Searching for a Mental Health Provider? Understand the Differences in Professional Training

You have digestion problems. Would you go see a cardiologist? No, I think you would see the physician best trained to diagnose and treat your ailments. This same reasoning is valid for people seeking psychotherapy, but perhaps a bit more confusing to the layperson. In the murky water of mental health counseling, deciding what professional to see is challenging. I hope my insights from twenty plus years as a licensed psychologist will make the search for the right therapist clearer.

Psychologists: Most will have a doctorate (Ph.D.), (Psy.D.), and training in methods, knowledge and theories of psychology. There are many specialties, among them, but not limited to, are clinical, counseling, educational, social, developmental, school, and industrial/organizational. Approximately, 60% are in the areas of clinical and counseling specializations. These two areas of focus are able to diagnose, and treat mental and personality disorders and adjustment problems. Typically three to six years post-graduate study is required and most American Psychological Association approved programs mandate an internship. In order to call oneself a psychologist, passing of written and oral exams by a State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, with a period of supervision by a licensed psychologist, is the law in all fifty states. Some states (Louisiana and New Mexico) afford the opportunity to psychologists to have the designation of “medical psychologists,” which allows limited prescription privileges. With additional schooling (a Master Degree in clinical psycho-pharmacology), supervision by a physician, and maintaining strict guidelines, these psychologists can prescribe medication.

Psychiatrists: They are medical doctors (M.D.) who specialize in psychiatry. After completing medical school, they continue for an extra four years of residency training in mental health studies. Additional training is obtained to specialize in such areas of child/adolescent or geriatric. Psychiatrists prescribe medications and monitor medications for other providers who don’t have prescription privileges. They are usually found in hospital settings and community mental health clinics, while maintaining a private practice. They treat a broad range of mental health issues, and may combine “talk therapy” with “drug therapy.” They often are the primary treatment physician for serious mental health issues such as psychosis and addictions. If you choose to consult with a psychiatrist and want “talk therapy” without medications, ask if counseling is provided, exclusive of medication, or in combination of both modalities.

Social Workers: Most social workers who offer counseling hold a M.S.W. (Masters of Social Work). Training requires two years of post-graduate study and hundreds of hours of “in the field” (internship) supervised training. They have their own licensing board and are found in private practice, schools, hospitals, mental health centers, and chemical dependency facilities. They work closely with psychologists and psychiatrists, performing assessments of family structures, often counseling within the family home. You may find social workers who go by the titles, ‘psychiatric social workers” or ‘clinical social workers.”

Psychoanalysts: Psychoanalysis refers to a specialized treatment obtained through accredited programs. Psychoanalysts can be medical doctors, as well as psychologists or social workers. They have certification in a form of psychotherapy associated to Sigmund Freud and his followers. It is best described as an approach that probes the unconscious mind and its relationship to current feelings, thinking and behaviors. In most instances, part of their training is to undergo their own psychoanalysis. Caution is given of anyone identifying themselves as a psychoanalyst. Psychoanalytic therapy is typically of long duration and expensive. to this extent, managed care insurance companies may not cover this form of treatment. You should check with your insurance provider.

Marriage & Family, Pastoral Counselor and Licensed Professional Counselors (L.P.C.); These titles represent people who have at least a Master Degree and possibly a Doctorate Degree. They must obtain certification and/or license to offer counseling. They treat adjustment disorders in marriage and family issues and persons requiring supportive therapy. Pastoral counselors have specific training in assisting people who desire their counseling in a spiritual framework.

Comments: Whoever you choose for a therapist, they should have certification from a state or national board. Most insurance payment plans will only recognize those with certification. Check to see if the professional provider works with your age group. For example, some therapists may not work with adolescents or the elderly.

Remember, anyone can call themselves a psychotherapist. Always check their credentials.

An expanded version of this article is found in my book, “A Guide for Effective Psychotherapy.”

Importance of Mental Health Among Youth

Mental health is not merely the absence of mental illness, but it also the ability to cope with the challenges in life. Mental health is as important as physical health to everybody. Youths usually experiment with attitudes, appearances, and behaviors. Most of their experiments are harmless, but some experiments may have terrible results. Children and youths experience mental health problem such as stress, anxiety, harassment, family problems, depression, learning disability, etc. Serious mental health problems, such as self-injurious behaviors and suicide, are increasing among youth.
A good mental health is essential for leading a good life. Youth cannot succeed in academic and personal life effectively if they are struggling with a mental health problem, such as depression or unsteady feeling due to academic, social or family pressures.

Failure to detect youth’s mental health problem may result in negative consequences such as increased risk for academic failure, social isolation, unsafe sexual behavior, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide attempt, unemployment, and poor health. A recent report says, The rising rates of mental and emotional problems among U.S. children and youngsters signal a crisis for the country.

Depression, anxiety, attention deficit, conduct disorders, suicidal thinking, and other serious psychological problems are striking more and more children and youths. Conservative estimates say one in every ten children and adolescents now suffers from mental illness severe enough to cause impairment.” Even if detected earlier, unfortunately many children and youth do not receive the help they need. Some reports are there that most children and youth who need a mental health evaluation do not receive services and that the rates of use of mental health services are also low.
Parents and adults must take care of the youth’s mental health. The parents and adults must talk with the youth, be a good role models to them, advice them to choose good friends, and monitor their activities.

There is a growing and unmet need for mental health services for children and youth. Mental health services are important for student’s and youth’s success. Prevention programs help in early identification of mental health problems in youth. These programs provide education on mental health issues, violence prevention, social skills training, harassment prevention, suicide prevention, conflict resolution, and screening for emotional and behavioral problems. The Family Guide Web sites are designed for parents and other adults to emphasize the importance of family, promote mental health, and help prevent underage use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs.

Good mental health is very important for youth’s success. In order to emphasize the importance of mental health in youth, the following steps can be taken: Create awareness of child and youth mental health issues; provide a comprehensive guide for effective and meaningful youth meetings for organizations and professionals; and Conduct programs to generate awareness about youth’s mental health in each communities. Awareness about the importance of mental health issues among youth equally important to other physical issues, such as heart disease, AIDS, cancer, etc. Local and state health officials must draw more attention to the importance of mental health treatment of affected children and youths.

Attention to youth’s mental health will more effectively improve their life standard. This also positively impacts their academic and personal life achievements. The families, society and youths benefit only when mental health problems in youths are identified and prevented earlier.

Effective Mental Health Treatment May Mean Using Alternative Methods

Effective mental health treatment doesn’t have to mean prescription drugs and hours of therapy. There are alternative methods for dealing with things like stress, depression, memory issues and even age related issues like Alzheimer’s and dementia. So why don’t we hear more about them? A lack of understand on the part of many doctors keeps the public from being educated and aggressive marketing by drug companies keeps prescriptions flowing.

This is not to say that there isn’t a time and place for mental health treatments like prescription drugs or therapy. Those can be helpful for certain things, but it may be that we are too quick to turn to them for mild to moderate forms of stress, depression, etc. Often there are alternative mental health treatments available.

While the category of alternative mental health treatments can be broad, the primary method that can be of benefit is natural supplements. Secondary treatment methods would include lifestyle changes such as exercise, altering diet, etc. Research has recently been done in both those areas that has opened the door to new thinking on how to address illness of the mind. Some of the change in thinking involves treatment, the rest prevention. However, it is the primary method of supplements that is the focus of this article.

Mental health treatments that are truly effective deal both with prevention and treatment. Supplements are a powerful tool to address each. Studies have been done showing that many herbal supplements are as effective as prescription drugs in dealing with various aliments. For example, a study on Passion Flower found it to be as effective as a leading anti-anxiety medicine for helping people suffering from anxiety disorders.

Ginkgo Biloba is another example. In a study done on Alzheimer’s patients the results demonstrated that Ginkgo may be as effective as a commonly used Alzheimer’s medication in delaying the symptoms of dementia in people that have the disease. It also seems to be effective as a preventative mental health treatment to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s in those who may be predisposed to it.

The thing about these alternative mental health treatments is that the findings of these studies are not likely to get public press and acceptance of the information by both medicine and the public alike is slow. However, they are far more cost effective and have fewer side effects than most prescription drugs. This is not something drug companies like very much so much is done by them to over emphasize their products.

Newer supplement products containing compounds like huperzine A, choline, L-Tyrosine and 5-HTP are also promising in their ability to support a healthy mind. They work to help the body produce and sustain neurotransmitters, the chemicals your brain needs to function. Many mental issues like depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s, etc. involve reduced levels of certain neurotransmitters or destroy them outright. These compounds help counter that effect thereby sustaining brain function. Studies have been done on these, but more research is underway.

In the meantime, we need to take ownership for our mental health treatment options. Both medical professionals and the public alike need to pursue a greater understanding of how natural methods may help secure healthy minds for those battling illness. There are viable options out there that are safe, effective and less expensive than some of the traditional methods used. It’s time we took a closer look at them.

Mental Health Vitamins and Supplements: A Look at How Alternative Remedies Support Mood and Function

Using mental health vitamins and supplements is becoming more acceptable due to recent research. Scientists are finding out that some of the claims made about alternative remedies for cognitive support, mood improvement and increased memory are true. So what are some of the more beneficial remedies?

Mental health vitamins and supplements is a rather broad category. There are a number of natural substances out there that people claim help brain function, increase memory and generally boost mood and focus. Mental clarity vitamins are an increasingly popular supplement particularly as the current generation of baby boomers begins to enter their retirement years and beyond.

Research is still out on some of the substances being offered up, but there are some that have undergone numerous studies and the results of many were encouraging. Several of the more common herbs and vitamins that promote mental focus and cognitive function actually worked. In a few studies that looked at supplements and age related disease like Alzheimer’s, the supplements worked as well as some prescription drugs.

When discussing mental health vitamins and supplements we can group them into three categories: traditional vitamins/minerals, herbal extracts and compounds/amino acids. There are items in all three groups that have been found to benefit the brain and while there are some common benefits shared among them each has a different role to play in mental health.

Starting with the more familiar vitamins and minerals researchers have identified a few that hold importance for the brain. The first is the B complex vitamins. This powerful group of vitamins helps maintain healthy nerve cells and support their function acting as mental clarity vitamins. Deficiencies in these vitamins can greatly impact nerve cell function. It also is a factor in helping the body provide energy from food and red blood cells to transport oxygen. The brain is the biggest user of oxygen and requires a lot of food energy to work properly so decreases in this area greatly affect the brain.

Two other items in this group that are important to mental health is E and the mineral Manganese. E is a potent antioxidant which helps protect cells from damage due to free radical particles in the body. Free radical damage is thought to be a contributing cause in diseases like Alzheimer’s and other mental disorders of the brain…particularly as we age. E and other antioxidants help to protect cells from the damage that may be a part of age related mental decline in the elderly. Manganese also works as an antioxidant as well as helping support normal mental functioning.

Next on the list of herbs and vitamins that promote mental focus and health are the herbal extracts. The benefit of vitamins has been understood for years by researchers and the public alike. Herbal supplements have been growing rapidly in popularity with the public for some time, but the scientific community has been slower to accept them. However, a number of studies have highlighted several herbs that actually provide great help to the brain and its functions.

The two main ones that I’ll mention in any detail are Ginkgo Biloba and Ginseng. Scientists have done several studies that confirm the ability of these herbs to improve blood flow to the brain, boost mood, reduce stress effects on the brain and improve nerve function. In fact, Ginkgo was found by one study to be as effective as one of the leading prescription medicines at delaying the onset of dementia through Alzheimer’s Disease. Ginseng, while also helping with memory and cognitive function helped the body’s natural ability to adjust to stress.

Herbs like Bacopin, Vinpocetine and Gotu Kola also showed benefits for helping support mental health and brain function. Research is continuing with these and other herbs.

As mentioned before mental health vitamins and supplements also include compounds and amino acids. Acetyl L-Carnitine and Choline are a couple of compounds that help with the mental processes that go on in the brain and are used in neurotransmitter production as is the amino acid L-Tyrosine. Mood disorders, memory issues and other cognitive dysfunctions can often be partly causes by imbalances or insufficient supply of neurotransmitters. Using some of these compounds may help the body produce the necessary supply. Once that supply is up, using compounds like huperzine A can help keep those levels intact by inhibiting the breakdown of neurotransmitters in the body.

The idea of using vitamins, herbs and other substances to enhance the brain is no longer as crazy as it may sound. Science is backing up many of these claims and is finding new ways in which natural substances can help our minds stay healthy. The use of mental health vitamins and supplements is quickly becoming an acceptable part of combating the aging process and maintaining normal mood and cognitive function. This is just the beginning…more is yet to be discovered.

How Do Nutrition and Mental Health Work Together For Your Benefit?

How exactly does nutrition and mental health go together? What effect does the food we eat have on our mental well being? Can we make some changes that will positively influence our brains and the state we find ourselves in? Absolutely.

The foods we eat can greatly affect the body and its systems. The types of nutrients (or the lack of them) determines how our body and mind operates. If you find yourself dealing with anxiety, depression and other mental issues making some adjustments in your diet may help.

Mental nutrition and health related food is not something new, but has been somewhat overlooked by the public and to an extent health professionals. Diet and exercise are usually offered up as helpful tips to combat mental disorders, but the information is often general. Usually doctors go for therapy and drugs for more noticeable forms of depression and anxiety. They do so without more specifically looking at how natural substances can help without the need for drugs or other expensive options.

However, recent nutrition and mental health studies have begun to highlight specific natural substances that directly impact mood, anxiety and depression. Many of these we can get in our diet by adjusting the foods we eat. Unfortunately, most of us don’t get enough of these even by eating right due to the fact that much of the food we get in stores is processed to the point of removing nutrients. Usually a person will need to both eat the right foods and use supplements to get the total amount needed to make a change in their mental state.

Mental nutrition and health experts have noticed that B complex vitamins have a role in mental function and mood. B complex vitamins have been understood to help provide energy to the body by working in the process of breaking down food into energy more efficiently, but research also shows that they work in the brain to protect and maintain nerve cells and brain function. Increasing levels of B complex vitamins brought noticeable improvement in mood, memory and mental energy for those studied over time.

The nutrition and mental health studies also noted that what was good for the heart was also good for the mind. Reducing bad fats and increasing Omega 3 fatty acids like those found in fish had a positive effect on the brain as well. Omega 3’s contain DHA and EPA two fatty acids that help create healthy nerve cells and promote mood and function. There have been studies using Omega 3’s to treat depression with positive results.

In addition to eating less fatty foods, increasing Omega 3’s and B vitamins, mental nutrition and health experts also recommend adding some nutritional supplements to the mix. These supplements contain various natural extracts and compounds that the body needs to produce neurotransmitters and other brain chemicals necessary for proper communication between nerve cells as well as regulating things like mood.

For example, 5-HTP is a substance the body uses to create serotonin. Serotonin, is a brain chemical that is responsible for mood, appetite, sleep functions, etc. People fighting depression and insomnia often have issues with their serotonin levels. A supplement with 5-HTP can help the body to increase the level of serotonin in the brain and alleviate the symptoms of depression and sleeplessness.

Another substance recommended by nutrition and mental health research is SAM-e. SAM-e has been used in Europe and other countries for years to treat depression and other mental issues but has only recently begun to see use in the US. SAM-e is used by the brain to create a variety of brain chemicals and neurotransmitters. Studies done on SAM-e showed that some people started responding to it in literally hours, noticing positive effects. SAM-e may also be helpful to people who can’t take prozac or who don’t respond well to the drug.

There are other compounds too like L-Tyrosine, Acetyl L-Carnitine, choline, etc. that are helpful. However, we don’t have time or space to go into all of them here. The important things is that there are natural substances out there that nutrition and mental health experts are now offering their patients in light of recent research. These substances can have a profound impact on lifting depression, anxiety and reducing stress. As with anything it is important to find a health provider who is familiar and comfortable with these things that can help you decide what might help you and what might interact with any medicines you are taking. Aside from that, making some simple adjustments in the food you eat and taking a daily supplement may be just what you need to get to a better place mentally.