I started my working life as a social worker, I acquired the right to be called a therapist. Eventually I dropped out of my professional life. For 14 years my husband and I became special need foster parents hosting an ever changing group of teens in trouble with the law. By the time we stopped being foster parents over 300 teens had live with us, some for only days, others weeks, and a few for months.
When I first became a foster parent, I quickly turned against all I had been taught about being a therapist. Why? Most of the professional advice simply did not apply to working in what I came to view as the trenches of life in the real world. Gradually, I made peace with many therapy models, as most have some advice that works some of the time.
When I returned to work as a mental health professional, it was directing mental health crisis teams in the South Bronx before, during, and after 9/11. That combined with my experience as a foster parent gained me a reputation as an expert on trauma, particularly trauma in children and its impact on families.
What did I learned from my life as a foster parent and a therapist? That most people do not need therapy to live a good life. What is more important than therapy is and always will be support. Next is importance is understanding what it is to be mentally ill, and finally, how to get the best therapy when therapy is needed.
Emotional Fitness Tips
Tip one: Know when immediate professional help is needed. Know who to call and when.
Call 911 immediately:
- If someone has taken steps to commit suicide – even if you think it is just a gesture.
- If someone is physically assaulting another or waving around a weapon.
When in doubt, suicide help lines are available and eager to help sort out what is needed when there is a mental health issue. I think this is the best one: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline ‘1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Tip two: Know when professional help is needed quickly but not immediately:
- Someone is too depressed to get out of bed and do what has to be done – go to school or work or tend to daily life needs.
- Someone engages in known risky behavior – drinking, drugging, or dieting to excess.
- Someone is abused or abusing another – both the abuser and the victim need professional help, particularly when the abuse occurs in a ongoing relationship.
- Someone has been diagnosed with a major mental illness, and has dropped out of treatment or has stopped taking medication.
As noted above a good place to turn for help is Lifeline. They will know if there are crisis teams operating in your area. A crisis team comes to your home within 24 hours and helps you decide what is needed and stays in touch until the person in need is connected with help.
If there is not a crisis team, Lifeline will know what other professional help is available in your area.
Tip three: Good therapy is life changing and far too many people let stigma about asking for help keep them from being all they can be.
Tip four: As noted in the above Poster Coach self-help programs may be all that is needed. Stepping up from that are support groups, and then coaching.
Tip five: Always measure the effectiveness of mental health professionals efforts to make you life better. Here are some simple measurements, my staff used to help clients evaluate the helpfulness.
Each question was rated on a 1 to 5 scale with 1 being did not agree, and 5 being totally agreed.
- I could talk about my concerns.
- I was listened to
- My strengths were recognized.
- I helped decide what to do.
- I worked on my goals.
- Things are getting better.
Tip six: Remember what matters. To be clear on the values that make for a good life including setting SMART goals, buy and read my book How to Know Your Mission So You Can Reach Your Goals. As with most of my eBooks, it costs less than a Happy Meal and does more long lasting good.
Thank you for all you do
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Links of Interest
These links are for those not familiar with Emotional Intelligence or the idea of Emotional Fitness.