Therapy can support a variety of mental health concerns. These videos provide an introduction to some of the common mental health concerns you or a loved one may experience and how therapy can be helpful.

Mental health can be a difficult topic to navigate, especially in the South Asian community. This page is meant to help you and your loved one understand some of the common mental health challenges people may encounter in our community and how therapy can be a helpful solution for your concerns. Click here to learn how to speak with family members.

What is therapy and how does it work?

Therapy is when you work with a mental health professional to improve your mental wellbeing.

Therapy can be provided by a wide range of mental health professionals including and not limited to: psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists, nurses, and addiction workers.

Some benefits of therapy include:

  • Deepening your understanding about yourself
  • A holistic approach for self-care
  • Learning tools and strategie on how to overcome your personal challenges

You may think “I don’t want to talk to a stranger. I can just talk to my family or friends.” We encourage everyone to have loved ones that they feel comfortable sharing their experiences with because having a personal support system is very important for your mental wellbeing. Although you may have a lot of family and friends who can support you, speaking to them about your challenges is not the same as professional therapy.

Why is that? Well, a therapist is a trained professional who has extensive academic and clinical training and experience in supporting you with your mental health challenges. Therapists offer an unbiased perspective to your problems, help challenge your current viewpoints and offer new tools and strategies based on your needs.

To learn more about therapy, watch the video!

What happens during therapy?

  • The initial assessment is often the most lengthy appointment. During the first meeting, your therapist will complete a thorough assessment to better understand your mental and physical health history, current challenges, any helpful and unhelpful strategies you may be using to manage and your goals for initiating therapy.
  • It is important to remember that therapy is not a magical, overnight solution to all of your problems. Long periods of stressful experiences accumulate and it will take time to deepen your understanding about yourself, unlearn unhelpful ways in which you have been managing your stress and acquire new tools and strategies to help you accomplish your therapy goals.
  • Addressing past trauma and current mental health challenges in a safe environment with a professional can be very healing but it is also emotionally draining and requires hard work and patience. It is important to note that there may be times where you may be crying during and after a therapy session but this is part of the healing journey.
  • A therapy session is typically 50-60 minutes.
  • The frequency of therapy can be decided between you and the therapist based on your mental health assessment, needs and goals.
  • There are various therapy modalities for different challenges. Some types of therapy require you to do homework by completing worksheets, journal entries or tracking your progress in a daily log. You can discuss the type of therapy that is best for you based on your needs with your therapist.

Addiction

According to a medical perspective, addiction refers to the problematic use of a substance or behaviour (CAMH) where the individual may experience the following three situations:

  1. They crave the addictive substance or behaviour
  2. They participate in the addictive substance or behaviour to temporarily reduce feelings of physical, emotional or psychological pain
  3. They are unable to discontinue use of the addictive substance or behaviour despite unhealthy consequences (Dr. Gabor Mate)

How is addiction a mental health concern?

Oftentimes, in the South Asian community we do not understand that an addiction is a mental health concern . One way of viewing an addiction is to think of it as an individual’s attempt to solve a painful problem they are experiencing in their life. All forms of addiction have root causes related to trauma, however, not all trauma leads to an addiction.

Harmful childhood experiences (eg domestic violence, physical/emotional/sexual abuse, neglect, parental separation or divorce, financial stress, immigration stress, generational trauma etc) have a strong link to addictive behaviours.

Our brain is wired to protect us and when we experience traumatic situations, our brain begins to tune out as a way of coping with these circumstances. Using substances or engaging in addictive behaviour is a way that we learn to cope with difficult situations because we temporarily tune out the problem and for a short period of time, we may experience joy, love, connection or pain relief. Over time, our brain craves these feelings because who doesn’t want to feel love, joy and be free of pain? So then we continuously engage in the addictive substance/behaviour in order to help us temporarily escape the pain we are feeling without considering the long term harmful consequences.

Learn more about addiction through CAMH.

What are the signs & symptoms of an addiction?

Every individual may experience different degrees of addiction related harm which can range from mild (e.g., feeling hungover, being late for work) to severe (e.g., homelessness, disease, death). The harmful consequences may build up over time which can make it very difficult for both the individual and their loved ones.

Addiction related harms include but are not limited to:

  • Feelings of anxiety or depression
  • Mood changes such as irritability, anger, or crying
  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Injuries while under the influence of the substance
  • Financial or legal problems
  • Difficulties with personal or professional relationships
  • Spending time and money on the addictive substance or behaviour rather than essential needs such as food and ignoring other responsibilities

How can therapy benefit the person who is struggling with an addiction?

In order to heal from addiction, it is important to address the underlying trauma and that is where therapy can be very helpful. An addiction can have a devastating impact on your physical and mental well being as well as your family and social dynamics. If you are struggling with an addiction, therapy can help you:

  1. Identify the underlying trauma that is triggering the addiction
  2. Understand the reasons you may be resorting to addictive substances/behaviours
  3. Identify healthier alternatives to manage your pain and stress
  4. Tools to accept and/ or change your behaviour, thoughts and emotions

It is important to note that an individual who is struggling with an addiction cannot be forced to seek treatment. Pushing them to get help often results in them pushing back which can tarnish the relationship even further.

How can therapy benefit the loved ones of an individual who has an addiction?

  • Are you constantly worrying about your loved one because of their addiction?
  • Is worrying about your loved one taking over your life and negatively affecting your peace of mind?
  • Therapy may be able to help you deal with your loved one’s addiction.

It is natural to worry about our loved ones who are struggling with an addiction and all family/friends want one thing: for the individual to stop engaging in the problematic substance / addictive behaviour. However, as you just learned, you cannot force someone who is struggling with an addiction to change their behaviour unless they are ready, willing and able to take such a major step.

So what can you do? You can get support for yourself and focus on your healing. We know what you are thinking: “I’m not the one with an addiction – I don’t need help. He/she is the one who needs therapy.”

If you are a family member who is worried about your loved one’s addiction, therapy can help you:

  1. Develop healthy boundaries to maintain your relationship with your loved one
  2. Identify ways to manage your fears about your loved one’s lifestyle
  3. Understand ways in which you can change your own thinking, behaviours and emotions related to the impact your loved one’s addiction is having on your life
  4. Learn new ways in which you can support your loved one without pushing them to seek treatment (especially if they are refusing)

Anxiety

All individuals experience a certain level of anxiety, but these feelings are usually temporary, situation dependent and not harmful. Some anxiety is actually helpful to us and does not cause problems (eg: feeling butterflies before meeting our significant other or feeling nervous about a presentation or exam). However, if anxiety is impacting your daily life, you may be experiencing an anxiety disorder.

The main categories of anxiety disorders include:

  • specific phobia
  • panic disorder
  • agoraphobia
  • generalized anxiety disorder
  • social anxiety disorder
  • selective mutism
  • separation anxiety disorder

Regardless of the specific type of anxiety disorder you may be struggling with, people with anxiety disorders may feel:

  • Anxious most of the time or experience brief but intense periods of anxiety which may occur suddenly and without cause
  • They may have anxious feelings that are so uncomfortable that they avoid their daily routine and activities that might cause these feelings
  • Some people have occasional anxiety attacks so intense that they are terrified or immobilised

Regardless of the specific type of anxiety disorder you may be struggling with, anxiety can impact your physical, cognitive, emotional and mental wellbeing as well as your behavior.

How Can Therapy Help me with My Anxiety Disorder?

Working with a therapist can help you:

  • Identify the cause and/or trigger for anxiety
  • Identify irrational thoughts, emotions and behaviours for anxiety
  • Learn strategies to prevent or reduce symptoms of anxiety before they begin
  • Learn tools on how to effectively cope during periods of high anxiety
  • Accept certain thoughts, emotions and behaviours without judgement while remaining focused on the present

Some people may experience such debilitating symptoms of anxiety that they need to take medication in order to improve their daily functioning. Therapy and medication are complementary treatment options that are often used together to optimise successful outcomes. Unfortunately, we live in a world where we want fast results and due to the lack of awareness about the benefits of therapy, we may not consider therapy to be a treatment option for anxiety disorders and opt for medication as the primary solution. Only taking medication for anxiety is a band aid solution because we are only treating the symptoms of anxiety rather than the root cause. Working with a therapist can help you heal from anxiety by helping you understand the causes and triggers while learning tools and strategies to reduce symptoms and improve your overall functioning .

Depression

Depression is a medical problem and not something a person can just ‘snap’ out of. Depression can negatively impact the way you feel, think, and act. When someone is struggling with depression they experience intense sadness and are disinterested in activities that they may have previously enjoyed. When an individual is struggling with depression they can struggle with both emotional and physical symptoms. These symptoms, which can range from mild to severe, can have an impact on your ability to function at home, school or work. In order to be diagnosed with depression you need to experience symptoms for at least two weeks (American Psychiatric Association, 2022).

You can learn more about depression at CAMH & American Psychiatric Association.

How can therapy help?

If you are struggling with depression you may be prescribed medications, but medications alone cannot help you understand your illness or change your negative thought patterns to cure you. Therapy is essential to treat your depression as it can help you by better understanding the illness as well as finding ways of coping with your symptoms. Understanding your illness can support your mental health recovery and stability in the long run. It’s also important to note that symptoms of depression can vary for individuals, which means that the strategies you apply for coping should be unique to your needs. Working with a therapist allows for an individual approach suitable to your personal needs.

A gold standard therapy used to treat depression is known as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. This form of therapy works by recognizing negative thinking with a focus on changing your thoughts, emotions and behaviours.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has shown benefits to:

  • Improve your coping with stressors
  • Support changes in your thinking patterns. Someone with depression may have more negative thoughts, which can influence your actions and behaviours
  • Support you in managing thoughts about self-harm and suicide
  • Improve your activity level. For example: we can’t just tell someone to go to the gym and they will feel better. We need to support a person struggling with depression to break down the task of physical activity so they are successful in being active

Another form of therapy provided to clients struggling with depression is behaviour activation. In this form of therapy you would work with a professional to introduce activities into your life to improve your symptoms. Although this may sound simple it can be quite difficult if you are really struggling with symptoms of depression and can no longer follow a routine.

You may be thinking… “I don’t want to go to the therapist and talk about the hard stuff” or “What will people think if they find out I’m going to a therapist?” But consider, why should you have to struggle with a problem that has a solution and why should you have to struggle alone? A lot of people experience depression and there is no shame in asking for the right help.

Family & Relationships

Being part of the South Asian culture and learning how to manage relationships can have its own unique challenges. Many times we are not taught the skills for setting healthy boundaries, managing societal expectations ,navigating dating/marital relationships, and can be in situations where we may be exposed to domestic concerns. Any of these relationship concerns can take a toll on our mental health where you don’t feel like yourself anymore, are starting to isolate, have trouble managing your emotions, and are in continuous distress. Any one of these circumstances calls for working with a professional.

How can therapy benefit you or a loved one?

Working with a trusted therapist allows you to have a safe space to express your relationship concerns and learn healthy ways of dealing with conflict and improving relationships in your life. Working with a therapist allows you to discover gaps in your relationships, how you may be contributing or enabling negative circumstances, skills for strengthening your relationship, and how to navigate stressful and unsafe situations.

You can break the cycle of negative relationships especially if that is what has surrounded your upbringing and you don’t have to let things be as they always have been.

Grief

The way we react to loss is called grief. Grief can affect our emotions, thoughts, behaviour, and even how we feel physically. The way one person experiences grief might be very different from how someone else does. Learn more at CAMH.

How can the loss of a loved one impact your mental health?

Losing a loved one can be very devastating and impact various aspects of your life. Oftentimes in the South Asian community, we are not taught how to manage difficult emotions and sadly, we do not openly share our grief with others causing many of us to struggle in silence.

How can therapy benefit you or a loved one?

If you feel that you are struggling with grief for an extended period of time and it is having a debilitating impact on your life, grief therapy may be a helpful solution. Therapy can provide you with an opportunity to explore, understand and work through feelings of grief while learning new skills and strategies to improve your daily functioning.

The benefits of working with a therapist when grieving include and are not limited to:

  • Having your pain be validated
  • Learning how to express your grief
  • Recognizing unhealthy patterns of expressing grief
  • Learning that all individuals grieve differently and being open to your own ways of grieving
  • Recognize that you need to acknowledge your own loss rather than comparing your grief to the loss of others (for ex: you feel the pain is worse for your parent who lost a spouse than yourself losing a parent)

Tips on talking to a loved one about getting therapy

You may be reading this section because you want your loved one to get some support for their mental health challenge. You love your family member or friend and only want
the best for them so why can’t they see that and just agree to go see a therapist?

Therapy is a treatment option for various mental health challenges and life circumstances that requires consent and full participation from an individual. If a person is not ready, willing and able to accept therapy, they cannot be forced into treatment because it will not benefit them in any way.

 

Prior to suggesting therapy to your loved one, you may want to try some of the following:

  • Show support for them and their challenges by being present and trying to understand their perspective. You do not need to give advice or come up with a complete plan to solve all of their problems. Most of the time, people just want to be heard and know that they are loved despite the difficulties they are experiencing.
  • Prepare for resistance when sharing your concerns. As mentioned, you can’t force therapy but you can express your concerns to your loved one in an empathetic way by using non-stigmatizing and judgement-free language, naming their admirable qualities, identifying problem areas, why they need external support and how it can benefit them.
  • Be sensitive to timing and place. You need to be mindful of when and where you will initiate the conversation with your loved one about their concerning behaviour. You may not want to have a conversation about your loved one’s challenges in front of others and you may want to avoid group interventions because your loved one may feel targeted, embarrassed or hurt. It is important to be mindful about when to have a conversation about your concerns because it sets the tone for how your loved one may perceive the conversation. Don’t have a discussion when you or your loved one are angry or distracted.
  • Offer to help your loved one by supporting them in the process of seeking therapy. It can be very difficult to make the decision to start therapy and it can be very hard navigating the system. You can support your loved one by completing the Soch Connect matching process with them, helping them call a therapist and following up with them after their first session.