by Dan Crockett, MS, LMHC
People seek help from mental health professionals for a wide range of problems, and as a result of many different circumstances. Some people will make an appointment voluntarily, and sometimes people are forced into counseling by relational, professional, or legal situations. In addition to their presenting problems, many clients I see also present with depression, anxiety, addictive disorders, or panic attacks – sometimes they suffer from all four. It’s not uncommon for clients to be on at least one or two medications to manage these issues; mainly anti-depressants, sleeping, and/or anti-anxiety meds.
When asked, most clients say the medications they take are not as helpful as they were hoping they would be when they were first prescribed. Some even say the meds have made their life more difficult because of the side effects, which can cause problems for them physically, emotionally, and/or relationally.
What I’ve found with most of my clients is that, in addition to their presenting problems, they don’t exercise enough, they don’t eat healthy, and they don’t get enough sleep. When a person is under stress and they aren’t exercising, eating right or sleeping well, their symptoms worsen. Alcohol contributes to anxiety and depression, and, when used heavily, is a major depressant, as are other drugs like cocaine and diet pills.
One of the things that most therapists are trained to do is to formulate a treatment plan with their clients. The treatment plan is a list of goals and directives that the client is willing to do as part of their treatment. In addition to therapeutic assignments, I also try to include some form of exercise as part of their treatment planning, i.e., aerobic walking, treadmill, cycling, as well as some form of strength training. It’s okay to start out spending about 10 minutes a day exercising, 5-6 days a week, and adjust up each week until we get to about 40 minutes per day. What’s important is that the client begins to move, breathe deeper, and get stronger.
I also ask the client to abstain from alcohol, even small quantities, for a period of 90 days; sometimes the presenting problem requires total abstinence. This, along with the exercise program, allows me to better evaluate their situation and focus on working toward addressing their problems.
Often what we discover within about a month, is that their mood improves, lethargy diminishes, and mental and emotional energy become more positive. Also, studies show that 40 minutes of aerobic exercise or strength training boost metabolism rates for up to 14 hours, which means you burn more calories. My clients start feeling that they are gaining control and mastery over their life – and it begins when they get off the couch or away from the computer and start moving.
Of course, this only a part of the solution to resolving the situation the client came to counseling for, but it’s an important part of the puzzle – and the benefits last a lifetime.
Dan Crockett, M.S., LMHC
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Certified Addictions Professional
Certified Sex Addictions Therapist-Supervisor