Written by Dasan Sullivan-Moore
Therapy can be a powerful tool for personal growth and healing, but for many it is not always easy to know how to get the most out of the experience. We want to make sure that you are set up to make the most out of the time, energy, and money that you put into therapy. Here are a number of tips from professional psychotherapists for how you can maximize the benefits of therapy and make meaningful progress towards a happier, healthier life.
Have clear goals
Good therapy involves working with your therapist to identify clear goals that you want to work towards. These goals give direction and meaning to your journey, and the more clear and specific the goals, the easier it is to chart your progress and stay motivated. Using a method like setting SMART goals and breaking your long-term goals into easily attainable short-term goals can be especially helpful when the process becomes challenging or uncomfortable.
Remember that therapy can be uncomfortable
While the ultimate goal of therapy is often to help you reduce and manage distressing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, the journey toward those goals can often be uncomfortable. Therapy can bring up difficult emotions and may require you to confront past traumas or current struggles. However, this is a normal part of the process, and we are trained to help you meet these challenges in ways that allow you to grow more wise and resilient as a result.
Know that everyone can benefit from therapy
When we think of the type of person who goes to therapy, we often assume they have a psychological disorder, but therapy is not just for people with a mental health diagnosis. Therapy can be helpful for people who simply want to manage their stress, work through personal issues, or talk through a recent life change with an impartial expert. Seeking therapy does not mean you are weak or “crazy”. In fact, going to therapy is a sign that you are willing to take control of and improve your life, and that is a sign of strength.
Give us feedback
It is really important that you feel comfortable giving feedback to your therapist. We may be experts about mental health, but you are the expert about you, and if something is not working for you, such as an exercise we tried together, homework we gave you, or simply something we said in a session, we want to know! Arguably, one of the most important signs that there is a good working relationship between you and your therapist is if you feel comfortable giving them feedback about how therapy is going, and the more you give us feedback, the more we can tailor our approach to your individual needs.
Unfortunately for us, therapists are not mind readers, and we cannot help you when we do not know what is happening in your life or what you are thinking. Therapists have heard it all before and there is nothing too taboo to bring into the session. We take seriously the idea that therapy should be judgment free, and we are bound by law to keep your information confidential (with a few notable exceptions), so your therapist is one of the rare people you will have in your life who you can truly tell anything. Take advantage of this unique relationship to say the things that you cannot share with anyone else.
Try to be patient
Research shows that effective treatment often takes somewhere between 15-20 sessions for about 50% of people, and that some people and their therapists report 20-30 sessions were necessary to make them confident the gains would last. Some research shows that certain short-term therapies can be effective for some conditions in less time, such as 12-16 sessions. That means that effective therapy is likely to take at least a few months, so try to be patient. Psychotherapy is a process of personal growth where old patterns are unlearned and new patterns are formed, and this kind of psychological growth takes time. Try to manage your expectations so that you do not get discouraged if the positive results are not readily apparent, and remember that going to therapy is an investment in a happier future for you.
Know that we won’t have all the answers
A common misconception in therapy is that psychotherapists are here to give advice. Ironically, the advice given to most starting therapists is to do everything possible not to give advice! The reason for this is that our job is not to tell you what to do but instead to collaborate with you to discover your goals, and then to help you develop the skills to overcome the barriers preventing you from being where you want to be in life. We are here to empower you to reach your goals, but not to tell you what those goals should be. If you ask us, “What should I do?” be prepared to hear, “What do you want to do?”
Find the right therapist
Research shows that one of the most important factors that makes successful therapy effective is the strength of the therapeutic alliance between you and your therapist. In other words, you and your therapist need to get along well in order for therapy to work. Finding a therapist who is a good fit for your personality and your goals is therefore essential. When you are looking for a therapist, think about what issues you want to discuss, and try to find a therapist who has the background and training to help you with those issues. And while it can be good to not give up on therapy too soon, remember that it is ok to switch to a new therapist if it does not feel like a good match, because finding the best therapist for you is important.
Do the homework
Long gone are the days where therapy involved simply laying back and talking about your feelings. In contemporary therapy, there is considerable emphasis on learning new skills and behaviors that you use to change the way you feel and act in your everyday life, and these can only be learned with practice. Just like learning an instrument, these skills become second nature when you take what you have learned in the session and put practice in between sessions, which could include doing homework assignments or activities that you and your therapist have agreed upon. The more willing you are to do the homework, the faster you will progress toward your goals.
Studies have shown that certain kinds of journaling can themselves be therapeutic, such as expressive journaling and gratitude journaling. Numerous studies have shown that journaling has a number of benefits outside of therapy, including improving mood, time management and goal attainment. Keeping a journal can also be an important part of psychotherapy, as well. Most types of therapy include doing some sort of homework, such as keeping a therapy journal where you can track your thoughts and feelings can be very helpful. By writing down your thoughts in your journal, you gain more awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and begin to notice the patterns that may be impacting your wellbeing. Once these patterns have been identified, you can begin to deconstruct these patterns and journal your way into new ways of seeing the situation, ultimately changing how you feel and react in the process. Use your journal to write down important insights that you want to bring to therapy, or jot down ideas and important concepts that you learn during sessions so you can return to them later. In this way, your journal will act as a document charting everything you have learned and the ways you have changed over the course of your treatment.
In conclusion, therapy can be challenging, but there are a number of ways to make sure you get the most out of the process. Find a therapist who is a good fit for you and be as honest and open as possible, including giving them feedback about how things are going. Try to be patient and remember that some discomfort is part of the process of personal growth. Set clear goals and put into practice the things you learn in therapy, using journaling to supercharge the process and chart your progress. Finally, remember that collaboration is a key part of the process, and even though your therapist may not have all the answers, you can find them together.
Navigating Negative Body Image
Written by Carly Compton, MSW Intern
Society, diet culture, and popular media do not make it easy for us to see our bodies in a positive light, especially if we do not meet their often unrealistic beauty standards. Whether you consider yourself too big, too small, too curvy, not curvy enough, too short, or too tall, it can seem virtually impossible to ever meet standards that are non-consensually imposed into our psyche. I have good news, though--there is, in fact, no need to even try to meet those beauty standards. Instead, we can collectively dismantle such standards by deciding how we want to look and what we want to feel in our bodies. While this is definitely easier said than done, I want to share some tips on how to mentally navigate encroaching negative body image thoughts and, in the process, work toward a more positive and healthy relationship with your body. Because you deserve that!
Here are four tips you can start incorporating into your life today that will get you closer to finding a place of self-love, self-acceptance, and overall positive body image:
Tip #1: Follow people on social media who make you feel good about yourself!
Social media can be an extremely toxic space for many people, but it can also be very therapeutic and refreshing, especially when you are following accounts that encourage you to accept your body as it is. Unfollow those accounts that leave you feeling down about yourself, have you comparing your body to others, and encourage you to change your body in any way before being able to see your worth. Remember, your worth is not defined by your weight or your appearance! Some of my favorite accounts to follow are Kenzie Brenna, Megan Boggs, Jaimmy Koroma, and Brynta Ponn.
Tip #2: Wear clothes that make you feel comfortable & confident!
Why is it that we feel the need to squeeze into clothes that are either too small or uncomfortable? For many, we fear having to go up in size when buying new clothes. We have been led to believe that we must always remain in the smallest size possible, even though our bodies go through natural changes and might shrink or grow many times over the course of our lives. The numbering demarcating the size of your clothes does not in any way come with attached value judgements. On the contrary, it is once you start wearing clothes that properly fit and make you comfortable that you will begin to notice a shift in confidence. Remember, we aren’t meant to change our bodies to fit certain clothes, but clothes are meant to be created to fit our bodies--no matter the size.
Tip #3: Create a list of things that you love about yourself!
Taking time to reflect on all the things you love and appreciate about your body is a great step in healing your relationship with your body. Acknowledging any negative cognitions and then working toward creating opposing positive cognitions is an effective cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) skill that will guide you to a more confident space regarding your body. This list is one you should keep and repeatedly reference in the future. You can add to it each week, each month, or however frequently you want--find what works for you! A great guidebook I highly recommend is Megan Logan’s Self-Love Workbook for Women: Release Self-Doubt, Build Self-Compassion, and Embrace Who You Are.
Tip #4: Understand that your worth is not defined by your weight!
It can be extremely difficult to see our worth as residing outside of or not being defined by our weight or physical appearance. For so long, we have been told we are more worthy or more attractive the smaller we are, among others. While dangerously prevalent, such ideas could not be further from the truth. Our worth does not stem from our weight or our appearance in any way. In fact, our appearance is actually one of the least interesting things about us. Instead of this view which will always tend toward the pessimistic, try focusing on all the amazing things your body has done for you and continues to do for you on a daily basis, surround yourself with people who won’t comment on your body, and remember that your self-worth is defined by YOU--it is rooted within the ability to understand who you are and the potential that you posses.
I hope that these four tips are helpful in getting you started toward healing your relationship with your body and navigating negative body image. We all truly deserve a life of bodily happiness and freedom from unrealistic beauty standards.
Written by: Carly Compton, intern clinician
You can now enhance your wellness and get on the path to optimal health with our complimentary Hypnotherapy or CBT offer for our TMS Patients. The combination of TMS Therapy along with Hypnotherapy and/or CBT can help many patients break through symptoms and finally experience relief. Contact our office today to learn more about our current TMS special or call 310-571-5041
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Please join us in attending the Fall 2021 CBT Group Therapy Series with leading CBT Psychotherapy Expert Alysia St. Clair! Although it is encouraged to attend the entire series, you are welcome to drop in to just one (or more) sessions. To register, please visit the Group Calendar link. Please contact us for details if you are interested in using insurance or have questions.
CBT Group Therapy:
Week 1: The Cognitive Model & Applying the Cognitive Model
10/5/21 (Tues) @ 5:30pm
Week 2: Awareness of Thoughts & Doubt Conceptualization Model
10/12/21 (Tues) @ 5:30pm
Week 3: CBT for Depression: Part I
10/19/21 (Tues) @ 5:30pm
Week 4: CBT for Depression: Part II
10/26/21 (Tues) @ 5:30pm
Week 5: Evaluating Automatic Thoughts and Thinking Errors (Depression & Anxiety)
11/2/21 (Tues) @ 5:30pm
Week 6: General CBT Strategies
11/9/21 (Tues) @ 5:30pm
Week 7: CBT for Anxiety
11/16/21 (Tues) @ 5:30pm
Week 8: Cognitive Interventions for Anxiety & Face your Fears!
12/21/21 (Tues) @ 5:30pm
Week 9: Reframe the Expectation & Assertive Communication
12/28/21 (Tues) @ 5:30pm
Week 10: Cost-Benefit Analysis (Anger, Doubt Labels, and Substance Abuse)
1/4/22 (Tues) @ 5:30pm
Featuring leading Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) psychotherapy expert,
Alysia St. Clair
Depression is a monster. It feels like it will never go away. As a clinician, the number one most dangerous part of depression is the element of hopelessness. The key however is that depression will not last forever! Depression has the effect of placing gray colored glasses over your eyes that are tricky to remove. You may pull them off for a day, week, or month, but they have a way of returning.
We have many interventions (CBT, EMDR, DBT, TMS, Ketamine, medications, etc.). Within these interventions are what I call “micro-interventions” - how do we actually practice these? What are the steps that we take?
On an interventional level, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the gold standard first line treatment for depression. Often though, there is residual depression, or it may not work 100% (oftentimes I see it as a huge help but not always a permanent cure). For any lingering depression or CBT-resistant depression, my next favorite is to go to EMDR for Depression. This targets deep inner core beliefs, similar to CBT, but using full-scope body, emotional, memory, and logical processing with the goal of engaging the two hemispheres of the brain and four main areas that regulate emotion. EMDR is most effective when paired with TMS, which helps “wake up” parts of the brain that “go to sleep” during depression. TMS also appears to help individuals in EMDR connect more with memories and emotions that we are trying to activate. TMS and EMDR are generally covered by insurance in the treatment for depression, which helps alleviate the financial burden. Medications for depression can be helpful, but can oftentimes facilitate the spiral of hopelessness when they do not work (which is very common).
A few of my favorite micro-interventions within CBT and DBT:
Purposefully seeing the positive. We walk, we eat, we sleep. Do we stop to smell the roses? Actually no! That is a purposeful activity that can help alleviate depressive symptoms. I often give my clients the activity to stop on a walk, notice the vibrant green in the leaves of a tree, notice the flickering in the wind, notice the strains of lighter green within the leaf, feel the crispness that it carries, see the shine, etc. You must do this for a minimum of 15-seconds for your brain to program and convert short-term memory to long-term memory. Seeing the beauty and intentionally focusing on it for enough time to input more positive programming to your long-term memory essentially tricks your brain into having a more positive outlook and more positive material overall. Another great example - drinking your favorite beverage. Instead of gulping it down, take 15-seconds to purposefully engage with the positive of it (spend time smelling, noticing the pleasant warmth or cool from the cup on your hand, noticing the flavor on different parts of your tongue, etc.). Draw it out for a minimum of 15-seconds!
Benefit finding. Taking the negative events and experiences that have occurred and shaping them into a positive, somehow, however you can (even if it takes being really creative)! What did you learn? How did you grow? As my mother used to say, “every lesson costs.” Education is not free. Leaving my precious earrings at the hotel taught me to check more thoroughly and made me realize how much I value gold jewelry and the sentiment they carried. Does that make it easy? No! Can it help reframe the event to make it not quite as awful? Maybe. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, our neurons are being programmed to see the positive which is the opposite of the natural reaction. This creates a chain reaction cascade of events to help other events be seen in a more positive light, even when you’re not trying. Practice is key!
Talk back. Talk back to negative or demeaning thoughts! That little voice in yourself that tells you that you aren’t good enough, tell it no! “I am good enough!” If you don’t believe it, keep trying. If you still don’t believe it, scale it down and start with something smaller. Instead of “I am good enough,” use something that you can believe more - perhaps “I am good enough for some people.” Talk back to that demeaning voice with this until you believe it (or at least partially believe it). The goal is to override this negative voice naturally, which will occur with enough practice.
Use mantras. “I am doing the best that I can” is a favorite of mine (credit to my mentor Jen Vachet, LMFT). You may not believe it initially, but given the circumstances of your upbringing and environment - you are doing the best you can! We all are doing the best we can with the resources that we have. Life is hard. We are not perfect. We cannot expect perfection from ourselves. Another favorite, “You’ve got this!” Maybe you really feel like you don’t have this! The point is to put a voice inside your head, believable or not, telling you that you do so that you have personal encouragement guiding you! If it helps, give the voice to a mentor, friend, or family member.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, many resources throughout Los Angeles and California have enabled affordable housing. If you need assistance paying rent, please view the Rental Assistance Tool from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to get help with rent, utilities, and more. You may also apply for the California COVID-19 Rent Relief Program for financial assistance of rent and utilities to income-eligible renters and landlords who have been impacted in any way by the COVID-19 pandemic. Local rent relief programs may also be available.
If you are in need of housing relief, info about COVID-19, or even food assistance, please call 2-1-1 for resources and referrals or visit 211la.org
Housing is Key is a new program that offers live workshops that assist in maintaining affordable housing. Sign up for a workshop online at stayhousedla.org, or call 1-888-694-0040. Once registered, access to the workshop both by Zoom as well as by telephone is provided (Zoom is not required to participate in a workshop).
As a final referral, the United Stated Department of Housing and Urban Development is available for federal housing resources.
The American Rescue Plan has made insurance affordable and available to more individuals by lowering the monthly cost of health insurance to as little as $1 in some cases, but only through Covered California. About 90% of Covered California members have received financial assistance – and you can be one!
Use the "shop and compare" tool to compare plans and pricing.
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. The past 18 months of adapting to “the new normal” of COVID-19 regulations has been difficult. The single greatest predictor of suicide is hopelessness. With endless strains of COVID emerging, it can feel very hopeless! During this September suicide awareness, we must remember that now is not forever. Though things may feel like they will never end (including mood states), we must remember that this will pass. Whether it’s recent loss, general depression or anxiety, relationship fallouts, or life adjustments, one thing is certain - things WILL CHANGE.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, I promise that you are not alone. Please reach out for help and support. Text NAMI to 741741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 to be connected to a listening ear - 24 hours a day. If in Los Angeles County, you can call the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health ACCESS Resource and Referral line at (800) 854-7771 or text “LA” to 741741 for information and referrals.
Please do not hesitate to reach out for help. You are not alone and this will not last forever, no matter how much it feels like it. It is the greatest trick of depression - current feels permanent, but it is not! Gray colored glasses may be stuck on, but they can come off and the world can once again be a good place.
What if it is ongoing? What if I am not getting better? The number one thing is to not lose hope. You will! We have so many treatments today. If one doesn’t work, there are a hundred more to try! It is not an instant process, but YOU WILL GET BETTER. For more information on treatment for ongoing depression, visit the General Treatment for Depression article.
Coronavirus 19 has brought so much hardship through our entire world. One particular thing that has been challenging due to this pandemic has been the inability to have daily human interactions. Many find themselves now questioning how they will interact with others after over a year of limited social interactions. I am here to say that you are not alone in feeling this way. For over a year, we have been subjected to being indoors during times that we may have been surrounded by other individuals. Limited social interactions can lead to feeling alone and trying to figure out how to deal with issues we may have discussed with others. What you may have also experienced is grief. Grief doesn’t have to mean the passing of an individual but the loss of something significant. We experienced grief when our world changed to something we have never experienced before but with grief comes healing and I am here to help with that.
One way to begin breaking the cycle that we have created is to implement small social interactions. This can start through calling a friend. Practicing having small talk at the comfort of your own home. Once you begin to feel comfortable, you can move to scheduling a video chat call. This will encourage normalizing daily interactions. Just remember, we all have been in this hectic time and are curious how to get back to our normal interactions. But just like any skills you may have had to put aside for a while, with a little practice, it will start to feel normal again. You are not alone, we are here for you.
Briana Barrera, ACSW