National Mental Health Month: When Should You Seek Help Like Demi Did?

Disney star Demi Lovato recently revealed that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the treatment facility she checked herself into last November. The 18-year-old is a brave example of how you can gain greater self-awareness by seeking help when emotional and psychological problems become unmanageable. Unfortunately, not everyone takes those necessary steps, especially within the Latin community. So in honor of National Mental Health Month, we talked to Dr. Carmela Pérez, PhD, a psychoanalyst in private practice in New York City, about therapy, how it can help, and how you can determine if you could use some one-on-one time with a psychotherapist.

Here’s what she had to say:

Why is seeking therapy so stigmatized in the Latino community?

Latinos are hesitant to seek therapy because of strong cultural values. Research has shown that Latinos tend to seek family, friends, priests or pastors and primary doctors first for help with emotional or psychological distress. Hence, therapy is often seen as last resort treatment for severe "mental" distress, and can be put off until problems become unmanageable.

What are three of the most common reasons people seek therapy?

Because of work problems (feeling overwhelmed or unhappy with the job), family (marriage conflict, difficulties with children or other family members, like caring for aging parents), and physical health (getting sick because of stress, recovering from a life-threatening illness, or living with a chronic illness). [Adapted from the American Psychological Association]

What does a therapy session consist of?

A therapy session consists of the therapist and patient trying to understand the reasons for a psychological problem and together coming up with new alternatives solutions. The focus of the work is on patients’ thoughts, feelings and behavior.

What tools does a therapist share with patients for dealing with their problems?

I think that the most important tool a therapist has to help patients dealing with their problems is their nonjudgemental, neutral listening. This is what makes therapy different from talking about your problem with family member or friend. A therapist helps you to look at the problem from a more objective stance. Other tools the therapist can share with patients are communication and problem solving skills, the capacity to manage strong feelings associated with stressful situations [and] the capacity to be more self understanding and self aware.

How does someone find a therapist?

I think that the best way to find a therapist is to try to find someone who knows a therapist and can recommend them, such as a family or friend, your primary care physical or another health care professional.

What should someone expect to get from therapy?

A patient should expect some relief from their distress [and an] understanding as to the nature of their problem, which leads to the patient finding more adaptive solutions, and more self-understanding and self-awareness. In addition, the patient should expect to have a collaborative relationship with the therapist, which is a very important part of the treatment process.