Ten Facts about Mental Health Professionals

  1. We always make healthy choices
    Every night, I prepare a well-balanced meal of lean meats and vegetables, and then I follow it with a jog around the block. If I’m feeling sassy, I might enjoy half a kit-kat. I have never been known to eat nachos for six days in a row, and then followed them with piles of oreos.

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  1. We follow our own advice
    You know how I’m constantly reminding you of the importance of sleep hygiene, and the evils of using technology right before bed? I totally listen to my own advice. I never text my friends or watch youtube videos in bed. I get a perfect 8.5 hours of sleep every night, no matter what. And I’m also never groggy the next morning!
  1. We’re organized
    My office supplies are so organized, I don’t have any junk drawers in my desk. Okay, I have one. Well, two. Okay, all of the drawers are junk-filled.

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  1. We’re always calm
    True therapists never experience anxiety. We also never curl up under a weighted blanket that was technically made for clients, but is used way more often by us. And none of us have recurrent eye twitches or neck spasms during times of increased stress. That’d just be weird!

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  1. We lead perfect, trouble-free lives
    For me, a bad day means tripping over my bag of diamonds, or having to give my personal masseuse  the night off. I was raised atop a rainbow, surrounded by poetry-reading unicorns. Nothing has ever made me feel scared, or sad, or confused, or angry, or numb.

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  1. We never get into stupid fights with friends or family members
    Everything we say comes out eloquent and respectful, even when we’re frustrated. We never make comments we don’t mean, or silently wish our loved ones would spontaneously disintegrate.

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  1. We’re robots without personalities of our own
    Our idea of fun is to finish a Sudoku puzzle in our plaid pajamas while listening to the sweet, sweet sounds of soft jazz playing in the background. We don’t taste-test cheese-related dishes, and we certainly do not blog about them while sitting on our sofas pantsless. And none of us have dark senses of humor.
  1. We’re always professional and appropriate
    We never challenge our fellow therapists to chair races in the hallway, nor climb on filing cabinets during a rousing game of “lava floor.” We NEVER doze off in our comfy therapy chairs. And we definitely do not trek to the grocery store in stained yoga pants and unwashed hair in order to buy a bottle of wine and a package of premade tamales.

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  1. We always have our shit together
    I don’t know of any therapists who have procrastinated simple tasks for months on end. And none of us have ever drunkenly burst into tears in public, or made choices our mothers would groan at.
  1. We have exceptional insight into ourselves
    Just like we ask you to analyze the reasons behind your behaviors, we’re always doing the  same for our own. We never find ourselves pushing down uncomfortable feelings, putting on a fake smile, and insisting that everything is okay.  And we certainly don’t delude ourselves into thinking that because we’re mental health professionals, we’re suppose to handle all life events with grace.

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Positive Spin or Denial? You Decide

A common technique used in therapy is something called “reframing,”  where the therapist helps the client view certain concepts in a different (and usually more positive) way. What’s the purpose of this? Well, we mortal humans tend to see events or situations as being either “good” or “bad,” when most of time, they’re somewhere in between. For example, when we’re in love, we see the other person as being wonderful and perfect. We’re unable or unwilling to see any flaws. On the other hand, when we’re depressed, we experience even neutral situations as lonely and sad.

People seek therapy for themselves because they want to think and plan in new ways that will help them feel happier and healthier – and reframing is one of the first steps toward this goal. After all, if you think everything about your situation is terrible, and you don’t see anything to hope for, you’ll probably be less likely to make changes…because what’s the point, if there’s no hope?

Here are a couple examples of reframing…

“Instead of being stubborn, maybe you just know what you want.”

“You’re frustrated with yourself for feeling anxious, but feeling anxious is a normal and understandable response in your situation.”

It’s also a helpful technique in parenting – just like people get “stuck” on how to help themselves, they can also get stuck on how to handle certain behaviors in their children. Reframing can aid in increasing a parent’s compassion toward her child, and return her sense of being in control. By changing the perspective, it unlocks a new set of solutions.

Here are a couple examples of reframing in regards to parenting…

“Instead of seeing him as bossy, maybe we can see him as a natural leader.”

“The advantage to her hyperactivity is that she’s creative and energetic.”

Reframing is not dishonest, nor does it mean sweeping the core problem under the rug. It truly is just a different way to look at the same situation in order to return a sense of agency.  Of course, this wouldn’t be my blog unless I took something good and useful, and twisted it into something weird.

When I was in high school, I had a yellow shirt that read (in pink sparkly glitter): “I’m not opinionated, I’m just always right.” I cringe now to think about how obnoxious that shirt must have been.  Forgive me, fellow classmates, for inflicting that upon you. But when I push past the regret of early 2000s fashion, I can definitely see the humor in those types of mottos. They allow you to completely ignore any flaw or issue you have, in favor of seeing yourself in a more flattering light.

And I like that.

So I started thinking about some of my own weaknesses and issues, and thought it’d be fun to reframe them beyond recognition. At this point, it’s probably not “reframing” so much as it is just straight-up denial.

Some of my flaws, both before and after I “reframed” them…

 Before:

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After:

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Before:

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After:

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Before:

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After:

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Before:

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After:

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After:

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Before:

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After:

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Now it’s your turn at denial! What do you consider to be your weaknesses? How can you reframe (or twist) these flaws to get a different view of them?

Diagnostic Manual of Annoying Child Behaviors

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Last week, I traveled to South Carolina to spend a few days at the beach with my parents, niece, and nephew. My brother and his family live in SC while I’m in Texas, so I only get to see them once or twice a year. Needless to say, I really look forward to these trips, and always have fun with my niece and nephew. They’re sweet, funny, and charming little children.

However, they’re also children. Meaning they do irritating things sometimes.

In a previous post, I’ve talked about the fact that I question whether or not I want to have kids of my own. Before you throw rocks and pitchforks at me, just know that I happen to love kids, and even work with them in my job. Willingly. But I haven’t yet decided whether I want to subject myself to the never-ending, 24/7 responsibility of raising kids of my own.

As much fun as  I truly had with my little look-alike minions, some events of our vacation last week further reminded me about my hesitance. From an academic (read: nerdy) viewpoint, I was sort of fascinated by some of their behaviors.

“Why are you doing that? It’s weird. Stop.” – Me, every few minutes.

Part of my role as a therapist is to make diagnoses, and I found myself wondering whether some of my niece’s and nephew’s “quirks” might fall under brand new disorders. Feeling intrigued by this idea, I decided to create some new disorders all on my own.

Again, before you throw rocks and pitchforks, this is all in good fun 😉

Selective Speed of Movement
This is similar to Selective Mutism, an actual diagnosis in which children are unable to speak in certain settings due to intense social anxiety. You may also have heard of “selective hearing,” a phrase typically assigned to middle-aged men who seem to hear only what they want to hear.

Selective Speed of Movement applies to children who (at times) can move very, very quickly, such as when you tell them, “Go change into your swimsuit so we can go to the pool.”

Other times, these same children appear to become like sloths in a vat of maple syrup: Every. Tiny. Movement. Seems. To. Take. A. Great. Deal. Of. Effort. This hasn’t yet been studied in a lab, so it’s possible that syrup-covered sloths are actually quicker than the children.

This phenomenon is most likely to be triggered when you say something like, “Go brush your teeth.”

Overwhelming Urge to Press Buttons
Children with this mental disorder have an extreme desire to press any kind of button – microwave, elevator, figurative, etc. If you come across a child with severe OUPD and happen to push a button before they got the chance, prepare for their wrath. There will be whining, there will be angry faces. There may even be dramatic proclamations that you’ve ruined their day.

Misunderstanding of What Constitutes Fun for Adults
Symptoms include:

  • Asking you to watch them play their video game
  • Wanting to poke you in the face with various objects
  • Farting on you
  • Using your body as their personal diving board in the swimming pool
  • Expressing disappointment when you turn down any of the above activities

 

Inappropriate Internal Clock
This is a seasonal disorder that applies to children who wake up on summer days at 6:32 a.m. for no reason.

Pointless Competitiveness
Sometimes it’s good to have a little competition – it fosters hard work and determination, and there are lessons to be learned about both winning and losing.

 

But Pointless Competitiveness applies to scenarios where it makes no sense to compete, and there’s no clear winner. Children exhibiting PC might do any of the following:

  • Ruthlessly fight their way to be out the door first, despite arriving to the destination no quicker than anyone else
  • Passionately argue about who is the better “shuffler” (of cards)
  • Loudly declare that they have the smelliest feet

 

 

For those of you who have kids, know kids, or were once kids yourselves, what do you think of these (fake) disorders? Did any of them ring a bell for you? What would you add to this list?

 

Therapist Me vs. Real Me

For those of you who don’t know, I have a day job as a mental health professional. One of the interesting things about this career path is that it sometimes feels like there’s a difference between the version of you that acts as a therapist, and the version of you that is just…you.

In other words, while “Therapist Me” is an educated professional who spends a great deal of time encouraging self-care and guiding clients toward healthy coping skills, “Real Me” is a human being who is just as prone to flawed coping mechanisms as everyone else.

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Sometimes, Therapist Me gets into heated arguments with Real Me. Therapist Me is compassionate and understanding with clients, but she’s a bit judgey with Real Me.

On bedtime…

Therapist Me: “You need to go to bed at a decent hour. Sleeping is important for your mental and physical health.”

Real Me: “But I wanna watch another episode of Golden Girls!”

On healthy habits…

Therapist Me: “Go to your yoga class tonight. Sometimes you think you don’t want to, but you always feel better afterward.”

Real Me: “OR………I could just eat Chinese food in my yoga pants. It’s almost the same thing.”

Therapist Me: “No. Yoga will help relax you.”

Real Me: “So will Chinese food.”

Therapist Me: “Will the Chinese food make you feel more limber?”

Real Me: “MAYBE! YOU DON’T KNOW MY LIFE.”

On feeling frazzled…

Therapist Me: “You seem stressed. Why don’t you use your Calm app?”

Real Me: “Nah. Chocolate.”

Therapist Me: “Amanda…”

Real Me: “What’s that, chocolate? You’re lonely in that dark drawer all by yourself? I have just the solution….”

On navigating work relationships…

Therapist Me: “You encourage clients to advocate for themselves all the time. Go to your supervisor and ask for what you need.”

Real Me: *Makes unintelligible noise of discomfort*

Therapist Me: “Stop it. You are confident and assertive and you can do this!”

Real Me: *Makes panicked face. Slithers out of the chair and onto the ground.*

As much as I’d like to say that Therapist Me usually wins out, the truth is that Therapist Me and Real Me are probably about tied. But sometimes they compromise with each other: I’ll go to my yoga class, and then pick up Chinese food on the way home.

(Or maybe that’s not compromising so much as just canceling each other out.)

Does anyone else feel like the more grownup, rational part of your brain gets into quarrels with the whiny, poor-decision-making part? Which part usually wins out? What are your favorite healthy (or unhealthy) ways to cope with stress?

ALSO – on a side note, you should definitely check out the Calm app. It has lots of soothing scenes and sounds, like waves crashing on the beach, or a crackling fire place. It also has guided meditations – even ones as short as two minutes if you don’t have much time. This thing really does help me get grounded and calm when I’m stressed or anxious. AND IT’S FREE! (except for the fancier stuff, but who needs that).

Sandwich Personality Test

In the mental health milieu, there are about a bajillion different tests and scales that can measure everything from emotional symptoms, to substance abuse problems, to personality traits. Most of these tests involve paper and pencil (or the occasional ink blot), but I’ve recently started thinking – what if they involved sandwiches?

I’ll pause for a moment to let that sink in.

Imagine yourself walking into your kitchen, hungry for a sammich. You go to the fridge and push aside the expired yogurt in order to get to the lunchmeat. Or maybe you simply pull a jar of peanut butter out of the cabinet. You put your fillings of choice between two slices of fresh carbs, and then step back to briefly admire your handiwork.

What does that sandwich say about you? What does it reveal about your personality?

Maybe your answer is: “Nothing. It reveals nothing.”

But maybe you’re wrong.

Clearly, formal research needs to be done on this subject. I picture myself in a white lab coat, sitting behind a two-way mirror while my research subject is on the other side, perusing a table of sandwich ingredients.

I’d take careful notes while the subject assembles their sandwich. When they make a mustard smiley face on the bread, I’d nod thoughtfully and make a note on my legal pad. Just as I suspected – subject is whimsical and child-like.

Even if my research didn’t return any significant results (which is doubtful, because this idea is genius), at the end of the day, the subjects and I will be able to EAT the results. It’s really a win-win.

Although I haven’t yet performed this research, I’ve developed a few hypotheses about what personality traits might be revealed by one’s choice of sandwich ingredients. Scroll down the list to find your favorite sandwich (or the one you make most often), and see how well the personality description matches you.

Note: Please do not make any drastic relationship or career changes based on the results of this personality test. There’s a very tiny chance that I could be wrong.

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BLT – You lead a very busy life – so busy, that you don’t have enough time to say this sandwich’s full name. You’re stable and secure, but you also know how to have a little fun. BACON fun.

Turkey with nothing but a little mayo or mustard – You dislike loud music and fast cars, and enjoy reading anthropology books in your spare time. People call you by the wrong name a  lot.

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Tuna or egg-salad – The ultimate rebel: you know your food smells, but you don’t give a rat’s ass what other people think about it. You believe in living life loud and proud.

Ham & cheese – You’re trustworthy and an old soul; you have an appreciation for oldies music, and you’re considering taking up knitting.

Peanut butter & jelly – Your life is falling apart, and the only thing you have left are the comfort foods from your childhood. Keep calm and sandwich on.

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Grilled cheese – You are a people-pleaser who chooses comfort and safety over taking risks. You’re probably best friends or in a relationship with a PB&J fan.

Bologna – You’re extremely laid-back and hate anything that seems pretentious  or uppity. Like dentists. You’re PROUD to eat on-sale mystery meat.

 

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Fancy ingredients (lobster, pesto, sprouts, etc) – You have too much time and money on your hands, so you spend both on sandwich fillings. You probably don’t get along well with the bologna crowd.

Veggie only – You’re concerned about the environment and your health, though not as much as the people just eating salads. You also drive a hybrid, and you’re into yoga and meditating.

 

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Multiple meats (turkey, ham, salami, etc) – You’re insecure in your masculinity, and need a sandwich to show just how much of  man you are. When you eat, you puff up your chest and say things like,  “I didn’t kill these animals myself, but I totally could have.”

 

So, tell me – which sandwich did you pick? How well (or not well) did the descriptions match up with your personality? Be warned, I may use your results in my formal research study, which I’m totally going to do maybe.