We get it. Psychologists have a bit of an image problem. There's still stigma associated with seeing a psychologist. Perhaps it has something to do with the mystery of what goes on during a consultation. Or perhaps it's simply because we (in particular, Clinical Psychologists), work with mental health issues and so - heaven forbid - anyone who sees one must have a mental health issue.
First up, let's understand a bit more about 'mental health issues' and their prevalence. The reality is that there is no 'Us vs. Them' when it comes to those who experience mental health issues and those who don't. Life happens, and this can trigger poorer mental health for anyone. Events such as financial strain, illness, job uncertainty and unemployment, traumatic accidents, separation, pregnancy and birth, the death of a loved one, can all impact on our mood.
We've covered the statistics previously in this post but to recap, in the 2007 a National Mental Health and Wellbeing Survey that captured 16 million respondents:
- 45% experienced a mental health disorder in their lifetime
- In the 12 months preceding the survey, 1 in 5 individuals experienced mental illness.
Let's think about that statistic - 1 in 5 individuals experienced mental illness in the preceding 12 months. Think about how many people you know in your family, in your workplace, at school or at university. Think of the people you come into contact with each day through your work, at the local cafe while waiting for your morning coffee, while doing the school drop off, while walking your dog, or while grocery shopping. That's 1 in 5 of the people that you interact with on a daily basis. The bottom line? Mental health issues are common, and everyone has the capacity to feel a bit 'wobbly' with their mental health depending on their circumstances.
WHAT PSYCHOLOGISTS DO...THAT MAY NOT SEEM THAT OBVIOUS
So yes, we do help individuals who have mental health diagnoses, but our work involves so much more than that. In fact, we also advocate a proactive and preventative approach to psychological wellbeing. After all, do you wait until you're diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes before you start exercising and taking a closer look at your diet?
The reality is that we can all benefit from adopting skills grounded in scientifically-validated psychological techniques that enable us to think differently, react differently, de-stress, and get more out of life irrespective of where our mental health and wellbeing are at. To help demystify what we actually do, we're taking a closer look today at some of the things we help with that may not seem 'stereotypically' part of our skill set.
WHAT WE HELP WITH - SORTING OUT YOUR LIFE TO ACHIEVE MORE
We often see individuals who are stressed and overwhelmed as a result of everything they've taken on in life. Given our busy lives this can mean a whole host of commitments - work (paid, unpaid, volunteer), studies, social commitments (friends, family, sporting clubs), housework (laundry, cleaning, cooking), caring (children, elderly parents, partners who are unwell)...the list goes on.
A psychologist can help you cut through the 'noise' and look at which of your commitments align with your values and how you want to live your life. Skills to draw on include:
- Examining core values and engaging in goal-setting that aligns with these values.
- Developing realistic goal-setting to avoid taking on too much.
- Time management to help minimise 'chaos' and 'noise'
- Assertive communication - learning to set boundaries and say 'no' to avoid taking on too much
- Help with issues such as perfectionism and procrastination that can hinder your performance.
There's also a fine line between feeling overwhelmed and the start of experiencing adjustment difficulties. The bonus of working with a psychologist to sort out your life is that we're trained to recognise when feeling stressed and overwhelmed by everything tips into 'wobbly' mental health, and we can help you learn more specialised skills to manage things like panic attacks or low mood.
WHAT WE HELP WITH - BREAKING UNHELPFUL PATTERNS AND HABITS
Perhaps you see a history of unhelpful patterns in how you behave or think, or even in the type of partners or friends that you find yourself drawn to. Or, perhaps you have unhelpful habits that derail your best intentions when it comes to your health and wellbeing. If you're looking at changing longstanding patterns and habits a psychologist can help you with:
- Self-reflection to examine past patterns, look at common themes and understand why they emerged in the first place
- Goal-setting to help you develop realistic and sustainable goals when it comes to breaking old patterns and habits and forming helpful alternatives.
- Building motivation to persevere with making changes when faced with longstanding patterns and habits.
- Increase understanding of the process of changing behaviours and exactly why it's effortful (but possible!) for the proverbial old dog to learn new tricks.
WHAT WE HELP WITH - THINKING CLEARER AND REACTING BETTER
Developing a healthy mindset is something that we're passionate about here at The Skill Collective (so much so that we devoted the month of January to this very topic!), and as psychologists we look at the link between thinking, feeling, and behaving. When we work with individuals in helping them to develop a healthy mindset we focus on these skills:
- Identifying core beliefs that drive a lot of your reactions and understand where they come from.
- Learning to change negative automatic thoughts and develop a more balanced perspective.
- Use gratitude to help shift your mindset and outlook.
- Practising assertive communication so that you react appropriately in situations.
- Managing emotions like fear and anger that can cloud judgement and affect reactions.
WHAT WE DO - GET MORE OUT OF LIFE
Rather than just going through the motions, day in, day out, and detaching from what's going on around you, let's look at some skills to help you get more out of life that psychologists help with. These may include:
- Finding out your values so that you can start to live a life that has more meaning.
- Practising mindfulness so that you're more connected with what goes on around you.
- Goal-setting to help you achieve goals that are more aligned with your core values.
- Learning the art of gratitude so that you're more appreciative of life's little moments and feel more connected and content.
As you can see from what we've outlined above, psychologists do so much more than just 'help someone with mental health issues'. In fact, these are just the tip of the iceberg of what we help with as psychologists, but importantly they're the very skills that also help the 1 in 5 individuals who do experience mental health issues.
So, is it time to rethink what psychologists actually do?
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2009). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 4326.0, 2007. ABS: Canberra. http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/4326.0Main%20Features32007?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=4326.0&issue=2007&num=&view=
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