How did psychotherapy help you? A patient’s recent journey through mental health care at St. Joseph’s

Feb. 27, 2019 – Last fall, Nara Flor’s depression and anxiety reached unbearable heights. Recognizing the signs, she turned to St. Joseph’s Health Centre for help, and was admitted to the inpatient mental health unit for care. Four days later when Flor (pictured right) was well enough to be discharged home, she was referred to a registered psychotherapist in the hospital’s outpatient mental health clinic for follow-up care.

At the time, Flor was experiencing intense and debilitating panic attacks, and living with anxiety and depression.

“I wasn’t able to leave home. My mental health issues started with depression and anxiety, and then I started experiencing panic attacks where I would suddenly start feeling sick and not want to leave my house or go anywhere,” she said.

“It reached a point where my heart was racing all the time, especially at night time when I was home and safe along with my loved ones. That’s when it became clear that I needed help to manage this.”

To help Flor manage her panic and anxiety, her psychotherapist used Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a mode of therapy that examines problematic thoughts that can lead to psychological and physical distress such as panic and anxiety.

Flor worked with her therapist to identify the problematic thoughts, challenge them by distinguishing probable from possible scenarios, and develop a new perspective that’s rooted in facts instead of fear. The CBT was then combined with relaxation techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation.

This collaboration of therapies targeted Flor’s symptoms and helped her manage them effectively.

By the time Flor had completed her eighth psychotherapy session, she was experiencing noticeable improvements in her ability to leave her home, drive independently and engage in activities of daily living with confidence.

“The medication I was prescribed by the psychiatrist definitely helped, but the psychotherapy offered me a unique skill by teaching me how to physically control the panic attacks so they don’t get as intense as they used to,” said Flor.

“My panic attacks are now much more manageable. I can leave my house by myself and drive alone to my appointments. This is something I couldn’t do four months ago.”

Psychological care empower clients to understand their thoughts and behaviours, learn techniques to manage them if needed, and work towards enjoying a fulfilled life.

“Patients benefit from psychotherapeutic intervention as the various modalities used are proven to be effective in treating many different mental health concerns,” explained Gwen Yorston, manager at the outpatient mental health clinic.

“Yet there is still a societal stigma attached to talking about struggling with a mental health issue, even though most of us will experience some difficulties during our lives.”

Yorston suggests that those uncertain about seeing a psychologist talk to a health care professional they already feel comfortable with, such as a family doctor, to know what to expect and how the process works.

“A lot of people I talk to don’t even know that these psychological services are available. I often have to explain how a psychotherapist helped me and can help others deal with certain problems,” said Flor.

“It’s just amazing. My psychotherapist is honestly an angel in my life, I can’t describe in words how much she helped me.”

If you are looking for a psychologist in your area, please visit www.psych.on.ca/Utilities/Find-a-psychologist.aspx. If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, please call 911 or visit your nearest emergency department.