So you want to be a Therapist!

So you want to be a Therapist!


All of the professional mental health therapists I’ve met and known over the years entered this line of work for various reasons, such as:


  • Having a positive experience with their own therapists
  • Having a traumatic experience in the past that prompts him/her to want to help others who have experienced similar traumas
  • Experiencing psycho-social stressors or relationship problems that motivated him/her to help others in similar situations


All of the reasons above are valid reasons to want to enter this profession.  However, it does take a lot more to be able to succeed and last in this field.  Over the years, I’ve been lucky to meet and work with some of the best therapists.  I’ve also met people who entered the therapy field and eventually decided to leave.  I’ve listed some points below of traits and skills I’ve seen in the most successful therapists:


  • Ability to set and stick to boundaries with clients:

Being a professional therapist can be one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences.  However, it’s important to be able to set appropriate limits and boundaries with clients, in order to maintain your sanity.   If you make yourself available to clients 24/7, allow clients to scream at you, or take advantage of your kindness, you’re setting yourself up for empathy burnout.  As a result, you’ll end up as a less effective therapist and/or choose to leave the profession.


  • Being patient with the therapeutic process:

We live in a “quick fix” world.  Some of us go to fast food restaurants to get our meals quickly because we have a full schedule.  Others take our cars to work because using our bike or taking a bus would take longer.  Unfortunately, the therapy process is not a quick fix to our problems.  Human beings, their relationships, and the world around them are extremely complex.  Furthermore, making real change is hard and takes time.  A good therapist knows this.

  • Being able to tolerate ambiguity:

In the early days of school, you learn 1+1=2.   Pretty simple, right?  At work, you have a specific and defined workflow for different projects.  However, therapy is never this simple.  If you’re someone who needs to have a definitive, black and white, answer to your client’s problems, you may struggle in this profession.  For example, I once had a peer who was working with a woman with an abusive husband.  My peer’s solution to this problem was, “Why can’t she just leave him?”  Well, if it were this simple, domestic violence would simply not exist.


Overall, the mental health profession is a special one.  I applaud those who are thinking about entering the field, as I have found this work very fulfilling and rewarding.  If you feel like you have traits and skills I listed above, you could make a great therapist!


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5 Best Things to Say to Someone with Depression or Anxiety


Sometimes we want to help a loved one with depression or anxiety, but might have difficulties finding the right words.  If a loved one comes to you in distress or crying, here are some things you can say:

  • I am here for you.
  • It sounds like you are going through a really rough time.
  • Tell me more about that.
  • Is there anything I can do to help?
  • I’m here to listen.


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Why Self-Care is So Hard for Those who have Depression



Self-care are acts we carry out to nourish our well-being.  The following is a list of examples of self-care:


  • Watching a funny movie that makes you laugh
  • Going to lunch with a positive friend who brings smiles and joy to your life
  • Getting a massage after final exams are over
  • Having a warm bubble bath with soothing music in the background


I often encourage clients or caregivers of clients to use self-care regularly.  However, when Depression is involved, self-care can be quite a challenge.  Common reasons I hear are:

  • “I just got too busy.”
  • “I was too tired at the end of the day.”
  • “I forgot.”
  • “Too many things happened last week and I just didn’t have time for it.”

The reasons above are legitimate.  However, research suggests there is a scientific reason behind depressed people having difficulties with self-care.  The frontal lobes in the brain are responsible for problem solving, judgment and reasoning.   Depression has shown that the frontal lobes are dysfunctional, so it makes sense that people with Depression struggle with self-care.  It’s not easy, but with some recommendations, depressed people can do self-care.  Suggestions are:

  • Take baby steps. If you have Depression, and struggle with motivation or getting out of bed, I’m not initially going to recommend you go on an all-weekend meditation retreat.  Instead, start out small.  Take a walk around the block.  Try deep breathing for 2 minutes.  Small achievements are successes.


  • Try scheduling a self-care activity ahead of time and putting the exact time in your calendar. It’s easy for me to not do something if I just say, “I’m going to watch a funny movie next week,” and not have any concrete plans or details in place.  However, if I purchase the tickets a week ahead of time and put it in my schedule, I have a higher likelihood of sticking to my self-care activity.


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Words from a Grieving Woman

To say that she has touched my life is an understatement.  When I heard she died, I didn’t believe it.  “This can’t be right.  She’s only 36 years old.  She’s so young.  I just talked to her.  What the fuck!!”  But the harsh and painful reality is that she left this world and she did it unexpectedly and without warning.  She left me and she left many other people behind who love her in ways words cannot really express.  There’s an emptiness inside me that I know will never be filled again.  You see, this woman was not just anyone.  She was a truly special person.  She affected so many people around her with her positive energy, smile, laughter, and joy.  Her spirit-her aura-her simple presence could change even the most depressed person into someone more happier by simply just being with her.  21 years of friendship filled with laughter, tears, joy, fun and precious memories ended way too soon just a few days ago.  Yes, it’s true that life moves on.  But my life will never be quite the same again.  Despite my faults, she accepted me completely without any judgement.  Her funeral is next week.  I’m just not ready to say good-bye yet.  If only I had just one minute to be with her while she was still alive…


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Are Unrealistic Expectations Fueling your Depression?

This past weekend, I watched an old famous Disney movie with my daughter.  It was the typical story where the princess gets herself in trouble, the prince saves her and they live happily ever after.  On the outside, it seems all pretty harmless, and it is harmless if you are someone who has a strong awareness of reality that relationships in real life require lots of hard work, as well as many “ups and downs.”  I once had a classmate who told me that she would not consider dating someone who was shorter than 5’10”, spoke less than 2 languages fluently, and traveled to less than 5 different countries in his lifetime.  I also had a client recently tell me that if she only had lots of money, her life would be perfect and she wouldn’t be so depressed all the time.

What I can tell you is that with most clients I’ve worked with who have been diagnosed with some form of Depression, is that they also have unrealistic expectations of themselves and/or others.  Having expectations doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  For example, if one of my expectations is to want healthy communication with my partner, that would be okay.  However, if my expectations are that my partner and I will have a perfect connection 100% of the time and he will supply me with all my emotional needs, then that is unrealistic.  The problem with unrealistic expectations is that they’re not based on reality.  We expect things that are unlikely or will never happen and as a result, we set ourselves up for disappointment.

If you are depressed, working with a mental health professional can be helpful, especially if you feel you have unmet expectations that are affecting your mood.


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Pets are Good for your Mental Health – Combat Stress, Depression, Anxiety, and Fear

Every time I come home from work, I can always expect the same greeting each time.  My Golden Retriever walks over to me with her tail wagging, as happy as a dog can be.  It doesn’t matter if I come home happy, sad, upset, worried, or angry.  She’s always there and has been either a reinforcement of my good mood or a therapeutic presence when I’m experiencing negative emotions.  I remember a few months ago when I was having a particularly difficult day.  I came home crying and was mentally exhausted.  I sat down and my dog walks over to me and puts her chin down on my lap.  She then looks at me with her deep brown eyes, immediately comforting me without words, but simply with her calming presence.

The research speaks for itself.  Studies suggest that having pets can have positive mental and physical health effects.  Pets can relieve stress and manage symptoms of depression, anxiety, and fear.  Three experiments were conducted at Miami University and Saint Louis University, examining the potential benefits of pet ownership.

Lead researcher, Allen R. McConnell, PhD, of Miami University in Ohio said, “We observed evidence that pet owners fared better, both in terms of well-being outcomes and individual differences, than non-owners on several dimensions.  Specifically, pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extraverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners.”

Now if you are afraid of animals, have allergic reactions, or do not have the resources of time and money to get a pet, I am in no way trying to convince you to get a pet.  Owning a pet is not for everyone.  However, with many people, pet ownership reaps benefits in many ways.  In my experience and clients I worked with who have symptoms of depression or anxiety, here were a few reasons we found pet companionship to be helpful:


  • Pets Can’t Give Unwanted Advice

We’ve all been there where we tell somebody about our bad day and hear the infamous replies, “You think that’s bad?  Wait until you hear what happened to me,” or, “Suck it up.  Life’s hard.”  Some clients talk to their pets and like the fact that their pets are there just to be there for them and not judge what they are feeling.


  • Healing Through Physical Touch

I once had a client who cried for over an hour, while holding her dog in her arms.  The dog just stayed in her arms without trying to move away from her.  My client expressed how good it felt to just hold onto her pet while going through her distressing experience.


  • Sometimes People Are Just Too Busy

Can you recall a time when you just needed to talk and get all your feelings out there but everyone you knew was just too busy?  Pets can’t tell you that they have to go to work, have to take care of their sick children, or have a big test to study for.  They’re always there for you.


Pet ownership has been a blessing in many ways for myself and many clients I have worked with.  If you like pets but are unable to own one due to money, time, or housing restrictions, there are other options to at least have some face-to-face interactions with pets.  One option could be asking a neighbor, friend or family member to do some pet-sitting for their furry loved ones.  You could also look into volunteering at a local animal shelter.  Volunteering at an animal shelter would provide benefits to both you and the animals waiting for adoption.


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Fight those Thanksgiving Blues: Dealing with Depression during the Thanksgiving Holiday

Last Thanksgiving, I remember driving up to Safeway and circling the parking lot several times before I could find a parking space.  When I went inside, the honey ham I was planning to buy was no longer there.  I’m sure you can imagine that the long lines were no picnic either.  I can clearly remember the stress I felt.  For those people who have Depression, these Thanksgiving stressors can only make it more challenging to manage symptoms.

Thanksgiving does have its advantages.  You can take time off work, relax with loved ones, or take a break from school.  Other times, Thanksgiving can actually lead to more stress.  Being isolated from loved ones, experiencing flight delays to get to your destination, interacting with obnoxious family members you normally avoid outside of the holidays, standing in long lines at the supermarket, and other reasons can easily make your Depression worse around this time.  If you have Depression, it’s especially important you don’t neglect taking care of yourself around this time.  Below, I’ve listed a few ways to help get through Thanksgiving this year:

1) Plan ahead.

If you’re in charge of cooking this year, visit the grocery store the week prior to Thanksgiving.  This will take away the added stress of long lines and fighting other people for parking spaces.

2) It’s okay to say no.

This can be a hard one, especially if you’re a people-pleaser.  Learning to say “no,” will be important to help you avoid feeling overwhelmed and potentially making your depression symptoms worse.  I know people who get invited to 3-4 Thanksgiving dinners in 1 day and go to each one because they feel obligated to.  I also know someone who has 3 kids and each one will ask her to prepare stuffing a different way.  Sometimes we just have to say no.

3) Have support people on speed dial or express your feelings in healthy ways.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for help.  Sometimes we might feel that our best friend is busy or we don’t want to feel like a burden.  However, it’s important to reach out to someone to talk about our feelings.  If someone is unavailable to talk, you can also express your feelings in other healthy ways, such as writing poetry or letters.

4) Reach out.

Your Depression tends to get worse around Thanksgiving because you feel lonelier.    Often, families are living in different parts of the country.  Sometimes, we have loved ones who work during this time of year.  It’s not uncommon for many people to feel lonely during this time of year.  Check your local community center or church to find out about Thanksgiving events.  You can also volunteer for a local charity or non-profit.  You might also find out that your neighbor’s husband just recently passed away.  In this case, invite her over your place for Thanksgiving dinner, as well as other neighbors you know who will not be celebrating Thanksgiving with anyone.


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Be Happier by Practicing Gratitude on a Daily Basis


A few days ago, I got in my car and started driving off when I realized my cell phone was not with me.  I panicked with thoughts of all the inconveniences: Spending money on a new phone, having to do the tedious task of getting all my contact information back, and everything else that would just be a hassle.

I called my phone hoping someone would answer and to my joyous surprise, someone did answer my phone.  She asked me if I was the owner of the phone because she found it and was trying to return it to its owner.  I met with her shortly after and thanked her.  She took time out of her busy day to wait for me and return my phone.  There were no tangible rewards other than my absolute gratitude for her kindness and selfless act.

I know this scenario may sound trivial, but I was overcome with gratitude.  I live in a very busy and fast-paced area in California where the demands are endless and the traffic can suck the energy out of you.  In this environment, it’s easy to get caught up in stress, negativity, or fatigue.  To help combat this, we need to develop simple exercises on a daily basis that don’t take up a lot of time, but can have a huge impact on how we feel.  In other words, practice gratitude on a daily basis.  You can do this while driving in your car, taking a shower, or just sit down and take a few minutes of quiet time to reflect on this.  Below, are just a couple of very simple actions, events or comments that you can acknowledge and feel grateful for:

– You’re stuck in traffic and trying to merge to a very busy lane.  You turn on your signal, but nobody is letting you in. However, shortly after, a driver lets you into the busy lane.

– You go to your doctor for a physical exam and at the end of the exam, the doctor tells you that everything looks normal.

– You pick up your 6 year-old daughter from school and she tells you she noticed you cut your hair and it looks pretty on you.

– You see your massage therapist and he gives you a discount for being a great customer.

As you can see, these are just a few examples.   It’s important to appreciate even just the simple things in life on a regular basis.  It’s all about perspective.  When you do this regularly, it will help give you a positive outlook and in return, a happier self.


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5 Hints it may be Time to see a Therapist


Outside of work, when people find out what my professional background is, I frequently will get asked, “Should I see a therapist?  Here is my situation…”

  • “My husband and I seem to have been fighting all the time, since the baby was born.  We have different ideas on parenting and we just can’t agree on anything.”


  • “My grandmother died a few month ago. It didn’t hit me at first.  It almost felt like it really didn’t happen.  Now all of a sudden, I’m starting to feel a lot of anger.”


  • “I just moved here a few months ago and haven’t met anyone yet. I feel very lonely and don’t have any friends.  I’ve been crying most days of the week since I moved out here.”


The examples above are just a few common themes I see in people who are in the process of deciding if therapy is right for them.  Therapists can certainly help them process some of the feelings they are having and help guide them on developing coping skills, strengthening communication skills or discussing other options to help them deal with what is going on with them at the moment.  Many hesitate to see a therapist and I understand.  Telling a therapist the most intimate details of your life can be downright scary, especially if it’s your first time.  Some may fear getting judged.  Others might be afraid a therapist will tell all their secrets to somebody.  Some might want something to change in their lives, but are just not yet ready to see someone for help.  Choosing to see a therapist is a very personal decision that only you can make.  The scenarios described above are not the only times that would be good opportunities to see a therapist.  Often, there are more subtle signs that could suggest seeing a therapist is a good idea and I’ve listed them below.

1.Several people who are close to you have pointed out that you seem more stressed or on edge more than usual.

It’s not unheard of to hear someone tell me they are surprised when someone tells him/her, “You seem more stressed lately.”  Many people try to keep their emotions to themselves intentionally for various reasons.  Other times, people might be so over-worked and busy that they never pause to reflect on what he/she is experiencing internally until something bad happens.  However, many people, especially those closest to us, can observe quite accurately when something is just not quite right with us.  This isn’t always the case, but regardless, if people have pointed out a change in your stress levels or emotions, it wouldn’t hurt to see a therapist.

2. You feel lonely frequently or all the time.

Feeling lonely is subjective.  You can have tons of people around you or be surrounded by someone all the time, but still feel lonely.  Other times, being isolated from loved ones, moving to a new place, or not having friends can also contribute to loneliness. Having a therapist can help you identify some of the environmental factors or behaviors that may be contributing to your feelings of loneliness, as well as helping you develop a plan to decrease these feelings.

3. You’ve started drinking more alcohol and doing more drugs.

You used to drink a glass of wine about 2-3 days a week. Lately, you’ve been drinking more and doing drugs, specifically as a way to cope with your problems or emotions that are slowly overwhelming you more and more as time passes by. Drinking on occasion does not have to signal a problem, but when your alcohol intake goes up because your emotions or problems have become too difficult to deal with, it may be time to see a therapist.

4. You wake up most days of the week, dreading the day ahead.

It’s not uncommon to hear someone tell me they feel nervous when they wake up on a big test day or know they will be giving a presentation to 200 people in the afternoon.  However, on most days, do you find yourself waking up on a daily basis with complete dread to face what lies ahead?  If so, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to see a therapist to explore these feelings further.

5. You are reading this article

If you are not doing academic or professional research on this topic and you did an online search for “Should I see a therapist,” or searched for a phrase similar to this, it’s likely that seeing a therapist might be a good idea. Sometimes, you might need extra information to help you make an informed decision. You know something doesn’t feel quite right and need some help to decide if therapy or something else may be the answer to help you process what is going on.


As mentioned earlier, going to therapy is a very personal decision that only you can make.  If you decide to go to therapy to address some of your issues, I commend you for taking the next steps in taking care of yourself and trying to get your life back on track.


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5 Ways to Help your Kids Manage their Halloween Fears





Halloween can be an exciting time for kids.  Trick-or-treating for candy, dressing up in different costumes and looking at all the Halloween decorations in the neighborhood can be fun for some children.  However, some kids might not look forward to Halloween or might experience more stress during this time of year.  There are some ways, though, to help decrease the fear.


Trick or treat in the light

Trick or treating is not just an activity to do during the night.  Some cities also hold trick or treating events in downtown areas during the daytime.  Indoor trick or treating in malls and community centers are also common. Check your local community news on trick or treating events going on during the day or in an indoor lighted area.

Don’t avoid

You don’t want your kid to be completely removed from anything Halloween-related.  If you completely remove their exposure to Halloween, you are unintentionally maintaining or strengthening their fears.  Instead, gradually expose them to Halloween by starting out with “non-threatening” themes.  For example, start out by taking them to the local pumpkin patch instead of walking down the store aisle with fake blood and scary masks.

Practice trick or treating inside your home before the real trick or treating event.

Have your kids wear the costume a few times at home to help them get used to it before the big event.  You might also want to help them practice trick or treating inside your home.    You can pretend each room is a house or store giving out candy.   Give out play candy to your kids for practice.

Talk to your kids openly about their fears.

Ask your kids about what their Halloween fears are.  Have  them tell you what they don’t like and like about Halloween.  Listen without judging them.  If you bring them somewhere and they start verbalizing fear, don’t say things like, “Stop being scared.”  Provide reassurance that they are in a safe place and safe with you.  After the trick-or-treating event is over, have another discussion with them, asking them what they liked.  You want to emphasize the good points they verbalized so they can start connecting with Halloween in positive ways.

Read Halloween books that help your kids deal with Halloween fears,   such as:

  • ‘Where’s My Mummy? ‘ by Carolyn Crimi and illustrated by John Manders
  • Franklin’s Halloween by Paulette Bourgeois


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