Reclaiming Her PowHER (Women & MHA): Sheri Dalton
We spoke to psychologist Sheri Dalton about the advantages of therapy for creating mindfulness and meaningful engagement.
Psychologists play an important role in mental health awareness and education. Awareness is a critical component of the recovery process.
Akeso psychologist says those who may be experiencing mental health issues or who are not accepting of mental illness cannot learn, begin recovery or support and accept their loved ones when they are not aware of and understand mental health.
“Awareness is key for me. People can’t be aware of what they’re not aware of, and often that involves a certain amount of psychoeducation,” says Sheri Dalton, a psychologist for the Centre of Psychotherapy Excellence (COPE) at Akeso Clinic in Parktown.
Sheri helps teenagers and young adults with issues of adjustment, anxiety, depression and family dynamics understand their experiences and create new, healthier ways of engagement.
DIAGNOSING MENTAL ILLNESs
We define any mental illness with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), and to receive a diagnosis one would need to have experienced a significant impairment in occupational or social areas of functioning as a result of the specified disorder.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder involves obsessive thoughts and behaviours (such as mirror checking, grooming, etc) about a specific flaw in one's appearance that either is non-existent or appears slight or minor to others. Often this can cause the individual to isolate or become withdrawn from social situations due to the embarrassment the person feels about the perceived flaw in their appearance.
Therapy often involves improved self-esteem due to the non-judgemental relationship described earlier, as well as the examination of thoughts the individual may have. These thoughts have very little evidence behind them, and so are often refuted in therapy and replaced with more helpful thoughts that are backed up with evidence from one's experiences and environment.
Behaviour disorders (such as anxiety, ADHD, ODD and learning problems) are managed in very different ways, depending on the person and their respective environments, due to the very different nature of each. The idea of What works for one person may not work for another, comes into play when applying psychological skills and techniques.
I would suggest engaging in mindfulness practices. The word 'practices' is used for a reason. Doing two minutes of mindfulness once a week will not translate to changing experiences; mindfulness is something that needs to be practised as regularly as brushing your teeth in order to translate to more awareness of your emotional, physical and mental states. Once we are aware of what is causing our behaviour, we are able to respond in a healthier way.
Structure and routine is also an important aspect, as well as making sure you're connected to others even when the urge is to avoid others.
ROAD TO RECOVERY
Talk-therapy involves us making sense of our experiences in the presence of someone who is trained to provide a non-judgmental, open space to think about and explore our feelings, thoughts and urges attached to these experiences.
Being able to understand why we behave or feel a certain way helps us to become more aware of our own triggers and in doing so, provides us with a choice of how we would like to respond. Often we simply react to others. Therapy allows us to start creating space before reacting.
The experience of the therapeutic relationship can often create a platform for engaging more effectively in other relationships. Through talking, we also start to change those unhelpful pathways in our brain that have been formed over years and years of thinking a certain way. Increased awareness and improved insight often help us better navigate our distress.
COVID-19, CARE AND ADVICE
I think it is important to examine what mental illness has developed and if the loss of a loved one was an exacerbating factor of a pre-existing mental illness that the person was unaware of. There is no time limit on grief, often the expectation is that people should "get over" losing a loved one, however, I think it is more about learning to live with how our lives have been forever changed by losing those we care about. Part of this process is caring for yourself in these moments. This can often get neglected when focusing on a pandemic. Allowing yourself to grieve - in whatever way you need to - is an important part of the process.
I would encourage men and women who have been diagnosed with a mental illness to not be afraid of asking their treating team questions and equipping themselves with extensive knowledge about a potential diagnosis.
Don't put it off... Seeking therapy is scary and it is something that you need to be ready to do, but my advice would be to give yourself the care that you need sooner rather than later.
In schools where psychological interventions are not directly available, I think that considerations need to be made regarding adding education about mental illness into the curriculum. Mindfulness practices can also be included in the school environment, creating awareness of our environments.
The government has a long way to go in making therapeutic services more accessible, however, the therapeutic services that are available are not well known, or people do not access these services because they are unsure of what mental health actually is.
TRAIN OF THOUGHT
I believe my personal life experiences led me to this career choice. There was a desire to understand why people behave the way they do. In order to make sense of the people I grew up with in my life, I had a desire to understand human behaviour.
Often therapy puts things into perspective for me. I am amazed at the amount of suffering human beings can endure and yet there is still so much strength that remains in that person, despite so much being taken from them. I am also constantly energized and encouraged by the way the mind and body work together to make sense of the internal experiences we have. It encourages me to listen to my own internal experiences and to not take that gut feeling for granted.