with clients and to express empathy. Yet, from an ethical perspective, at what point do a social workers’ personal history or struggle negatively impact their client? What should they do if they ever find themselves in this situation?

The Dilemma

These are the exact questions that this MSW student finds himself or herself asking on Reddit. Working with parents at a community clinic in the final year of their internship, this student has quickly realized that their own childhood was riddled with significantly more trauma than they had originally thought. Still in the process of coming to terms with a childhood of neglect and emotional abuse, they are exposed to constant reminders of these experiences on the job and it is greatly affecting their mental health. Though currently in therapy to help address this trauma, this student’s situation still brings to light ethical dilemmas surrounding their ability to cope within this profession, properly distance themselves from clients and ethically serve in the social work profession.  

When examining any ethical dilemma within the social work field, it is important to use the NASW Code of Ethics as a guideline to protect both one’s professional career and clients. In this Reddit user’s case, it is important to consult the Impairment standard under Standard 4, which covers “Social Workers’ Ethical Responsibilities as Professionals.” According to the this standard, “Social workers should not allow their own personal problems, psychosocial distress, legal problems, substance abuse, or mental health difficulties to interfere with their professional judgment and performance or to jeopardize the best interests of the people for whom they have a professional responsibility.” This ethical standard does not imply that it is unethical for social workers to experience these difficulties, as they are bound to happen simply by nature of being human, but rather stresses the importance that these problems do not effect the social worker’s decisions or professional capability.

Deeper Issues

When examining Impairment in this case, there are a few elements of possible concern. For example, this student explains that when observing clients they make “comparisons between what they are going through and what (they) went through” and even find themselves jealous of the families that were not abusive. These feelings raise concerns about whether or not the student is able to exert enough distance to provide unbiased and informed client care. This student also experiences physical symptoms that could be indicative of a further mental health issue such as feeling drained, sad and in a bad mood upon returning home. While these symptoms or a mental health issue alone do not indicate one’s job performance, it is important to examine whether these symptoms themselves could impair decision-making capacity or the ability to consistently show up for clients. 

It is the responsibility of this social worker to look critically at whether or not these personal or mental health components allow them to ethically practice their internship. They should do this by reviewing their supervisors’ feedback, consulting with their therapist and using a significant amount of introspection. If they feel comfortable approaching their supervisor to review these concerns, they should do so, however approaching their supervisor does pose risk for potential unintended career consequences. An academic or field placement advisor could also serve as a good resource to review ethical concerns and explore solutions. If these steps do indicate an unethical situation which is not able to be controlled by the resources at hand, this student must adhere to the social work standard of impairment by “seeking professional help, making adjustments in the workload, terminating practice or taking other necessary steps to protect clients and others.” 

Widespread Problem

Unfortunately, this student is not alone, mental health struggles in the social work field pose a widespread issue both for practitioners and clients that needs to be addressed. According to a UK Community Care survey, “96% of social workers feel either moderately stressed or very stressed,” which has resulted in 76% of social work professionals considering leaving their job within the past year. These mental health difficulties are not unique to social workers in the field full time, but also apply to social work students. The University School of Social Work found that “34% of the students indicated high levels of depressive symptoms and were at high risk of clinical depression, while 6% met criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” Thus, further preventions must be put in place within the profession as a whole.

Solutions

When looking at possible preventions from a student perspective, it is important that mental health care is regularly discussed in a transparent manner and that high quality mental health resources are available. According to a study published in The Journal of Social Work Education, 23% of social work students had fear or distrust of mental health and 22% were concerned to seek services due to the quality available. Overcoming these mental health barriers are critical in creating a safe an ethical student population. Some programs might even consider the idea of mandating a certain number of therapy hours for students, so that they may explore triggering topics before they come up in field, as well as give students greater appreciation for their clients. 

Increasing internship autonomy for students could also be beneficial in allowing students to avoid triggering populations. At Boston University School of Social Work, students are able to list populations that they would be interested in working with, as well as populations that they do not feel as comfortable working with. While it is important to expose students to many different populations throughout their internship experience, allowing social work students to avoid select populations could minimize triggering social work experiences and help to prevent social work burnout. In the full time professional world, social workers are often able to choose to work with populations that do not trigger them, and students should be allowed this same opportunity. 

If you are a student in the social work field that struggles with mental health during your internship, you can use your voice to advocate for some of these changes to be enacted by getting faculty and student organizations involved. Until these preventative measures are in place, it is important that you maintain strong mental health care practices, seek support and use the NASW Code of Ethics to guide your social work practice. 

How Social Workers and Mental Health Providers Can Help Clients Adjust to the Pandemic

Over the last year and a half, there has been no shortage of media coverage about the mental health implications of the pandemic. Generally, these articles fell into one of two broad categories: those which warned of an impending large-scale mental health crisis and those which sought to help the public cope with whatever they were going through during the heart of the pandemic be it the loss of a job, a loved one, or simply cherished routines. Now, we seem to find ourselves in an in-between moment. While the pandemic is certainly not over, and we are seeing surges of the Delta variant in areas throughout the country, those who are vaccinated and not immunocompromised may have already returned to varying degrees of their pre-pandemic lifestyles.

As people have done so, however, they may have noticed a sense that all was still not well with themselves. Since the most urgent task for many of them in the earlier parts of the pandemic was simply to keep their heads above water, it’s normal and to be expected that they would only now be noticing certain mental health symptoms such as lingering anxiety, depression, burnout, or physical symptoms resulting from chronic stress. Meanwhile, from the mental health providers’ perspective, we seem to have arrived at a point in which there is a collective sense of, “What now?

A Period of Psychological Adjustment

One of the challenges that people commonly face in the wake of a disaster or traumatic event is adjustment. This isn’t the kind of practical adjustments made in the early stages of the pandemic—such as working remotely or having to accommodate for children being at home—but rather psychological adjustment. After a disaster, people feel confused, displaced (physically, emotionally, or both), have a hard time making sense of things, finding purpose, or just generally feeling like something is “off.” In fact, “Something just feels a bit off,” is a common way that people tend to characterize what they are feeling after a disaster. In the case of the Covid-19 pandemic, people’s confusion may be amplified by the lack of situational clarity: Are we still in the disaster? Are we out of it? Something in-between?

Helping clients through this period of vagueness, confusion, and adjustment is, and will be, one of the key tasks of social workers, therapists, and mental health providers right now and in the months ahead.

Being Direct to Assess People’s Needs   

While it’s safe to say that most people, if not everyone, maybe feeling a bit “off,” we also don’t want to make the mistake of assuming that everyone has had a similar experience or is currently in the same place. Because of this, social workers and mental health care providers will want to systematically assess the particular needs of new clients seeking services, of which there has been a significant increase in recent months. This may be particularly important for clients from communities of color since their experiences are going to be magnified due to the various disparities in how their communities have experienced the pandemic.

There are different ways that mental health professionals can go about this. It could be incorporated into the standard questionnaires and self-assessments that are typically used to assess the needs of new clients. Or, perhaps, some professionals may prefer a more direct and personal method by asking targeted yet open-ended questions as part of the initial rapport-building with clients. For instance, during a first session, a social worker or therapist can ask, “This has been a very strange, difficult year for many people. What might be contributing to your added stress levels, currently?”

This is one of the most important components of doing trauma work, which is unless you ask specifically, it can take a very long time until you get around to why a client has come into your office, or until they’re able to make the connections of what’s really causing all the problems. While typically this is allowed to gradually unfold over several sessions, now may be a time when it’s useful, or even necessary, to begin with new clients in a more direct way.

Incorporating a Disaster Crisis Counseling Model

Another reason why it may be useful to be direct right now, and to help clients address their most immediate problems, is that social workers and mental health providers may only be able to see new clients for one, two, or just a few sessions. While greater numbers of people are seeking mental health services, many of them may not be ready or able, for various possible reasons, to delve into deeper or preexisting mental health issues. While the hope is always to be able to do that, after disasters it’s common for people to seek just one or two sessions. Fortunately, even these limited sessions can be helpful when clients are given specific and concrete tools—for example, the six Skills for Psychological Recovery (SPR).

Mental health providers may therefore find themselves, in many cases, having to adhere closer to a disaster crisis counseling model, rather than a long-term therapy. In this scenario, the best way to help clients is to provide them with positive coping methods and strategies that can be immediately applied, especially since many of them may have come to rely on unhealthy coping mechanisms throughout the pandemic. For mental health professionals who haven’t been trained in disaster response, it will almost undoubtedly be useful to look up disaster response methods and incorporate them if possible since they may be what many of their clients need most right now.

The aforementioned lack of situational clarity regarding the ongoing nature of the pandemic, and the global scope of it, may preclude the kind of organized mental health outreach efforts we saw after localized disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil spill which have been found to be effective. In the current absence of such programs, we will likely continue to see more people seek out mental health services on their own. By keeping in mind the principles covered in this article, and by being flexible with the way we might normally prefer to work with new clients in non-pandemic times, social workers, therapists, and mental health providers will be able to help their clients in the ways that they need it most during this period of psychological adjustment.

Drinking Increased During the Pandemic. What Happens Now?

During the pandemic, many people turned to alcohol as a release valve. Indeed, drinking — including day drinking and overdrinking — became somewhat of a punchline, not to mention a social norm. Think about how many times the media recommended Zoom cocktail hours as a way to connect.

In such an alcohol-friendly environment, it’s no surprise that 60% of adults in a recent research study admitted to an increase in alcohol consumption during COVID-19. What’s more, 23% of people attribute their heightened alcohol intake to stress, according to the American Psychological Association.

With numbers like this, the only real winners are beer, wine, and liquor makers and distributors. It’s time we begin to address the overconsumption of alcohol, on a societal and personal level.

Addressing Overconsumption of Alcohol

This ramped-up alcohol intake isn’t just a short-term concern. It’s worrisome for the long haul, too, if it becomes the new normal. Overdrinking has been shown to harm people’s mental, physical, and even social well-being. When it comes to physical health, you’re probably familiar with the risk alcohol poses to the liver, but did you know that alcohol is the third leading preventable cause of cancer (behind only tobacco and obesity)?

With overdrinking, it’s a time for empathy, not shaming. This past year and a half should highlight just how easy it is to slip into unhealthy habits and how difficult it can be to regain your footing afterward. After all, increased alcohol intake wasn’t the only concern during the pandemic. Many individuals struggled with weight gaininsomnia, and screen time, just to name a few areas of concern.

Whether it’s stress eating or doomscrolling, most people are struggling with moderation in one way or another. As more normal life returns, the nation faces a once-in-a-generation liminal moment that a recent Harvard Business Review article described as “an ‘in-between’ time, when perspectives shift, old certainties are challenged, and new ideas emerge.” This moment provides an opportunity to fundamentally change behavior and social norms.

The key to helping others overcome their unhealthy habits is to approach them with empathy and support, not judgment. Certainly, alcohol use disorder is a disease that may require treatment. But can you encourage anyone you know to take stock of their relationship with alcohol and consider whether they would benefit from leveling off their drinking?

Instead of demonizing all alcohol intake — an approach that is likely to be a conversation stopper — you can encourage those who drink to rethink their behavior and attitudes around alcohol. This approach requires more careful communication and messaging, but it can start a productive discussion.

In the same way, social norms have changed regarding smoking, attitudes about drinking can also change. Subtly shifting social norms could lead to more (or less) drinking over time with huge implications for Americans’ health. However, the key is providing a supportive environment with the resources necessary to help anyone who may be struggling with the overconsumption of alcohol.

How to Encourage Healthier Habits Around Drinking

Overconsumption of alcohol can be a life-threatening problem, but that doesn’t mean that anyone should get preachy about what’s best for other people. Instead, you can help others evaluate their relationship with drinking and whether they want to adjust their habits. Here are three ways to be supportive:

1. Ask more questions.

Why are people drinking more? Is it stress? Social expectations? Boredom? There are a lot of reasons people can overindulge, but you won’t know what they are until you start asking. Don’t worry: You don’t have to get confrontational. Instead, you can ask simple questions about habits. Where do they tend to drink? How much have they had in the past week? What other ways do they address boredom or stress besides drinking? These questions can serve as prompts to help people decide the implications for themselves.

2. Make people aware of the support that’s available.

One silver lining of the pandemic has been the number of telehealth services and virtual support groups that have sprung up. Although the original goal was to help people stay healthy while adhering to quarantine and social distancing restrictions, these convenient resources are here to stay. Anyone who needs a little extra help sticking with a new habit just needs a phone or computer.

Moderation Management, for example, is an online community that offers peer accountability and support through virtual meetings and forums. There’s also Cutback Coach, an app that helps users track their drinking habits and set regular goals for themselves. Both of these options are easy to access and use, which can make a big difference for people who need help doing something hard.

3. Encourage people to consider what the experts have to say.

Federal public health experts recommend no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. However, many scientists are now saying that one drink per day is enough.

Attempts at humor about portion size aren’t helpful. A full bottle of wine is not considered a single drink, even if you can fit it into a novelty glass. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides guidelines regarding what constitutes one drink. This can be a useful guide or reminder for people who might not realize that they’re drinking more than they should. That generous pour of wine or liquor or the high-alcohol IPA is not considered only one drink.

As the world moves into the post-pandemic era, it will be important to have candid, compassionate conversations about the ways people can live healthier, happier lives. When it comes to drinking, this means changing social norms to encourage moderation instead of normalizing the problem with memes about drinking too much. By working together, we can usher in a future without alcohol reliance or addiction.

Note: SAMHSA’s National Helpline 1-800-662-HELP (4357) is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

Pain or Pleasure: What do You Feel When You Go to Work

Maybe I am a hopeless romantic, but I believe that workplace environments are akin in many ways to romantic relationships. If we spend the majority of our time in a certain place, doing certain things, we should love it, just as we should love a romantic partner.  Both need some degree of give and take and require mutual effort in order to thrive.

Relationship Between Work Environment & Job Satisfaction in an Organization for Employee Turnover by David Ingram defined work environment as follows.

“A work environment is made up of a range of factors, including company culture, management styles, hierarchies and human resources policies.”

Here are four smart questions to help you to determine the quality of your work environment.

Do I feel safe, stable, and secure?

Consider the physical environment of the workplace. Building maintenance and upkeep impacts the feeling of safety. Is the building constructed of strong materials? Is it constructed in a way that limits damage during inclement weather? Does the ventilation system provide adequate fresh breathing air? Does the heating and cooling system provide protection from the temperature fluctuations? Are structural problems repaired immediately? Is the office space clean and pest free?

This question addresses the basic human need for safety. The location, type, and maintenance of the workplace all impact one’s feeling of safety when at work.  Many social workers practice in areas of great need. The buildings are often in financially impoverished areas. Some offices are located in places labeled as high crime areas.  Many social workers travel to their clients, so the “office” is where the client happens to be at any moment. We meet clients under bridges, in wooded areas, or in homes. The actual location may not be as important as the measures to maintain as much safety as possible for both workers and clients.

Another aspect of safety involves the stability of the employer. This addresses whether the agency or organization is financially sound with strong support, as well as if the leadership has a vision for the work and communicates the vision clearly. The organization’s actions and behaviors toward clients and employees should align with the stated mission, and employees should be assured that they will have longevity in their employment. The sense of security is reinforced when employees receive adequate benefits and paychecks are distributed as scheduled.

Can I be my true self?

This question goes beyond individual personalities. It requires an in-depth assessment of style, mode of operation, as well as personality, on an individual and corporate level.  Every workplace environment has its own collective personality. Think about where you currently work. Do you feel as if you fit? Some work environments have suit-and-tie, serious personalities. Others have a looser and more playful character. These descriptions depict opposite ends of the continuum, but most work environments fall somewhere in the middle. Your comfort level plays a role in your effectiveness at work. Comfort promotes confidence.

Think about your interactions with co-workers and colleagues. Do those interactions cause you to feel welcome and important related to the organization’s mission? Are disagreements handled with reasonable discourse and discussion? Does the supervisory team focus on the mission of the organization or on their own professional rise in the organization? Do employees work as a unified team?

Can I realize the full extent of my skills, abilities, and interests?

Before answering this question, social workers should have a clear understanding of their skills, abilities, and interests. We become frustrated when we cannot use or expand upon these aspects of self. A lack of challenge causes boredom and complacency as we resign ourselves to accept the droll of stagnant repetition.

Workplace environments that encourage employee growth cultivate loyalty.   Some social workers may only think about how their skills, abilities, or interests enable them to meet the requirements of their jobs. They should, however, think about the impact these qualities have on their capacity to meet and exceed the mission of the organization. Insightful leaders in an organization will understand and use all available resources to meet the organization’s mission. This includes allowing staff members to do what they do best.

Are we working toward the same outcome?

Do you share the vision and mission of your organization? Does the result you are working towards match the result your organization expects? These are crucial questions for social workers who have been on the job for at least five years. You have worked in the organization long enough to know whether your goals align. If you are or have been in a committed relationship, think about the dissonance that occurs when the individuals disagree on joint goals and desires. No one is happy and the relationship suffers.  Employment is not very different. You will commit to the organization’s stated outcome and method for achieving it when you work in your ideal work environment.

How are We Listening to Our Clients in Times of Crisis?

Who (or what) comes to your mind when you think about active listening?

For me, I think about my girlfriend Jo. She gives her complete attention to my stories, her sole intention to understand. She does not interrupt while I narrate, excepting necessary clarifications. The energy steers me to confide in her. She is my definition of active listening.

As Carl R Rogers, an American psychologist and founder of the person-centered approach asserted:

“We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know.”

Social work, without an iota of doubt, involves a lot of listening as we engage with our clients. Hence, the approaches we employ to listen, especially while COVID-19 is taking a negative toll on various aspects of our well-being, can determine the effectiveness of our services.

In order to actively listen, we often must make an effort to be aware of our prejudices and preferences within personal and professional realms. Hence, our commitment to our ethical responsibilities to our clients by respecting their human dignity, worth, and self-determination to make decisions for themselves. This awareness is possible when one is cognizant of different ways of interacting and listening.

For instance, in Collaborating with the Enemy, Kahane mentions the following 4 types of listening techniques: downloading, debating, dialoguing, and presenting.

  • In downloading mode, the person thinks their story is the ultimate truth and ignores or suppresses other narratives out of anger, fear, or arrogance. In this phase, the person only listens to their own stories and agrees to perspectives they are comfortable with. The author points out this is usually a behavior expressed by dictators or experts.
  • While in the debating approach, the space for the various views of expression, some ideas win while others lose. In this mode, people are aware of their perspectives are not absolute, so outward listening can occur.
  • Through dialoguing technique, one person listens empathetically and subjectively to another. This is self-reflective and listening happens from inside them. Kahane reminds this style promotes new possibilities to emerge.
  • Finally, in presenting mode, people listen without any agenda and are open to conversations without boundaries. The individual is fully present and pays attention to not just a specific idea or person but considers the system as a whole.

Because the nature of our job grants us the freedom to perform a wide variety of functions at various levels and capacities (such as facilitating, coaching, counseling, educating, developing resources, writing and researching, advocating, managing, leading, negotiating, building communities, and more) the significance of listening with empathy and patience cannot be underestimated. This will not only enable us to understand their changing needs but also influences our efficiency and capacity to serve our clients well.

How to Deal with Case-Overload as a Social Worker and Carer

If you are a social worker, you probably know better than anyone just how much pressure has been put on professionals since the Covid-19 crisis began. It appears that more than 70% of children’s social workers are struggling with caseloads since the pandemic outbreak according to recent data.

Only 4% said their workload was ‘comfortably manageable’, whilst 24% said it was ‘mostly manageable’.
These statistics make it clear that to the vast majority, the work given to social workers is unmanageable and unrealistic. On top of this, workers are met with additional hardships such as minimal PPE (personal protective equipment) and a lack of clarity from governments about guidelines for safe practice during the outbreak.

Has the Rise in Social Workers Made it Easier?

Believe it or not, according to government data, September 2019 saw the highest record of children’s social workers in the UK. The number of agency workers also grew by 10% over this period. You would think with this surge in employment, there would be an ease on the caseloads given to professionals. However, recent feedback says otherwise.

With more and more investment going into the social work field, influential figures are beginning to realize the vital role they play in supporting both young people and families throughout the pandemic.

So, why then does it continue to be such a stressful area with both high turnovers and increasing amounts of staff going off sick due to burnout?

Common Threats to Social Workers

After finishing the arduous and complex training to become a fully qualified social worker, many are unprepared for the level of exhaustion and work expected of them. This is ironic, as the last thing you want is to make helping others such a priority that your own mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing takes the hit.

This leads to what many call burnout, which unfortunately is a commonly used phrase for those in social work.

What is burnout exactly? It’s the process of struggling to operate, becoming more closed from input, increasingly resigned, irritable, and acquiring a tendency to become angry easily. Sadly, when a social worker reaches this stage, they may have to take extensive time off, or even worse are forced to resign or get fired.

On top of this, the high expectations required alongside poor supervision or mentorship given to social workers makes it difficult to withhold the demanding role and the emotional exhaustion it brings.

Moreover, self-care is a substantial element to burnout prevention and should be taken seriously by all those working in areas that can be emotionally and mentally draining.

Ways to Prioritize Self-care as a Social Worker

To avoid overload and burnout completely, researchers have found that it is particularly helpful to prevent things such as compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, and secondary traumatic stress.

By taking self-care seriously, professionals can assess their own needs and ensure they are being met without feeling guilty. From finding supportive mentors, a positive peer group, pursuing personal goals and hobbies to relaxation, there’s plenty social workers can do to increase their wellbeing. Here are some ideas:

Prioritize your comfort in and out of work

Try to eat lunch at your desk as little as possible, invest in a comfortable chair, fill your office or desk with your favorite plants that refresh your spirits. If it helps to play relaxing music that puts your mind at ease while you type up reports, then that is what you need to do.

Get into healthy routines

Conditioning your mind and body to carry out habitual activities that ground and center you are a crucial part of self-care. Before reaching the office for example, can you find one hour to go to the gym? Are you a church-goer who finds peace from worship? If so maybe you can schedule a time to visit after your day is finished. It depends on what self-care strategies work for you personally. Finding these and sticking to them will help prevent burnout.

Seek support

Within the workplace, there should be access to mentorship or advice you can seek out. Also, ensure you surround yourself with a peer group that you feel comfortable opening up to. Learn to check in with each other and personally debrief after an intense case to process what happened and figure out your next steps.

As we can see, social work is never easy, and unfortunately, we still have a long way to go before things become balanced for the majority of professionals. However, taking personal ownership over your self-care is fundamental if you want to avoid burnout and continue serving your community as a successful social worker.

Treating Teen Addiction With Compassion and Empathy

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Teen substance abuse and addiction to drugs are all too dangerous epidemics occurring across the United States. The most recent national data gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that 3.7 adolescents (ages 15 to 19) per 100,000 died from a drug overdose in 2015. To put that statistic in perspective, that’s a 130 percent increase in teenage drug overdoses compared with 1999. Additionally, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Adolescent Health, opioid misuse is one of the most accelerated drug problems, as 3.6 percent of adolescents between 12 and 17 reported misusing opioids in 2016, and that percentage doubled for adults ages 18 to 25.

Unfortunately, in addition to drug abuse, teenage addiction to other substances is also ruining lives. Cigarette smoking, tobacco use and alcohol consumption have deleterious effects on adolescents nationally. The HHS reports the following 2017 statistics regarding teen substance abuse:

  • 9 percent of high school students smoked at least once a month.
  • 5 percent of high school students used tobacco, snuff or dip monthly.
  • 30 percent of high school students drank alcohol monthly.
  • 13 percent of high school students drank at least five alcoholic drinks in one day monthly.

Teen drug addiction and substance abuse can cause anything from mild impairment to serious health problems or even death. Too many teens do not receive the help they need to break their addictions and avoid relapse. Some may be too embarrassed or scared to ask for help, while others can’t pay for it. Some simply don’t believe they have a problem.

Profitability vs. Patient Health

There is no single solution when it comes to treating a teenager who is battling an addiction to an illicit drug or substance. Teen drug abuse is a complex problem that requires the expertise and guidance of different types of health and wellness professionals. All too often, however, the focus is on how the healthcare system can benefit in terms of market share, revenue and profitability. Many healthcare professionals are now looking for other ways to provide care to people in need.

Instead of focusing on costs, many medical professionals are championing value-based care, which prioritizes patient health. Value-based care could have widespread positive effects on teenage addiction success rates and continued abstinence by providing a more compassionate and empathetic road to recovery. Below is an examination of the value-based care model, followed by a look at how taking this approach could potentially improve the way healthcare professionals treat addicted adolescents.

Value-Based Care Basics

Put simply, value-based care is accomplished when providers, such as doctors and healthcare facilities, are paid “based on patient health outcomes,” according to the online publication NEJM Catalyst. Providers are paid for improving patient health in any measurable way.
The value-based care methodology is in direct opposition to the commonly used fee-for-service methods, which are based on paying per number of services rendered, not outcome. NEJM Catalyst notes five major benefits that value-based care could entail:

  • Minimized costs and improved results for patients.
  • Boosted patient satisfaction and elevated care efficiencies for providers.
  • Tighter cost control and minimized risks for payers.
  • Balance between treatment costs and patient results for suppliers.
  • Reduced healthcare expenditures and improved national health for society in general.

While it may sound amazing, the entire value-based care methodology boils down to application. Does the value-based care approach improve healthcare in practice? Specifically, does value-based healthcare improve the treatment of teenage addiction?

Treating Teen Addiction With Value-Based Care

Throughout a teen’s journey from addiction to recovery, he or she will meet many healthcare professionals, such as physicians, nurses, therapists and social workers. Practicing value-based care, these professionals would focus on providing the best care for positive health results, rather than on monetary concerns.

Diagnosis: Physicians, Nurse Practitioners and Nurses

When a teen battling drug addiction seeks treatment, a nurse, nurse practitioner or physician will ask questions about the level of use and any dangerous behaviors while under the influence of an illicit substance, such as driving while intoxicated. The nurse, nurse practitioner or physician may also order urine and blood tests for the patient, provide treatment directions, and recommend counseling or therapy from another accredited professional, such as a therapist or social worker.

Through UCF Online’s Master of Science in nursing and healthcare simulation graduate certificate, students learn the importance of working with their medical peers in delivering supportive care.
A nurse can often spend more time with a patient than the physician and strongly influence how well that patient responds to treatment. Fostering this relationship is crucial, considering many teens battling drug addiction may not continue treatment due to the fear of fighting the battle alone. Doctors will be the ones, though, who suggest a specific form of treatment regarding teen substance abuse or provide a reference to another health professional. “Interprofessional education is the key to the future of health care,” says UCF Professor Desiree Diaz and nursing simulation expert. Her research focuses on improving care for vulnerable patient populations by incorporating simulation technology with real human emotions to educate health care professionals.

At this diagnosis stage, the teen may be worried about costs, results and the length of time any treatments or referrals may take. Teens may not have the money or time to deal with extraneous steps. With value-based care, their necessary tests, such as urine and blood tests, would be included, while extra tests that may not be relevant to directly improving health may not, saving them time and money. Additionally, because of the faster diagnosis and more efficient treatment timeline, teen patients may experience less frustration with the healthcare system — and may even be more satisfied with the care they receive.

Treatment: Mental Health Workers

During the teen drug abuse treatment process, a patient will meet with a psychiatrist when there is a suggestion or referral from a doctor. A psychiatrist or therapist can work with the teen to discover mental and emotional motivators behind the drug or substance use. Psychiatrists can diagnose specific mental health disorders as well as prescribe medication. Helping patients to understand their physical and mental ailments and that addiction is an illness, without passing judgment, can help teens successfully treat their conditions.

At this stage, basing the pay system on patient health may significantly improve the care that teen addicts receive from mental health workers. For instance, additional medications that don’t work would be ceased, and therapies without benefit would be cut. As a result, patients wouldn’t pay for further treatment that doesn’t work for them. It’s that sense of empathy for the specific situation that might make possible a teen’s long-lasting recovery.

Rehabilitation: Social Workers

Social workers can engage in therapy with patients as psychiatrists and therapists do and provide resources for self-help and teen substance-abuse programs like nurses do. Social workers are also fundamental in the discharge-planning process, helping to ensure teens battling drug abuse have additional health resources that complement scheduled treatments or prescribed medications. Social workers can also help identify harmful social or environmental situations that may be contributing to a teen’s drug abuse and can develop solutions to remove the teen from those negative influences.

In the rehabilitation stage, social workers can play a key role in lending a compassionate ear and providing relevant resources for their clients. Social workers may work with healthcare providers to minimize medication or therapy costs, streamline processes, run cost control, and also analyze risks that teens or their benefactors would be taking on. Value-based care would allow healthcare professionals to work fully with social workers — to the ultimate benefit of addicted teens.

Treating Addicted Teens With Care

Drug and substance addictions are impacting thousands of teens across the United States each year. For example, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens, a total of 5,455 overdose deaths occurred in people ages 15 to 24 in 2017 alone — 99 alcohol overdoses and 5,356 drug overdoses. Teenage addiction is a complicated matter, and teens need all the compassion and empathy that healthcare professionals can provide.

Alternative-care methods, such as value-based care systems, may help improve patient outcomes, minimize prices, and improve efficiencies for both patients and healthcare systems. According to the Center for Health Care Strategies, value-based care is one of the “tools that policymakers and payers can use to encourage greater access to [substance-use disorder] treatment in primary care.” Healthcare may be taking a step in a more client-compassionate direction.

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