Mental Illness And The Connection To Substance Abuse

by Jennifer Woodson Thursday, October 6, 2016

The use of drugs and alcohol in individuals suffering from a form of mental illness has been well documented and studied over the years, but it is very difficult to state definitively whether one causes the other. While it’s true people living with mental illness are more at risk for addiction if they use substances to self-medicate, the state of one’s mental health is not necessarily a predictor of abuse. There is a link, however, and it can be a devastating one for the affected individuals and their families.

The reasons for substance abuse vary from person to person; some are genetically inclined toward risky behaviors and coping mechanisms, while others are affected by their environment.

“It is estimated that 40-60 percent of an individual's vulnerability to addiction is attributable to genetics…But genes can also act indirectly by altering how an individual responds to stress or by increasing the likelihood of risk-taking and novelty-seeking behaviors…” reads an article on

Some substance abuse leads to changes in the brain, causing mood disorders such as depression. This can make it very difficult for medical professionals to diagnose one or the other, because substances can mask certain disorders with similar symptoms. In some cases, substances cause severe changes and lead to the individual taking still more drugs to cope with them, a ruthless cycle that leaves a trail of confusion, guilt, and health risks.

Some of the most common mental health issues associated with substance abuse are depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. These disorders can cause impaired judgment, impulsive behavior, and the desire to take risks, sometimes in order to cope with their thoughts or feelings. It is important for the individual to seek professional care in order to be diagnosed properly, so that treatment can be tailored. For instance, bipolar disorder is very complex and often can’t be diagnosed during childhood or teen years because the symptoms can mimic normal emotional development. Substance abuse can make it difficult to uncover because drugs and alcohol affect emotions and behavior, causing manic mood swings and bouts of depression.

It’s important for individuals to know what to look for where substance abuse and mental health disorders are concerned. Some common behaviors include:

      Withdrawing from social activities

      Experiencing manic periods of elation, then swiftly dropping into low gear

      A decline in physical appearance or health

      Bouts of rage or violence

      A decline in performance at work or school

      Sleeping too much or too little; same with appetite

      Lack of joy in things that once made them happy

If your loved one is experiencing these behaviors, it may be time to start a conversation. Offer your help without accusatory statements and let them know they are not alone. Forming a support system is the best way to ensure your loved one will find success in treatment.

Jennifer enjoys serving the public as a writer for

Photo via Pixabay by Unsplash

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I have Cancer. How do I find a therapist to help me and my family?

by Charli Prather Monday, February 15, 2016

I have Cancer. How do I find a therapist to help me and my family with the social and emotional challenges we face? Here are some questions to ask:

• Have you had training in oncology (the last thing you need right now is to provide your therapist translation services)? 
• Have you worked, volunteered, or interned in a hospital or oncology center?

• Have you had a personal experience with cancer? If you are a survivor, how long have you been out of treatment? A healthy time frame of recovery is important.

• Have you worked with clients experiencing "chemo brain"? Do you have a complete understanding of "cure vs. remission" and the specific needs of a cancer patient/survivor?

• Are you available to visit me in the hospital, at home, or provide phone or closed circuit video sessions if I’m not up to coming into the office? What are the charges are related to this type of care? 
• What is your “late cancel” policy?  I may experience treatment side effects that come on unexpectedly.

• Are you willing to assist me finding resources regarding my employment, co-pays for expensive drugs, financial planning, how to talk to my kids, my boss, etc. 

• Will you be able to provide sessions that may involve family members who don’t understand the complexity of my prognosis if it changes? 
• For those with advanced cancers: Are you comfortable providing me end of life care if my condition worsens?   
• Are you familiar with MBCR?  Mindfulness Based Cancer Recovery techniques?  

Charli Prather-Levinson, MSW LCSW EAP-C RYT is a former Board Certified Oncology Social Worker and 2 time cancer survivor. She works part time in private practice and works for the Cancer Support Community Headquarter’s offices part time as a Cancer Helpline Counselor.  Charli has over 20 years combined experience as a hospice therapist and as Clinical Program Director of the St. Louis Cancer Support Community affiliate. Charli also advises clients on healthy lifestyle changes that can ‘STACK THE DECK’ against emotional and physical disease. Charli also holds certifications as a Food for Life™ Plant Based Nutrition Educator and Warriors at Ease® Meditation & Yoga Teacher for those in need of a modified yoga practice due to physical limitations. Charli spends her free time traveling the country with the Wounded Warrior Project serving as a contract therapist and yoga & meditation instructor. 



Advise | Anxiety | Healing | Intimacy | Mental Health | Social Work | Stress | Therapeutic Relationship | Therapy | Video Therapy | Wisdom

Handling Disruptive Events in the Workplace

by Dennis Potter Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Disruptive events are unique in specifics, but often stir up similar reactions among employees. Employees closest to the “epicenter” often have the most intense reactions, while those in circles further removed might have less intense reactions, it is likely the reactions/issues are similar. Being able to anticipate the most common reactions prepares us to provide employees the right handouts and teaching points. Experience has taught me three reactions are universal.

Three Universal Reactions

§   Guilt is usually connected to thoughts employee(s) have about what they should/could/would have done differently to alter or prevent the event. These are usually the result of “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” where the person reinterprets their actions knowing the outcome. This is particularly true after a suicide or death of a colleague. It is very destructive and usually inaccurate. A teaching point is to talk about the fact that people are in pain and “wish” the event had not happened. Understanding there is no guarantee anything they could have done differently would have altered the outcome is sometimes helpful.

§  Anger is usually connected to wanting to blame someone or something for the event. If the anger is at the perpetrator, it is probably healthy. The leadership or company is often blamed for not preventing the incident. Anger at God or their spiritual traditions are most common and should be referred back to their spiritual leadership for answers. It is outside our role as interventionists to directly address spiritual issues, except to validate them and state that they are common reactions.

§   Grief after the loss of someone they care about is easy to understand. Disruptive events can trigger a variety of intangible losses. One most common is the loss of sense of personal safety. People think this could happen to me, or my family, or my friends etc. Disruptive events happen because we have no control over them. This temporary feeling of the loss of our illusions of control and safety can be profound. The teaching points here are helping people understand their multiple losses, and that grief is a process they will move through over the next few days. Providing information on understanding they are grieving and things they can do to move through the grieving process is often helpful.

When we are aware of these universal reactions and provide teaching points for them, we help employees understand their reactions, and tap into their natural resiliency and move toward recovery.  This is the crux of helping the employees return to work and return to life.

What suggestions do you give to people to help them return to pre-incident functioning?

Dennis Potter, LMSW, CAADC, ICCS, FAAETS, serves as Manager, Consultant Relations and Training for Crisis Care Network. He is a licensed social worker and certified addiction counselor. Dennis is recognized as a Fellow, by the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. He was awarded the ICISF Excellence in Training and Educations Award at the ICISF 2011 World Congress.


Advise | Healing | Mental Health | Self-Awareness | Self-Care | Shame | Social Work | Stress | Suicide Bereavement | Suicide Prevention | Therapeutic Relationship | Therapy | Trauma | Wisdom

How to Find a Therapist Without Losing Your Mind (Hint: Use HelpPRO)

by Ashley Womble Saturday, January 30, 2016

As a Millennial, it's hard to imagine HelpPRO once existed in paper form, like a giant catalog. Even though I’ve been working in mental health for a few years, the prospect of finding a new therapist overwhelms me.  It seems natural to begin to search for a therapist online, but basic internet searches lacks the authority you need when you are looking for someone to share your deepest thoughts and feelings with.


In effort to make the process easier, I wrote an article “How to Find a Therapist Without Losing Your Mind" for a new website, is the daily source for smart, original content that informs, inspires and entertains the 21st century woman.


HelpPRO’s William Blout gave me some great tips like avoiding e-mailing therapists since it’s easy to misinterpret tone in an e-mail. Bill also emphasized the importance of finding a mental health pro that you can trust. As Bill said, “If you don’t trust the person therapy isn’t going to work. ”You can read more of Bill’s great advice in the article and check out my work on


Ashley Womble is a writer and champion for mental health. She is the founder of Psyched, a website dedicated to changing the way people think about mental health, and the Communications Director at Fountain House. Connect with Ashley via LinkedIn or Twitter


Advise | Intimacy | Marriage and Family Therapy | Self-Awareness | Therapeutic Relationship | Therapy | Wisdom

The Language of Resilience

by Dr. Les Kertay Sunday, January 17, 2016

The recent Blog, “The Language of Resilience” by Dr. Les Kertay, answers the question what is Critical Incident Response (CIR) for and what is the expected outcome of CIR? Many of the events Critical Incident Response is used for are not typically thought of as a Critical Incident. Thinking in terms of “Critical Incidents” may lead us to assume pathology when the most common outcome to any stressful event is resilience. Dr. Kertay suggests a more accurate term is “Potentially Disruptive Event” as humans are developed to endure stress, manage its effects, and return to life, often more resilient than before. Providing guidance and support to this natural process of resilience is the purview of CIR.

Dr. Les Kertay is a Licensed and Board Certified Clinical Psychologist with extensive experience in mind-body health including disability medicine, chronic pain, and health behaviors as well as being a leader and consultant on strategies to manage workplace absence and a practicing clinician and industry consultant.  Dr. Kertay is currently Chief Medical Officer with R3 Continuum (Crisis Management International, Crisis Care Network, Behavioral Medical Interventions).


Abuse | Mental Health | Self-Awareness | Self-Care | Shame | Social Work | Stress | Wisdom

I Want To Switch Therapists, But Don’t Want To Hurt My Therapist’s feelings?

by Aaron Pawelek LICSW Sunday, November 29, 2015

I recently closed my therapy practice in Dallas, TX to relocate to the East Coast to be closer to aging family members. I decided to give my 50 or so active clients 2 months notice to provide ample time for them to prepare and for me to arrange continuity of care. Those 2 months were extraordinary! Because I initiated the ending, I set in motion what therapists call the “termination phase” of therapy. I had told people: “Get ready. We are going to say goodbye”. And we did. What’s extraordinary is that real goodbyes so often never happen for therapists. When clients are either frustrated with their progress or are legitimately ready to end treatment, they either fade away or just disappear.

Here is my advice (It may sound a little harsh, but hear me out): tell us what’s going on, say goodbye, and don’t worry about our feelings. If you’re ready to finish work with us, we will have feelings about it, rest assured. We will miss you! But if we let those feelings cloud our professional judgment, or if we take your departure personally, then we’re not keeping our part of the bargain. Remember, when we agreed to work with you, we agreed to ensure your best interests.

Here’s why I really want you to say goodbye when you’re ready to leave. Goodbyes are hard. They hurt and often bring about profound expressions of sadness and grief. In many ways, this is the essence of psychotherapy: learning how to communicate deep and painful truths in caring ways and developing the courage and willingness to do so. By practicing “goodbyes” in the therapy room, you will learn how to do it successfully in life.

Furthermore, it may be time to switch therapists. If you don’t feel comfortable telling your therapist, then there may be unaddressed issues in the therapeutic alliance. It’s possible these issues—at least your role in them—reflect the very things you are trying to resolve in your personal relationships. By intentionally entering into the termination phase of therapy and saying goodbye, you give yourself and your therapist a chance to explore and resolve these issues, so you don’t carry them into your relationship with your next therapist. Your therapist may also help with a referral to a therapist who may be a better fit for you, but cannot help if he/she does not know.

One more thing—sometimes clients want to switch therapists because the therapy has stagnated or become stuck. Again, bring it to our attention. That may be just what your therapist needs to hear to get the treatment going again. You might find it’s not goodbye after all. Maybe we just needed a nudge!

Aaron Pawelek, LICSW, has been providing psychotherapy to adults, couples, and teens for 10 years. He is a graduate of both the Boston University School of Social Work and the Boston University School of Theology. He is in private practice with the New England Pastoral Institute in Salem, NH. Prior to moving to New England to be closer to aging family members, Aaron was the training director and a staff therapist for the Pastoral Counseling Center of Dallas, TX. Aaron has a variety of clinical interests including working with people with disabilities, adults raised by parents with mental illness or addiction, people in addiction recovery themselves, couples in crisis, and people in the GLBT community. As a pastorally oriented psychotherapist, Aaron helps people integrate their spiritual and religious resources into the therapy process if they wish.


Advise | Anxiety | Healing | Intimacy | Self-Awareness | Self-Care | Therapeutic Relationship | Therapy | Wisdom

What is a Critical Incident?

by Dennis Potter Sunday, November 1, 2015
I explained to someone the other day the work we do at Crisis Care Network. We respond after Critical Incidents or trauma events to help employees “bounce back”. I was asked what kind of events we handle most frequently. I responded our three most common events are death of an employee, robbery, and staff size readjustments. Again, I was asked, did these deaths happen in the workplace? Are the robberies the type we see on TV and in the movies with guns brandished and shots fired?  No, I said, they are most often natural or accidental deaths outside the workplace, and the robberies rarely involve weapons shown or anyone actually hurt in the robbery. My friend said, these are not really trauma or crisis events, but rather are events that are disruptive in the workplace!

It was then a light bulb went off over my head (if I were a cartoon character). We talk, teach about, and promote Critical Incident Response (CIR) in the Workplace as responding to a trauma event. In fact, CIR are most frequently a highly disruptive event traumatic to the families of the victims, but are far more often disruptive to the normal flow of work in the workplace due to their sudden unexpected nature.

The most common themes employees have after these unexpected events has to do with grief and loss rather than traumatic stress reactions. Employees want to know their reactions are common, but more importantly they want to know what to do about them. They want to know what to say to the families of the deceased, or to their own loved ones after the event.

Maybe we should talk about Critical Incidents as things that are disruptive to the workplace and get away from using terms like crisis or trauma so people understand better the worthwhile work we do for employees to help the workplace recover.

Dennis Potter, LMSW, CAADC, ICCS, FAAETS, serves as Manager, Consultant Relations and Training for Crisis Care Network. He is a licensed social worker and certified addiction counselor. Dennis is recognized as a Fellow, by the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. He was awarded the ICISF Excellence in Training and Educations Award at the ICISF 2011 World Congress.


Self-Awareness | Sexual Trauma | Social Work | Suicide Bereavement | Suicide Prevention | Therapeutic Relationship | Therapy | Trauma

Help Build Our Caring Community!

by William L. Blout LICSW Friday, August 14, 2015

"Caring" in the Therapeutic Relationship.

"This is simple." Caring is at the core of what HelpPRO does. It is who HelpPRO is.  We all care. 

But, as and for therapists, caring can be quite complicated. Sometimes we go too far in caring for our clients. Limiting how much time and energy we devote to clients is more challenging the more we care.

A big part of "caring" is setting limits, defining boundaries, expecting change (or effort at change) and sometimes confronting clients.

Not so simple. 

Therapists need to establish a strong, compassionate and trusting relationship, so, when we say "no", challenge or confront, our clients have no doubt it comes out of real caring.  

Bill Blout founded HelpPRO over 20 years ago to help people find help. Bill and HelpPRO continue to be passionate and dedicated to this mission to help people. Please Email Bill your comments. 


The Little Engine That Could

by Jeanne Blauner Monday, August 10, 2015

HelpPRO celebrates it’s 20th birthday this year. HelpPRO is not the biggest therapist finder, but we are the most comprehensive and caring, focusing single mindedly on connecting our users and their friends and families and clients to the best resources available. Many have copied the HelpPRO model over the years, but the HelpPRO search continues to be the most comprehensive and HelpPRO continues to focus on helping you, our user.

To help HelpPRO help more people please:

1. Tell us what we can do better/best.

2. Spread the word to:

• users to search

• therapists for free HelpPRO 3 month premium listing trial

3. Click our new counter at (top right corner) to "like" HelpPRO on Facebook and/or "follow" HelpPRO on Linkedin.

Jeanne Blauner has been helping HelpPRO build it’s caring community for over 15 years now. Jeanne cares deeply about helping people and sees in HelpPRO an organization dedicated to doing just that.


Healing | Mental Health | Mood | Mood Booster | Suicide Prevention | Therapeutic Relationship | Therapy | Wisdom

Clients Say “It’s About Time”

by Buck Black Thursday, July 9, 2015

Online scheduling is smooth, easy, and appreciated … when done right.

Who wants to play phone tag for something simple like scheduling?  Better yet, who wants to get a voicemail with available times, consult your partner with times that work for both of your schedules, only to return the call and find all of those available times are now gone?  Does your therapist let you schedule your appointments online? I guess the answer is no.  We pay our utilities online, interact with friends and family online, watch movies online, but, many therapists are not comfortable letting their clients schedule appointments online.

I have had a range of technology in regards to scheduling clients.  I have gone from a paper schedule and telephone calls to texts and paper schedules and then to an electronic scheduling with the ability to let clients schedule their own appointments.  The consistent feedback I heard after going all electronic is “its about time!”

I still have clients who will not schedule online and who insist on telephone calls.  They may not even leave voicemails because they want complete human interaction.  That is okay.  Technology should help make life easier.  If a client is uncomfortable with the technology, then it would be harmful and should not be used.

There are new clients who appear on my schedule without talking with me.  In fact, this happens on a regular basis.  I reach out to them via phone and leave them a voice mail requesting a free 15 minute phone consult to ensure we are a good match for one another. It helps that the first interaction was through online scheduling where the client has the opportunity to say some things about their concern in the “comments” section of the online scheduler. This is a great start. Online scheduling works best for the first consultation if the therapist and potential client do talk first to get a sense of each other’s style. 

Sometimes, I refer the client to a therapist who will be a better match.  Since the client sends their basic information in an online appointment request, the intake process is easier for the client and therapist.

Remember, technology makes our lives easier.  Therapy should also use technology to make the therapy experience more comfortable and less burdensome.  Lets all use our time on more productive things than scheduling.   

Buck Black LCSW, CST is a therapist who has several years of experience using video conferencing with clients to address anger, stress, and relationship issues and also meets with clients at his office. His information is at

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Online Scheduling | Social Work | Therapy | Wisdom


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