Should I get counseling or psychotherapy?

If you are stuck and unhappy in your life, or in some area of your life, the simple answer is “yes.” Just a few sessions with a well-trained, skilled and kind professional might be all you need to get “unstuck” and move on with your life.

“But I like to work things out for myself. How could a stranger possibly help me?”

Of course it would be great to be able to work things out for yourself – most people feel the way you do about that. But, I’m assuming that you have already tried to do it on your own. It is not a failure for you if you haven’t been able to do it yet (see below).

A stranger who is also a skilled mental health professional brings an important set of “tools” with which to help you:

  1. Objectivity – Your psychologist can see your problem more clearly than you can, because she is not involved in the situation herself. Clients in counseling often get helpful new insights right away just by hearing an outsider’s perspective. Psychologists often hear, “I never thought of it that way before!”
  2. Knowledge – Psychologists (and other mental health professionals) know about normal human development, about how healthy babies grow into healthy children, adolescents, adults and seniors. They know what has to happen for a person to grow and change and be successful in life. They also know the many things than can go wrong, often with the best of intentions on the part of parents, and how these negative situations can cause pain and problems later in life. Psychologists also know what kinds of feelings, thoughts and behaviors lead to all kinds of good relationships – parent/child, spouses and lovers, friendships, extended family, and work relationships. It is usually easy for a psychologist to see what is going on that may have lead to trouble.
  3. Compassion – All human beings share many of the same hopes, fears, desires and other feelings. Most of us are doing the best we can in our situations. A good mental health clinician will start with kind and positive expectations of you, and, because of his own life experience, including troubles of various kinds, will likely have an ongoing underlying compassion for you and want to help you, even if you don’t see yourself as a friendly or likable person. Most capable mental health professionals view all human beings as inherently precious and valuable.

So, the longer answer to, “Should I get counseling or psychotherapy?” is “Yes, if you want the best chance possible of changing your life for the better as soon as you can.”

3 Tips to Deal with Austin’s Brutal Summer

Devastating drought! Raging wildfires! Burning heat that just goes on and on! Animals and plants dying. Has all this left you feeling a bit depressed? If so, you are not alone. This summer’s weather is a classic recipe for depression: a negative or painful situation over which you are powerless. There is nothing any of us can do to stop the heat or bring the rain. The “last straw” (we hope) was the arrival of the cool front which helped block the tropical storm rains we so desperately needed.

Actually, terrible things happen to people every day, and, while we can’t stop them from happening, how we cope with the things we don’t want makes a big difference in how we feel. Take the drought, for instance. If you just complain and do nothing about it, you will feel helpless, discouraged and maybe depressed. But, there are three important things you can do to feel better.

1) View this weather as a challenge rather than a stopper.

What we think has a profound effect on how we feel. “This is awful, and I can’t bear it” is one thought about the weather. A different view would be, “I don’t like this weather, but I’m not letting it get ME down!” The latter is a thought that reflects confidence, energy and resilience. It is likely to engender creative ideas and coping strategies that lead to action and a more positive mood.

2) Find ways to make even a very small difference for yourself or another creature.

What about taking action to help somebody? How about donating to Austin Energy for another Austinite to have AC or a fan? Perhaps giving someone who is walking a ride? Could you put out a bird feeder and a bird bath? Or adopt a dog or cat? Or help the kids hand water an elderly neighbor’s prized rosebushes? Take homemade cookies to your neighborhood fire department? Call your church or another local charitable organization and find out how you can help. Look online, choose one that sounds good to you and make that call! Two organizations helping fire victims are:

American Red Cross of Central Texas : 512-928-4271 or

Austin Disaster Relief Network Fire Victim Relief: 512-825-8211 or

And don’t forget to take care of yourself! This may be the time to tackle that chore you’ve been putting off. Or start planning a cactus rock garden in your yard. Or take up Yoga. Or get serious about finding a new doctor. Or take a bottle of water and go for a brisk walk in the nice, cool Mall!

3) Practice gratitude for what you have.

Think about someone you know or have heard of who was courageous in adversity. In spite of tremendous loss or a short time to live, people like this manage to keep on living and loving and daring and doing. They see life as a gift and find joy in gratitude for small, everyday things. Do you have enough to eat? Do you have a home? Can you go to bed at night without fear? Do you have a friend? What else is good about your life?

Yes, this has been a rough summer, and it’s not over yet. We still need rain. But we can be tough-minded, we can take action and we can count our blessings .

What are YOUR ideas?

LATE WORD: The fire danger is real. Plan your escape and pack a bag now. If you are told to leave, GO.