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  • Writer's pictureHelen Loughrey LICSW, LMSW

Ouch! How to manage difficulties in life

Updated: Jul 17, 2020

In times of crisis, we may need extra supportive care and understanding to help us manage stress without losing our sense of control, our sanity, or our connections to our loved ones.

When faced with difficulties, we can take care of ourselves with stress-reducing activities such as treating ourselves to comfort foods; pampering ourselves with bubble baths or beauty treatments; laughing it out with comedy entertainment; meditating with inspirational music; blowing off steam by exercising, or by expressing sexual energy; approaching (extroverts) or avoiding (introverts) others for socializing, depending on which feels more comfortable; or by switching focus from our problems to work projects or a favorite hobby.

Taking breaks from problems can give us a needed respite from the stressor and can re-energize us to be able to approach issues with a fresh perspective. But eventually we have to deal directly with the psychological stressor. Otherwise it may come out in ways we don't intend, for instance by snapping inappropriately at a coworker or family member; by overindulging in alcohol, sugar, or other substances; by spending money we just don't have; or perhaps by engaging in reckless endangerment of ourselves or others.

How can we deal directly with psychological stress? Here are several ways we can help ourselves in stressful times:

1) Talk to a trusted friend or mentor.

We can vent emotional frustrations with safe, empathic people. It is frequently helpful to compare experiences and receive support from others who have successfully mastered similar life issues. These conversations can occur in nonprofessional volunteer self-help groups, or with a wise helpful family member or friend, or with a trusted religious leader.

But what if they aren't available to listen, just can't relate, or their well-meaning suggestions still do not resolve our emotional pain and suffering?

Then we can consult professionally-trained counselors who have an ethical duty to keep our conversations confidential. But what type of counselor? What type of psychotherapy? There are many different options available.

2) The pharmacological model: "Here take this pill to change how you feel."

Psychiatric medication can actually work very well for some mental health symptoms. As a psychotherapist who has worked with many excellent psychiatrists, I support client use of prescription meds for certain responsive psychiatric conditions and even as a temporary support while psychotherapy is initiated.

Yet it can be complicated to select from the myriad of advertised new prescription medications. Often the first selection doesn't seem to exactly work, and it may take several months to a year to settle into the right psychiatric drug at the right dosage. Even then, the ability to assess a new pharmacological drug study could be limited by advertiser. There have been cases of medication manufacturers publishing glowing studies while minimizing dangerous side effects; or rushing products to market without standard clinical trials. This sometimes results in medication recalls after much public health damage has been done.

Negative drug interaction symptoms; addictions to habit-forming medications; or sudden medication withdrawal symptoms can also pose unexpected health dangers.

Positive health outcomes do occur for many people without becoming forever dependent on yet another medication. That said, if prescription medication is indicated, studies confirm that patients who make therapeutic use of an appropriate prescription medication in combination with ongoing counseling psychotherapy do experience very good treatment outcomes. Psychotherapists and prescribing physicians can make well-informed decisions about course-of-therapy and medication dose adjustments for their patients who authorize timely communication between their consulting providers.

3) Traditional psychoanalysis counseling:

"The goal of psychotherapy is to make the unconscious conscious. ... Until you do, your unconscious mind will direct your life, and you will call it fate." - Carl Jung

It can be enlightening to discover that troubling thoughts and behaviors may actually represent our unconscious attempts to resolve underlying historic or psychological traumas. Psychoanalysis also provides counselors a way to conceptualize types of emotional states. From a personal perspective, these categories boil down to three possibilities: Are my difficulties a result of my being impulsively selfish or unreasonable with others (too much 'id')? Or, alternatively: Am I suffering from being a pushover or too compliant toward, for instance, persons abusing their authority (too much 'superego')? What constitutes a healthy balance between meeting my own needs and respecting others' boundaries (healthy 'ego')? Clients willing to explore these questions and who possess good insight orientation into themselves can do well in psychoanalysis.

But where does good self-insight or self-knowledge come from? Our self-understanding develops naturally from our interactive experiences within family systems, education systems, work systems, and societal economic systems.

4) Systems-based Psychological Theory and Practice:

Many types of psychotherapy can fall into this category: cognitive-behavioral therapy, addictions treatment therapy, critical incident trauma debriefing, family therapy, couples therapy, issue-focused group therapy, psychodrama, experiential group therapy, etc.

In many of these therapy models, we can unlearn maladaptive reactions that we may have internalized from childhood experiences: or that we may have picked up from experiencing traumatic events: or that we may have seen unconsciously modeled by others in work or social environments. In these types of therapies, counselors act as coaches and consultants to the client making sense of all these interactive systems to find solutions that work best for them.

In Cognitive-Behavioral therapy, clients and counselors explore evidence-based therapeutic techniques to overcome stress and determine together which ones work best for the client's symptom relief goals. Clients may explore their thinking process, may use feelings journaling, and may experiment with new skills practicing in session and at home.

But what if outside environmental factors still make it difficult to overcome enduring psychological stress? Sometimes it is not enough to treat a client's symptoms as maladaptive while ignoring a significant environmental contributor to those symptoms.

5) Liberation from societal and other environmental causes of psychological suffering.

Addressing societal contributors to suffering, in addition to individual psychological reactions to them, means engaging in community level interventions, anything from forming mutual aid groups for clients and families facing similar psychosocial issues; to forming consciousness-raising groups for the dispossessed or the oppressed; to connecting to available public resources for concrete economic services; to engaging in society-wide, positive economic and political changes to reduce or eliminate poverty, racism, sexism, bullying, domestic and workplace violence, environmental contamination, etc. Counselors trained as social workers excel at incorporating this community level advocacy type of change work into their psychotherapy practice.

Choosing online tele-therapy with psychotherapist Helen Loughrey Counseling Services: for residents of Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York.

As a licensed clinical social worker with training and experience working with all of these methods, I have learned that a carefully selected combination of therapeutic methods often provides the best client outcomes for overcoming both personal and environmental obstacles to happiness and fulfillment in life.

I have ten years of clinical social work training and experience in Maryland as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselor and EAP Director in the workplace. I also reviewed clinical treatment plans as a managed care provider authorizing inpatient and outpatient behavioral health care. I have counseling expertise helping clients with addictions, codependency, critical incident trauma, violence in the workplace, anxiety and depression, and grief and loss. I have often been the first professional psychotherapy contact for many people. I feel honored to have helped so many clients over the years. I have felt so inspired by witnessing their recovery success.

My online tele-health psychotherapy practice is licensed in both Connecticut and Rhode Island. During the early part of 2020, the state of New York authorized clinicians in neighboring states to also assist New York residents. I am pleased to be able to help residents of these three states via online individual and group therapy appointments.

When you consult with me for your online psychotherapy, you can trust that whatever you share in session with me is kept confidential. You can also be confident that your concerns receive my caring full attention. I want you to succeed. I have the training background and long professional experience to help you properly assess your presenting life challenges and to identify (or rule out) any concurrent psychosocial issues which could either aid or hinder your progress toward your goals. I identify and coordinate any additional resources you may need. Based on my continued training in evidence-based Cognitive-Behavioral methods (designed by David Burns MD, author of the book Feeling Good The New Mood Therapy), my experience helps you to meet and overcome challenges with one of the most effective therapies available for identifying and achieving your psychosocial goals.

Ready to start your successful psychotherapy journey? Contact me to arrange a confidential online tele-therapy appointment from the comfort of your home.

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