Questions & AnswersGeneral Psychology Questions

QUESTION: What are the different types of psychotherapy? How do I know which type I need?

ANSWER: There are many different approaches to therapy and unfortunately there are no hard and fast rules to help an individual know which approach will work best for them. When it comes to choosing a therapist, your best indicator for what's right for you is you. I usually suggest interviewing several therapists — by phone and/or in person — paying attention to how you feel about the person when you're talking to them. Ask questions about how the therpist views therapy in general and your issues particular. If you already have an idea about what you're looking for in a therapist, tell them what you want and ask if that's something they feel suited for.

Unless it's a concern for insurance reasons, don't worry too much about whether the therapist has a master's degree, Ph.D., or M.D. I've known excellent and not-so-excellent therapists at all levels of training. Although having training in therapy is definitely important, most training programs at all three levels should be adequate and beyond that, it's the person that matters — not the degree.

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QUESTION: I know I'm depressed. Is medication or therapy better to treat depression?

ANSWER: There's no one-size-fits all when it comes to treating psychiatric disorders. There's research to show that the most likely treatment successes come with a combination of therapy and medication. However, some people do fine with therapy alone and others do fine with medication alone. I think the best way to make the decision is to pay attention to what you're leaning toward. If you feel that medication can help you, chances are good that it will. Likewise, if you feel that therapy can help you, it probably can. Our belief systems aren't the whole story in what helps us heal, but they do play an important part. My sense is that your best bet is to capitalize on your beliefs and go with them instead of trying to work against them.

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QUESTION: I have obsessive compulsive symptoms. The more I try to control them, the worse they get. Is there anything that can help?

ANSWER: Yes. OCD is one of those disorders that can feel hopeless when you're caught in it, but that really isn't. Therapy or a combination of therapy and medication can usually help, although neither is a "quick fix". I see therapy with OCD clients as having two prongs — one, which is more behaviorally oriented, is aimed at actually stopping the obsessions or compulsions. The other, which goes hand in hand with the first, focuses more on helping the person gain insight into the underlying feelings the OCD symptoms were attempting to cover. A good therapist should be able to help with both things for a more lasting treatment result.
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QUESTION: I know that depression and anxiety are symptoms of many things. How do I know what disorder I have and what the best course of treatment is?

ANSWER: You're absolutely right about depression and anxiety being components of many different disorders including some primarily physical conditions. Most therapists will be able to help you arrive at an actual diagnosis, if that's important to you. Actually, though, the diagnosis often doesn't matter much in terms of treatment and in my own work with people, I seldom even think about what their diagnosis might be. The important thing is to find a therapist who will work with you in treating your symptoms and helping you find some relief.
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QUESTION: What are the symptoms of anxiety disorders?

ANSWER: First of all, there are several different types of anxiety disorders. However, they all tend to have symptoms such as worry, restlessness, irritability, difficulty sleeping and anxiety. Some of the specific anxiety disorders are Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Social Phobia, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Each of these has some or all of the symptoms above and some differentiating symptoms.
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QUESTION: I've been told I was a parentified child. What's that?

ANSWER: The term parentified child applies to situations where a parent is unable to care for themselves emotionally and/or physically and instead of getting help from a spouse or other peers, they do a kind of role reversal with one or more of their children. Sometimes the role reversal is obvious such as situations where a parent drinks, does drugs or is absent and the child has to prepare meals and perform other routine types of household tasks.

Often, however, parentification is much more subtle. Many mothers who suffer from a poor sense of self-worth unwittingly use their children to help give them a sense of purpose in life. The child becomes, in a sense, an extension of the mother, having to make sure that the mother feels good about herself at all costs. This can involve subtle but powerful pressure to do well in school, to go out for certain sports or other activities the mother values, etc. In such cases, the child has to deny their own needs and feelings because all energy must be focused on what the parent needs. One of the first goals of working with adults who were parentified as children is to help them get in touch with who they are, what they need and feel and to learn that their needs and feelings are OK.

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QUESTION: My husband has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. What should I do?

ANSWER: First, make sure that he has adequate medical care. There are several fairly new drugs on the market that can help delay symptom progression, so the sooner he can be evaluated for those, the better. Make an appointment with an attorney who is knowledgeable in elder care issues to help you with legal matters such as power of attorney, wills, etc.

Encourage your husband to be as physically and intellectually active as he's able, since there's research to suggest that both types of activies can help retard the progression of the disease. Also, Alzheimer's typically progresses somewhat slowly, which means that you and your husband may be dealing with it for a number of years. I can't stress enough the importance of making sure you're getting adequate support for yourself during this time. Check out support groups in your area and/or find a therapist who can help you throughout the emotionally difficult times and decisions that lie ahead. Your care during this stressful time is equally as important as his.