For a Happier You!

Author: Jackie Joens

The search for happiness can lead many to follow prescribed paths of occupation, education, relationships, hobbies, etc. But happiness, real happiness cannot be found anywhere but within. We can search for years and never be happy, if we don’t spend any quality time with ourselves. Could it really be that simple? Just spending time getting to know ourselves! It sounds rather simple but for some, it is a complicated process. Happiness is a choice each of us must individually decide to find and we must begin by examining what is in our heart.

The key to true happiness is striving to live in balance with truth, honesty and our values. The process of identifying these aspects of happiness are what is fundamentally the missing pieces of a fulfilling and happy life for so many individuals. By identifying these things and living more purposefully toward these personal factors of our self-identity, we can then experience an inner peace and a more fulfilling feeling of happiness.

So, where do we begin? There are many aspects of self with whom a person needs to become familiar. In other words, we need to become familiar with our individual Self-Identity.  In my research, I have identified twelve areas of self-identity that need to be examined, understood and validated. The areas we need to understand and identify are Gender, Spirituality, Values, Intellect, Mental Aptitude, Emotionality, Interpersonal Relationships, Societal Status, Socioeconomic Priorities, Physical Ability, Physical Appearance and Locus of Information. We must be familiar with all of these areas, at different stages of our lives, for they can be fluid in nature and design. With the changes that occur over a life-time we must be aware that our self-identity can sometimes become out of balance. We may respond to life situations in such a way that isn’t consistent to whom we are as defined by our Self-Identity. If we can recognize this as changes occur, we are not blind-sided and are more capable of moving back into balance with life.

One of the most common ways to examine and identify our Self-Identity and objectively challenge our views of the corresponding areas is through therapy. Sure, we can use friends and family members to help us with this discovery process, but a therapist is being paid to be impartial and knowledgeable – helping you to view things in a more objective way. Although he or she cares about you, if they are effective, they will care more about you learning and embracing the truth than the continuation of your work together. In all actuality, a good therapist’s job is to really work him or herself out of work – a time when you will no longer need to regularly employ their services.

Over the next few months we will examine some areas of self-identity. We will explore why these pieces are important to understand and how they fit into our overall need of happiness. But, to begin, let’s examine the therapy process and what a person should know in choosing an appropriate therapist.

The term therapist is often used in a generic way, much the same way Kleenex is used to describe bathroom tissues. So, let us take the definitions to a more specific level and explore the different professions in the field of Mental Health Care. As consumers of health care and an employer of a healthcare professional, it is important we are well versed in what services are offered by all professionals in the field of mental health.

A psychiatrist is a medically trained doctor who specializes in treating mental disorders under a medical/scientific – health care model. They are able to prescribe psychotropic medications and often deal with the most severe of mental health conditions. Some psychiatrists have had extra training (beyond medical school) in therapy and can offer counseling services to clients, but often leave that part of therapy to a counselor or psychologist. Not all psychiatrists offer therapy services and it is important to identify if this is a preferred need.

A psychologist is anyone who has obtained an undergraduate degree in Psychology. However, there are many different levels of education and kinds of psychologists. Some psychologists have a Master’s degree in psychology. There are also psychologists who have completed 3 to 5 years of graduate training and have earned a PhD or Psy.D. These are the professionals that are trained in testing, assessment and research. Psychologists who are trained in therapy are usually called Clinical Psychologists or Counseling Psychologists. Psychologists are required by many states to complete supervised experience prior to licensure. If obtaining therapy from a Psychologist, it is important to know what kind of services are his/her specialty and if they fit your individual needs.

A counselor is a mental health professional who has completed a 2 to 3 year master’s degree program in counseling and therapy methods. An extra 3 years of education qualifies counselors for a doctorate in counseling. Counseling specialty areas can include marriage and family counseling, group counseling, career counseling, school counseling, psycho-educational group counseling, substance abuse counseling and individual counseling.  Counselors are often employed in assisting clients with transitional life issues such as divorce, parenting, premarital, abuse, education/career, elder care, and grief. Many states require counselors to be certified by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) which grants the title of National Certified Counselor as well as licensed at the state level. Counselors are required by many states to complete an internship and supervised post-graduate experience prior to licensing. These professionals are trained in counseling skills and mental health disorders.

A nurse specialist in psychiatry is a professional who has completed a nursing educational program and then have completed further training or gained specialist experience in a particular type of mental health work. Nurse specialists often work in mental health unit settings and are trained in conducting psycho-therapy group sessions. Nurse specialists are not qualified to conduct individual therapy sessions. Nurses who hold a Master’s degree or higher in mental health nursing are classified as advanced psychiatric nurses.

A social worker is fully trained in social worker. They, like nurse specialists have obtained extra training or experience in a some aspects of mental health care, and are often very helpful in assisting clients with connecting with social service programs that could be helpful. A licensed clinical social worker, lcsw is a social worker who has completed a 2-year Master’s degree in Social Work and has completed the internship and clinical experience required by most states for licensure. An LCSW has been trained in different therapy theories and is qualified to conduct therapy sessions in most states.

A professional or life coach is a professional, often trained in the areas of his/her specialty. There are some institutions offering certification in Life Coaching or Professional Coaching after completing their series of courses, however there are currently no state requirements governing the educational level and performance restrictions of coaches and no licensure procedures or national certification exits in any state. These professionals are often trained in communication skills, motivational techniques, time-management techniques, as well as other personal/professional performance issues. They are not trained in therapy and can not legally offer therapy services. Professional/Life Coaches offer a valuable service to many professionals.

A word of caution must be stressed - there is a fine line between coaching and therapy. A client needs to be fully aware of these limitations and a competent Coach will refer a client to a specialist if therapy is needed. Coaches that practice therapy are not performing within their educational expertise nor are they within the guidelines of state and national regulations.

With the different mental health professions offered, a client needs to be educated in what type of assistance he/she is interested in pursuing. Each professional level offers unique, yet sometimes overlapping services. It is up to each of us as consumers to know the differences and invest in those services that best fit our individual or family needs.

Now that we are more familiar with the differences in mental health professionals and the services they offer, we can determine which level of assistance we are interested in pursuing. Because we are pursuing a fundamental desire of happiness, we could employ a few different professional types to help us on our journey of self-discovery. We do need, to know which professionals specialize in this work and what questions we should ask when interviewing potential help.

1) What educational background and work experience have you had in regard to self-esteem and/or self-discovery?

2) What is your approach to therapy? How has this approach worked for your clients in the past?

3) How long does therapy for my presenting problem typically last?

4) What are our mutual roles in the therapy process? (Are we partners? Therapist as educator – Client as student, etc.) Are we both comfortable with those working assignments? (Some clients want more information in the form of education from their mental health professional. Others desire more of a supportive, empathetic person who is willing to be present while the client does primarily all of the processing.)

All in all, the process of self-discovery is easier if we employ the assistance of a trained, impartial and expert professional. The objectivity, human development knowledge, and the knowledge of what techniques have worked in the past are all assets that a mental health professional can bring to the working relationship. It is up to us to know which assets are needed or desired to help us on our journey of self-discovery.