Updated: Apr 28, 2020
Every day at 3pm, I receive a calendar invitation on my computer that says “take three slow deep breaths.” The first day that I received the notification, I yelled at my computer “Now What??!!!!” and then I had to laugh because I realized that I knew myself well enough to beat myself at my own internal negative mental game. For the next week, I was truly irritated when this invite would interrupt my work, but I am now grateful for the reminder.
My recurring notification is one of many strategies in my self-care toolkit that I’ve developed over time as I’ve gotten to know my true self better. I’ve managed to look directly at most aspects of my personality and put systems into place that keep me from veering too far off my mental/emotional/physical center.
The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened our level of fear, but the hidden gift in our current state of affairs is an increased awareness around and need for improving and balancing our mental health. However, the stigma surrounding seeking a therapist still exists. The stigma is further complicated by faith-based and marginalized communities who struggle to cultivate trust in mental health professionals to have the cultural competence for addressing the trauma, stress and impact of long term, generational trauma.
It is important to remember that healing is a journey requiring patience, persistence and high standards regardless of whether we are healing our mind, body or emotions. Like all health practitioners, mental health counselors work for you, not the other way around. Because we stigmatize mental health, we feel especially vulnerable when seeking and counselor. This vulnerability may cloud our judgement and cause us to forget that ALL health practitioners need to be properly vetted before we agree to work with them (and we can fire them and find another practitioner at any time).
Seek to interview a mental health professional in the same way that we interview someone for a job, and research their background which can easily be found on many health providers websites. Psychology Today offers another good way to research the background of therapists in a given area. I highly recommend looking for a mental health therapist who has a strong background in solutions-based cognitive behavioral therapy.
The Association of Black Psychologists is an example of a good place to start for African Americans seeking cultural competence. Regardless of your cultural background, I would not recommend seeing any therapist who does not also seek counseling in addition to ongoing professional development. It is important that we look for a mental health practitioner who balances a personal connection with maintaining professional boundaries. Here are a few questions to ask ourselves when seeking seeking a therapist:
What are my end goals? (heart's desire, security in feelings)
What are my primary stressors?
What do I hope to gain from counseling?
During the first meeting or consultation it is important to interview the therapist and ask probing questions such as:
How do you set up counseling goals?
What are your sessions like?
What kind of self-work do you assign to help me continually improve?
After the first session, we can check in with ourselves to see how we truly feel:
Did we feel safe (emotionally, physically)?
Was the therapist present and engaged?
Did they seem trustworthy?
Regardless of how difficult our challenges may seem, every problem has within it the seed of the solution. We can cultivate self-care while staying committed to the development of our mental health support system. Developing a personal self-care toolkit is at the top of my list of mental health and healing strategies. My next blog will offer suggestions for building your own toolkit.
Drop the idea of becoming someone, because you are already a masterpiece. You cannot be improved. You have only to come to it, to know it, to realize it. - OSHO