Every month we turn the tables, and ask clinicians to share a slew of tidbits about themselves and their work. They reveal everything from the trials and triumphs of conducting therapy to how they personally cope with stress. They also share their insights into the biggest myth about therapy and the best way to lead a meaningful life.
This month we’re pleased to feature Helen Nieves, a New York State Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Attention Deficit Consultant Specialist. Nieves pens the popular Psych Central blog “Mental Health Awareness.”
She specializes in anxiety, panic, phobias, oppositional disorders, behavioral disorders, emotional disorders, parenting skills, anger management, stress management, career concerns, educational decisions, depression, grief counseling, and attention deficit disorder.
Nieves also teaches ADHD classes online and is on the Advisory Board for the American Institute of Health Care Professionals. To learn more about Helen Nieves, visit her website www.counselingadhd.com.
1. What’s surprised you the most about being a therapist?
Every day I am surprised by how much I love being a therapist. I have learned a great deal from my clients and every day I am challenged by how much they teach me. I enjoy the work I do and how fulfilling this career is. I love learning new things to help my clients improve and progress with their personal struggles.
All clients are different, need to be treated differently and I love the challenge of trying to find a way to help each one individually. Training and studying helps, but the experience of working with different individuals is what makes this job challenging and interesting.
2. What’s the latest and greatest book you’ve read related to mental health, psychology or psychotherapy?
I have read a large amount of mental health books, each teaching me valuable information. I enjoyed reading When the Past is Present by David Richo. This book explores how transference plays a role in our relationships and how we can free ourselves from the emotional baggage we bring into our present relationships.
As a therapist who specializes in anxiety, another book I enjoyed was The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques by Margaret Wehrenberg. It provides practical tips to help clients manage anxiety.
3. What’s the biggest myth about therapy?
The biggest myth is that if you go to therapy you are “crazy.” This is not true. People go to therapy for a number of reasons. Going to therapy offers a better understanding about yourself and learning better opportunities to live a healthier life.
If a person goes to their primary care physician for medications to help them fight off the flu or virus, are they considered crazy? Going to therapy shows that you are looking for better opportunities to resolve certain issues that are troubling you.
4. What seems to be the biggest obstacle for clients in therapy?
The biggest obstacle for clients is fear of opening up their feelings, being truthful to themselves, and fear of the unknown. It is hard for people to drop their defense mechanisms and let the therapist apply the proper techniques to best help them. They may fear feeling vulnerable, especially to a therapist who appears to be young and of different gender.
5. What’s the most challenging part about being a therapist?
The most challenging part of being a therapist is that clients do not provide progress reports after they graduate or terminate sessions. I wonder at times how clients are doing after sessions are done; whether or not they are following the suggestions, tools and techniques to aid them in their progress.
I also find myself thinking about clients who stop coming to therapy after we have worked together to uncover deep-rooted emotions or feelings and never had the opportunity to work at these feelings even more.
6. What do you love about being a therapist?
I love being a therapist and feel lucky that I do this for a living. I love learning about my clients and providing them with tools and techniques to facilitate the change process. I love watching and hearing my clients grow and change their lives in a positive way.
I also love that this field has given me the chance to branch off into different professional opportunities, such as having my own private practice, working in a mental health clinic, providing seminars and speeches, and writing mental health articles.
7. What’s the best advice you can offer to readers on leading a meaningful life?
Don’t be afraid to let your feelings known. Express your problems and be true to yourself. It is important to validate and acknowledge your feelings. You are important and should follow your dreams. You need to take risks, and it is OK to fail. Besides, if you do not know failure, you cannot appreciate success.
8. If you had your schooling and career choice to do all over again, would you choose the same professional path? If not, what would you do differently and why?
I would choose mental health counseling again. I like the challenge of helping people and seeing them progress. I find the human mind interesting and love putting pieces together to better understand my clients.
9. If there’s one thing you wished your clients knew about treatment or mental illness, what would it be?
It takes time to see progress. Everyone moves at different paces in therapy. A lot of times people end up stopping therapy prematurely because they feel that it is a waste of time, they will never see progress or they are not moving quick enough to see a change. Some may believe that the therapist will provide them with a “quick fix” and if they do not see quick progress, they will stop coming to therapy.
The goal is to help you to function better on your own, and this may take several months to several years. Every person is different and time is what it takes to make progress.
10. What personally do you do to cope with stress in your life?
I have learned not to take things seriously or personally. I like to gather the facts and not jump to conclusions. I use a lot of the tools and techniques that I implement in session with my clients to achieve a positive well-being. I use cognitive restructuring, exercising, stress management techniques, yoga, reading and walking to cope with stress.
I don’t ruminate on events that cannot be changed. Rather, I accept what I cannot control, and I focus on the things that can be changed. I have learned to live in the present and not focus on tomorrow. Also, laughter and humor have helped me to get through stressful times.