A poor night’s sleep can leave us feeling tired and frustrated and influence productivity and our ability to think. Poor sleep can lead to behaviors that further worsen sleep in the long run, including increasing caffeine intake to stay awake and skipping work outs because we are too tired. Moreover, over time, poor sleep can increase anxiety and negative thoughts about sleep that can further worsen our ability to sleep in the future. With this post, I hope to clarify what insomnia is and highlight some strategies that can help us find a good night’s rest when we fall off track.
What is Insomnia?
Insomnia happens when we have difficulty falling or staying asleep. Most people experience some amount of trouble sleeping throughout the course of their life. Sleep difficulties can come as a result of a variety of factors, and brief episodes of insomnia often pass without any treatment. However, when the insomnia lasts for a long period of time (3+ nights/week for 3+ months), it can affect our mood, energy, and overall health. Chronic insomnia can lead to increased anxiety and worry about sleep and promote behaviors that can work to worsen our sleep. Luckily, however, there are strategies that can help those struggling to get a good night’s rest.
Strategies to improve quality of sleep:
Create a dark, quiet, and comfortable environment for sleep.
Reserve your bedroom for sleep and intimacy only.
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
Practice relaxation before bed.
Exercise during the day.
Refrain from taking long naps late in the day.
If you find yourself consistently struggling to fall asleep and stay asleep at night, it might be time to consider seeing a psychologist trained in providing Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I). CBT-I has been found to be more effective than medication to help improve sleep and is a proven course of therapy for individuals who are experiencing trouble falling asleep, tossing and turning all night, or keep waking up throughout the night.
Finding the best therapist for you is the most important part of maximizing your successful with psychotherapy. However, as many people who have experience looking for a therapist can attest, finding a provider who is just the right “fit” can be very challenging. Here, I outline some strategies to help you find the therapist that is right for you.
Strategies for Finding the “Best Therapist” for you
1) Evaluate your needs and goals for psychotherapy
Who will be in therapy?
Therapy and counseling services can be provided to individuals, couples, families, or groups. Therapists often also specialize in providing care to clients within certain age ranges (e.g. children or adults). When searching for the “best fit,” it is important that you are clear about who will be engaged in treatment, as not all providers are trained to serve all these different types of clients.
What symptoms are you experiencing?
Because treatment modalities vary by symptoms and diagnoses, being able to broadly describe your symptoms and concerns can be extremely helpful in finding a therapist who is the “best fit” for you. This can help ensure that you are matched with a provider who has experience working with clients like you; and you can be confident in their ability to help you meet your goals for psychotherapy.
What kind of treatment are you seeking?
There are many ways in which providers treat mental health concerns, ranging from medication management to different types of talk therapy. While it can be challenging to understand all the differences in treatment options, it can be helpful to consider what approach might work best for you (e.g. short or long-term therapy, focus on the “here and now” or preferences to understand how past experiences influence how you feel today, etc.).
What resources do you have available?
When seeking therapy, you will need to consider the amount of time you have to dedicate to therapy (e.g. time spent commuting, parking, and practicing new skills in between sessions). If you plan on using your insurance, it is important to know what types of services they cover and any limitations to this coverage. If you do not have insurance, it can also be helpful to consider budgeting how much money you plan on investing in a course of therapy.
2) Evaluate potential therapists.
What is the therapist’s area of expertise?
Psychology is a very diverse field of study, which means that most therapists specialize in some area of clinical service. When evaluating a provider’s expertise, it is important to consider their level of education or type of license, their defined client focus, and the treatment modalities they offer. A therapist who specializes in working with people who are like you, are more likely to be able to provide services that will meet your specific needs and goals.
How and when will you access care?
You should be able to access therapy with relative ease, as you will likely be attending sessions regularly, especially at the beginning of treatment. It is also important to understand your provider’s availability to take on new clients, any flexibility they may have in their scheduling, and, when applicable, estimated waitlist times.
3) Choosing the “best therapist” for you.
Which profile or website do you connect with most?
For most people, first impressions of potential providers tend to be online. As you look for a therapist, I suggest that you read through their various online materials and visit their websites to get a better sense of who they are and what they do. It is important to be mindful of their expertise and how they fit your needs and goals for therapy. Once you have narrowed down your search, it is common to call several therapists or practices for an initial consultation before you ultimately make your choice.
Booking an initial consultation to evaluate fit.
The initial consultation can be a great way to evaluate fit, as it allows you to assess what it would be like to work with this therapist. You can assess the timeliness of their response, their communication style, and ask more questions about their expertise and approach to psychotherapy. Once you know your provider has the right qualifications for you, it is important to assess if feel as though you can build a trusting therapeutic relationship with the provider.
By following the steps above, you will likely be well on your way to finding the “best therapist” for you. It may seem like a lot of work at first, but taking your time in choosing the right provider for you can make all the difference in determining your success in finding relief and support through psychotherapy.
You may have come across an “anxiety test” or “quiz” online in your quest to better understand your symptoms. These “quizzes” are often multiple-choice questionnaires that ask you about your symptoms of anxiety, their severity, or their frequency over a certain amount of time.
These tests can be useful to understand your anxiety, but they can also be misleading or unhelpful, depending on how they are used. A common assessment for anxiety is the Generalized Anxiety Disorder Questionnaire (GAD-7).
Although a full discussion of the psychometric properties and clinical implications of the GAD-7 are beyond the scope of this blog, here we provide some basic information on how mental health professionals use this tool in practice and the general benefits and pitfalls of such assessment tools.
What is the GAD-7?
When providing evidence-based care, it is common to ask clients to fill out various questionnaires to assess existing symptoms and to track changes in symptoms over time.
The GAD-7 is commonly used to allow clinicians to quickly and objectively compare their client’s symptoms to a larger sample of individuals with similar concerns.
Results from the GAD-7 can tell us whether symptoms are mild, moderate, moderately severe, or severe. There are many great attributes about the GAD-7 that make it popular and widely disseminated.
However, it is important to know that the GAD-7 alone cannot be the basis for any diagnosis. Licensed mental health professionals integrate the results of assessments like the GAD-7 with other important information, including the results of a comprehensive clinical interview and the review of other available records, in order to make a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
What do I do after I take an anxiety quiz?
Following a self-administered “anxiety quiz,” it is important to know that whatever the outcome, a diagnosis can only be made after a comprehensive assessment with a trained mental health professional.
While online quizzes can be helpful to get an initial understanding of your own symptoms, it cannot replace the other information and clinical expertise needed to truly assess for any mental health disorder.
Regardless of the outcomes of such “tests” or “quizzes,” if you are experiencing anxiety for an extended period, I would highly encourage you to reach out to a licensed mental health professional for additional information and support.
Public awareness of anxiety and related disorders has spread considerably, leading many of us to wonder, “Do I have an anxiety disorder?” Because there are many kinds of anxiety disorders and these disorders vary in presentation, the answer to this question is complicated. With this blog post, we hope to give you a broad understanding of what Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is and how you can get help.
What is GAD and what are the symptoms?
Anxiety is often considered a “normal” and even adaptive part of everyday life. For example, worrying about a problem at work or an upcoming exam can lead to finding solutions quickly or studying more effectively.
However, a diagnosis of GAD requires clinically significant anxiety or feelings of worry and/or fear that are persistent and excessive. With GAD, this anxiety also impairs your ability to function in various aspects of your life, including work, school, relationships, health, etc.
Symptoms of anxiety can be emotional (e.g. excessive worry, fear, panic, or irritability), cognitive (e.g. inability to focus or remember things), or physical (e.g. sleep disturbance, shaking, sweating, or heart pounding), and can be triggered by many different types of stressors.
If you find yourself struggling with anxiety for a prolonged period or find that your excessive worry keeps you from daily life activities, it is likely time to ask for help.
How Do I get help?
Because Anxiety Disorders are complex in their presentation and can only be diagnosed by a licensed health professional. A course of treatment should begin with a comprehensive assessment to tailor treatment plans that accurately and effectively helps you work towards reducing your symptoms.
Treatment plans often include psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both. If you are currently suffering with anxiety, you can consult with your primary care physician, talk to family and friends, and look at therapist directories online to understand your options for treatment.
Although it can feel overwhelming to open yourself up to a comprehensive psychological assessment, it is an important first step to finding relief and support.