This article is written by Vineel Maharaj, therapist and Founder of Psych Nest.
Do you love learning therapeutic techniques to improve your skills as a mental health professional?
So do we!
We started Psych Nest as an easy and fast way for mental health professionals to discover valuable therapeutic techniques through the use of book summaries. We introduce new and familiar authors to inspire our users to learn and read more.
If you consider yourself a lifelong learner and want more wisdom in less time, then you can learn more about us here.
Here’s what we’ve learned.
1 – Depression can be lifted
Many metaphors have been used to describe depression, from a black dog, to a shadow or a companion of some sort. In “How to lift depression… Fast (The Human Givens Approach)“ the authors Joe Griffin, PhD, and Ivan Tyrell explain depression as a veil: it affects your perception of the world around you and of yourself, darkens it in ways that are unrealistic and unproductive. At the same time, it is not permanent, and just like any veil it can be lifted.
Some strategies to fend off depression include:
- Calming yourself down: 7/11 breathing: One of the most helpful things that can be done for a depressed client is to show them, through the technique of relaxation, that a different emotional state is possible. Breathing is one of the most effective and widely used relaxation techniques. Get them to begin by sitting or lying down comfortably in a chair or cushion. Next, ask them to rest their hands to the sides of their body or place them on their lap. Ask them to take a deep in-breath. Follow with a longer out-breath. This shifts the body’s parasympathetic system into relaxation mode. Ask them to count as it’s helpful to keep their mind grounded. They should count to 7 for in-breaths and 11 for out-breaths, or 3 and 5 for a shorter version.
- Setting up goals: Goals are key to positive emotion. Having goals and working towards them will promote and maintain better mood states. One old man became depressed after a back injury that drove him to early retirement. He stopped engaging with his children, his wife, and felt less competent. So he set up three goals:
1. Set up the alarm clock and wake up early for family breakfast
2. Ask three questions to his wife about her day, and
3. Do a DIY task around the house.
These activities made him more proactive, restored a good sleep pattern and improved his overall satisfaction. Goals should be both realistic and specific. And it’s advisable for goals to start small. They can be built on once they’re completed.
There are many steps and strategies to help your client’s to lift depression. They can fend off negative thoughts with more productive activities, regular exercise, and a healthy sleep schedule. Not one single strategy will guarantee that depression will be removed instantly, but combine them in ways that work for your client, make use of exploring resources, and that will speed up recovery.
2 – Attention problems are often linked to lifestyle
In the past years there’s been a rise in so-called attention-deficit disorders, both in terms of diagnoses and clinical categories. These disorders are often attributed to biology or genetics, but genes nor organisms change so fast as to justify the rapid expansion of these conditions.
Edward M. Hallowell, MD., explains in his book “Driven to Distraction At Work: How to Focus and Be More Productive” that there is such a thing as Attention Deficit Trait, a form of attention deficit that does not constitute a disorder per se, but is similar to other forms of attention deficit such as ADHD. But Attention Deficit Trait is circumstantial, not permanent.
It is linked to the demands of modern life. Overuse of technology, lack of physical exercise, extended work hours, etc.
Because modern life prompts these behaviors, they solidify into habits and start taking a toll on life. They can affect social life, emotions and productivity too.
Here are some practical tips for managing inattention, especially for those clients who are overly attached to technology:
- Order your priorities. In spite of what you are immersed with day to day, remember why you are doing it, and what of it is important.
- Create a record of how much time you spend on electronic devices. Afterwards, honestly look at where you could cut back. Reclaim some of the time you had surrendered.
- Take care of yourself. Learn the value of saying no and keeping your own centre.
- Create scheduled times for use of technology. 30 minutes early in the day, or in the afternoon, to do what you need to do. Otherwise, turn them off.
- Turn off your devices at social encounters.
- Allow yourself free time at work, this will boost up your focus. Remember most times it’s not about working harder but smarter. Take things in their own time.
- Make reflective use of face to face, human encounters. They are more powerful than cyber ones.
- Observe your progress. This’ll motivate you to continue and provide you an incentive to do better work.
3- Spirituality has a place in psychotherapy (and well-being)
Many mental health professionals shy away from spirituality and scowl at the idea of somehow merging their professional work with religious or spiritual elements. They see spirituality as irreconcilable with the scientific method.
This couldn’t be further from the truth, as is explained in “Spirituality in the Clinic: Integrating spirituality into psychotherapy and counselling” by Juan Anibal Gonzalez-Rivera.
There’s research that looks at how spirituality has played out in psychotherapy and its conclusions speak to the many benefits. It contributes to a sense of belonging and provides social support in a religious community, it can enhance resilience, give a sense of purpose, and everyday spiritual habits can contribute to mood stabilisation. Missing out on such a tool to work with a client is unjustified.
Spiritual intervention techniques include, but are not limited to:
- Prayer: A manner of communicating with the divine. Prayer is the most widespread spiritual practice of all religions, and should be adjusted to the reality of the client for adequate use.
- Meditation: Meditation stands out amongst other spiritual practices because of its various observable benefits which are physical, emotional and psychological. It helps relax in the face of stress, calm the body and promote healing; it helps fight insomnia, fear of public speaking, substance abuse and many others.
- Spiritual bibliotherapy: Use of books, stories, myths or other spiritual literature with a strictly spiritual goal. In therapy this reading should be known by the therapist beforehand, should be in line with the client’s goals and accessible to the client. Make sure the reading is discussed later in therapy.
4 – Anxiety can be controlled
When you’re suffering from anxiety it’s difficult to be fully present. A stream of thoughts invades your mind with no observable purpose, making it hard for you to enjoy leisure time or the company of a friend. It’s easy to forget that anxiety started with a purpose. It was intended to alert of an incoming danger and prepare us for it. Anxiety is meant to work with us, rather than against us.
In the book “How to Master Anxiety”, authors Joe Griffin PhD and Ivan Tyrell explain that chronic stress and anxiety arise when our emotional needs aren’t being met and our capacities not being put to proper use. This causes problems. In order to manage anxiety, we need techniques to relax. This could be dedicating five minutes to conscious, calming breathing, getting good sleep, and enjoying leisure time.
Seeking professional help for anxiety is even better. You can help clients by lowering their initial symptoms and creating a routine that makes use of their resources, while satisfying their needs.
Here are some strategies for clients so they can manage their anxiety in a more pinpointed way:
- Write down the negative thoughts and create a list of them. Afterwards, examine each of them realistically, and you’ll see how often the negative thought doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
- Replace the negative thoughts with more realistic, positive affirmations. Example: “I’m not good enough” with “I love my family, and although I am not perfect, I try my best for them.”
- Do what you can. If there is something you can do about one or more of the negative thoughts, then do it. If there isn’t, resolve to let go.
- Set 30 minutes a day specifically for worrying. If a worry comes up any other time, push it aside until the worry time, where they will have your full attention.
- Use humor to fight worry. By exaggerating worries we have, with ourselves or in conversation with someone, we come to realise just how absurd they are. This will dissipate worries and put you in a relaxed state.
5 – Being liked is also a science
“The like switch” written by former FBI agent Jack Schafer, explains how social influence can be commanded through a series of techniques, strategies and principles. These include:
- The Golden Rule of Friendship: In order for people to like you, make them feel good about themselves. Cues such as smiling, having a good posture, etc., will incline a person to open themselves up to you. From there on, however, you should apply the golden rule.
- Empathic statements: These let the other person know you care about their well-being and is providing them attention which, of course, makes them like you. If you see someone happy say: “so, things are looking up for you today” rather than “I see you’re happy,” because the first statement focuses on them rather than on you.
- Compliments: Compliments play an important role in letting someone know you are interested in them and how they perform. Compliments must be sincere, or they’ll be seen as manipulative.
The main lesson this book gives is that everybody wants some form of attention. If you use the right cues, you can tap into this human necessity and use it to your advantage.
These techniques are useful for mental health professionals as they will help you to build rapport at a faster rate and teach clients superior interpersonal communication.
6 – Not everyone loves equally
You might be in a relationship with someone you love, and they love you back. You’re both healthy individuals, but your relationship keeps going downhill and you don’t know why. She says you don’t help her with the house chores, and you say she doesn’t ask you about your day at work. You both feel as if the love is going away.
But even though you weren’t helping with the chores, you kissed her goodbye before leaving and brought her flowers when you arrived. And while she didn’t ask you about work, she did take care of the kids and kept the house clean for you. You’re both taking care of each other, just not in the ways that you need.
“The 5 love languages: the secret to love that lasts” by Gary Chapman teaches us that we speak different love languages and if we want our love expressions to be meaningful we should “talk” in the language the other person speaks.
You can help to guide your clients to better communicate with their partner’s love language suing the following tips:
- Target to convey one compliment you genuinely mean daily to your spouse and keep a record of the same (love language: words of affirmation)
- While listening to your spouse, consciously avoid distractions and diversions. If you are busy when your spouse wants to express something to you, request to have the conversation later, when you can give him or her your undivided time (love language: quality time)
- Pay attention to the instances when your partner expresses that he or she really likes a dress, necklace or gadget. When your partner least expects it, you can gift him or her one of these items (love language: gifts)
- Make a list of the requests made by your spouse. Aim to fulfil each of these requests weekly as a means to express your love (love language: acts of service)
- Express love and affection physically in the presence of family and friends. This doubly reinforces to your spouse that he or she is special (love language: physical touch)
7 – Sociability is a skill, and it can be learned
Many people suffer from cases of chronic shyness. They want to do things but can’t seem to gather the courage to do them. They’re afraid of what others might think and they’re not used to being authentic with those around them. If shyness keeps rising, it could become social anxiety and therefore a deeper issue.
“Overcoming Shyness: Break Out of Your Shell and Express Your True Self” by Erik Myers reminds us that sociability isn’t some mystical talent, but a resource that we all have and can improve upon.
Smiling often and displaying positive body language are good social tools. Also habits like playing a sport, enjoying different activities, and daring to step out of your comfort zone will build up confidence, which reflects in enhanced social skills. The most important rule is that practice makes perfect, so keep practicing.
Some strategies to help your clients break out of their shell:
- Choose a sport. The main idea here is to keep yourself busy, active. When we are busy, we don’t have time to think. So, you won’t judge or criticise yourself. Playing a sport also gives you the opportunity to interact with people.
- Change scenarios. Take up a new class, smile to strangers, try a new restaurant, take a different route to school or work, start up a conversation with someone you normally don’t interact with, join a group, etc. These things will make you feel uneasy at first, but the benefits are immeasurable.
- Start a conversation. Do not think too much about what to say. A simple “Hello. How are you?” will suffice. It shows interest and politeness. When the other person talks, nod to show interest and listen attentively. People like a good listener.
- Don’t think, act! You wake up in the morning. You struggle to get up from bed and take a shower because your brain is telling you it’ll be cold out of bed. What do you do? You jump right in, and all your thoughts are washed away. The same thing you have to do to accomplish your goals.
We hope these therapeutic technique ideas bring you wisdom in less time and allow you to support your clients. Find out more about Psych Nest here.