The public conversation around mental health has grown louder in recent years, with everyone from professional athletes to presidential candidates speaking out about the need to prioritize our emotional, psychological and social well-being. As someone who has struggled with depression since I was a teen, I think this increased conversation is wonderful. The more we discuss mental health in the open, the faster we can break down the stigma that still surrounds it. 

The LOLA community is talking about mental health too: specifically, how to take control of it. With so much information now available about mental health, where should you even start?  

Speaking from personal experience, part of what makes mental health tricky is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Your individual needs differ from the next person’s and change over time. This can make it really hard to know whether you’re approaching mental well-being the right way, and if your efforts are working.

Luckily, there are experts out there that can help guide us. We reached out to Dr. Katie Morel, a licensed clinical psychologist, for advice on how to take control of our mental health. 

Therapy is a cornerstone of mental health

Whether you’re experiencing mental illness or simply want someone to talk to, therapy is one of the most impactful ways to take control of your mental health.

“The primary goal of therapy is to help reduce distress,” says Dr. Morel. “Therapy fosters and develops core psychological resources — such as the capacity to meet your potential, create and maintain fulfilling relationships, and overcome challenges with greater flexibility.”

If you’ve already got a strong community of friends and family you can speak openly with, that’s excellent. But according to Dr. Morel, you could still benefit from adding a therapist to your support group. “People often wonder why speaking to a therapist is more helpful than speaking to a friend. A therapist is an objective, validating person, who helps you to feel seen, heard, and understood.” 

Finding the right type of therapy is as important as finding the right therapist

Think of psychotherapy as an umbrella concept, containing different schools of thought underneath it. The origins, theories and approaches of these schools are unique, and you might find that one type of therapy works better for you than others. 

If you’re looking for a mental health care provider, it’s important to take time to understand these different schools of thought, as it will shape the kind of care you receive.

Dr. Morel divides the types of therapy into two major classes:

· Behavioral approaches look more at specific behavior and thoughts in order to modify them, and more actively teach coping skills. 

· Psychodynamic approaches help develop a more global understanding of the complexity of your emotional life. This approach explores emotions that may be hard to identify or express, and that you tend to avoid. You learn to recognize old patterns, especially dysfunctional ones, in an effort to not be driven by them. 

Figuring out which type of therapy works for you can be a journey, and it’s completely fine to explore different options. I’ve tried a few different types of therapy over the years, and find that for me, behavioral approaches are best. Focusing on changing my thoughts in order to change how I feel really works for me, and when I discovered this method (called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), it felt like I’d found a light switch after years of fumbling around in the dark. 

Finding the right therapist for you

Much like finding the right type of therapy, finding the right mental health provider can be a process. “It can be hard to parse out different providers to find the right therapist for your needs,” says Dr. Morel. “It’s important to think about the sort of approach you are seeking — a more structured (behavioral) — or more exploratory (psychodynamic) — approach. The therapeutic relationship is a major aspect of change, so the fit is extremely important. The connection between client and therapist needs to be authentic, positive, and trusting.”

When it comes to where you find the right therapist, Dr. Morel has some recommendations. “There are many different ways to find a therapist, but a few good places to start are asking a medical doctor or friends you trust for referrals, or researching online using services like Alma, Psychology Today, or ZocDoc.”

Guess what? You’re already taking control of your mental health

A huge part of improving your mental health is making the commitment and taking the time to educate yourself on methods. Personally, I struggled for years, and it wasn’t until my dad died and things got even harder that I realized I needed to start prioritizing mental wellness. Every person’s journey is unique, and the fact that you’re reading this means you’re already taking charge of your mental well-being. 

Do you have a story about your own mental health journey? We’d love to hear it below.

Liz Mead is a writer and content strategist living in Brooklyn. She's passionate about technology and sustainability. For more of her work visit www.mizlead.com.