Welcome to Ask Doctor Zac, a weekly column from news.com.au. This week, Dr Zac Turner explains why meditation and psychotherapy are as important to our health as GPs.
QUESTION: Hi Dr Zac, I need help finding my feet. I want to start working on my mental health, but how do I start? My friend has told me about their wellness group class that I should attend, but I feel that might not work for me. – Anneliese, 34, Sydney
ANSWER: Great question Anneliese, and one that is very brave to ask.
We often brush mental health issues under the rug, but you’ll find soon enough it’s hard to sit on the rug when it’s lumpy, or even has a huge mountain in the middle of it.
One of the biggest hopes I have for this column is to remove the social stigma attached to seeing a professional when it comes to your mental health.
I often say that we shouldn’t wait until we’re overweight before we change our diet or go to the gym – and the same goes for our brain.
Everyone can benefit from speaking to a psychotherapist at some point in their life, so read on and I’ll explain why.
Although the wellness group could be working for your friend and the others who attend, I wouldn’t recommend that going forward.
While I do think the wellness groups are good as a starting point – easier to stick to when done with a buddy (much like the gym) – generally, I would see those as more of an extra-curricular activity.
To continue that analogy, the core subjects you need to pass are psychotherapy and meditation.
I will give you a step-by-step approach to seeking professional help, but first let’s dive into psychotherapy and meditation.
The human mind is spectacular, but like most things in our body, when it is not exercised often enough, it will lose its strength, flexibility, durability and – potentially – cause injuries you’re not even aware of.
Think of a therapist as a personal trainer for your brain. They will sit down with you, one-on-one, to understand your needs and then give you the tools so you can excel in life.
With their assistance, you will gain a better understanding of why you behave the way you do.
Psychotherapy is the medical term for talk therapy, or therapy. It helps people experiencing a wide array of mental health conditions and emotional challenges.
Therapy can help alleviate your symptoms, but also identify the psychological root cause of what you’re feeling.
It can provide you with the correct tools to fix your own problems.
There are several different types of psychotherapy and some types may work better for certain clinical situations.
Psychotherapy may be used in combination with medication or other therapies.
Around 75 per cent of people who enter psychotherapy come out of it with benefits to show, and are able to function better in their lives.
These benefits include fewer sick days, fewer medical problems, improved relationships and increased work satisfaction.
Through using brain imaging techniques, researchers have been able to see changes in the brain after a person has undergone therapy.
In most cases the brain changes resulting from psychotherapy were similar to changes resulting from medication.
My bet is if the world’s most successful people were in a room, at least 80 per cent would raise their hand to meditation being the key to their success.
Meditation is a beloved practice by the health and wellness community. Others may say it’s just hippies and greenies, but the use of meditation is more widespread in society than you’d think – and it definitely doesn’t need to be as arduous as it is often perceived to be.
Meditation puts the body into a relaxation response, which is the opposite bodily reaction to the one that causes cortisol production.
There’s an entire library of studies which show the body’s response to everyday meditation, such as reduced stress-related inflammation, decreased levels of stress, decreased depression, alleviating anxiety and panic attacks and the promotion of workplace productivity.
Meditation rewires your brain, building new roads and destroying others.
It decreases the neurological connections to the media prefrontal cortex – which is the part of the brain responsible for fear, stress and anxiety.
Alongside this, it builds new pathways to the parts of your brain responsible for focus and decision making.
You are essentially training your brain to regulate emotions, become resilient to unpleasant thoughts and emotions and to react calmly when faced with stress and challenges.
For both meditation and therapy you should be completely open and honest with yourself.
Be prepared for some struggles and make sure you stick to it. You will need to attend at least five therapy sessions before seeing results.
Doctor Zac’s quick guide to finding yourself a mental health professional
• Determine your needs – what is it you are looking for? Do you require any language diverse services or cultural competence?
• Obtain a referral from your GP for a psychologist or other specialist – you may need a referral from a GP, psychiatrist, or other healthcare professional. Check if your circumstances require a referral to access Medicare rebates or other funding options. This could result in significant savings.
• Research professional directories – there are several online directories that can help you find psychologists and psychotherapists in your area. You can use the Australian Psychological Society (APS), Find a Psychologist directory, Healthdirect, or Psychology Board of Australia (PBA) Register of Practitioners.
• internet stalk your finds and check their qualifications or specialities. Look for psychologists and psychotherapists who have expertise in addressing your specific concerns.
• Read reviews and gather information – look for online reviews or testimonials from previous clients, if available.
• Contact potential psychologists – make initial contact with the psychologists you are interested in. You can call their office or send an email to inquire about their availability, fees, consultation process, and any other questions you may have.
• Schedule an initial consultation.
Good luck Anneliese.
Got a question? Emailaskdrzac@conciergedoctors.com.au
Dr Zac Turner has a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Sydney. He is both a medical practitioner and a co-owner of telehealth service, Concierge Doctors. He was also a registered nurse and is a qualified and experienced biomedical scientist along with being a PhD Candidate in Biomedical Engineering.