I’m Not Crazy! Overcoming the Stigma Around Therapy

Therapist Help

“In Hollywood if you don’t have a shrink, people think you’re crazy.” ~ Johnny Carson

Therapist Help

Imagine the following scenario: You go running and roll your ankle. You hear a pop and are in great pain. It turns black and blue and swells quickly. You are concerned it is broken or seriously torn, but you fear going to the doctor for help. What will your neighbors say? Will they gossip about how weak you are for not just “getting through it” or figuring it out on your own? You decide to avoid the doctor, take some Tylenol, hobble around like nothing is wrong, and hope it will just go away on its own.

This example might seem foolish to you…why would you not go to the doctor?! It may seem downright silly to not get help when help is needed!  Likewise, when a person encounters trauma, addiction, abuse, or mental illness, it is of legitimate concern and often necessitates professional help like therapy. In the exact same way a broken or sprained ankle often requires the attention of a doctor, many mental health issues require professional help. And there is nothing wrong with that! 

Recently I had a client look me in the face and say, “I don’t belong here.” She felt she should not be in my office sitting on my couch getting help from a licensed therapist because she was not crazy. She had a fulfilling career, many dear friends, and owned lots of expensive things. She did not believe she fit the image, she had in her head, of someone who needed therapy. In short, she thought therapy was for people that outwardly looked like they did not have their life together and she was not one of them. It hurts my heart to hear the shame she, and other clients have felt for being brave and seeking help. 

When studying roadblocks to receiving therapy, Patrick Corrigan and Andrea Bink (2016) had participants report fear of being stigmatized was the leading factor for avoiding treatment. Participants feared they would be treated differently by their friends and coworkers, that they would encounter rejection or discrimination as a result of seeking out mental health treatment.  Most participants would hide their psychiatric status from coworkers, friends, and even family to avoid being the victim of stigma. Thankfully, in recent years–due in large part to social media attention around the stigma around mental health and therapy–it has become much more socially acceptable to receive mental health care. It is not uncommon to hear about celebrities and prominent figures seeing a therapist; many of them highly recommend it for every- and anyone! I applaud these men and women for using their influence to break the mold and speak up on the many benefits of therapy!

The latest statistics show that the amount of people seeking and receiving mental health support is increasing! In 2018, 47.6 million U.S. adults experienced mental illness…that is 1 in 5 adults! Thankfully, 43.3% of U.S. adults with mental illness received treatment in 2018 and 64.1% of U.S. adults with a serious mental illness received treatment in the same year. 50.6% of U.S. youth aged 6-17 with a mental health disorder received treatment in 2016. Millions of Americans experience mental health challenges each year and millions are receiving help by medical and mental health professionals!

Going to therapy does not mean you are crazy. It means you are smart. Would you sit at home, alone, and let your broken ankle “do its thing” without getting help? No. You would make the proper appointments and follow the advice of the professionals so you could soon be running again. My hope, my plea, my job is to help my clients find lasting healing.  The average delay between onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years. Eleven years people will struggle with an emotional “broken ankle” before getting help. Ouch! You do not need to suffer any longer. Make the call–get in to see a therapist today.

I felt sad for the client of mine, and any others who share her sentiments. Just because you receive mental health attention does not mean you are crazy. Just the other day a client, who begrudgingly started therapy at the insistence of their spouse, recently told their new employer that they thought everyone should go to therapy, after they experienced the personal benefits of therapy. While I acknowledge you may believe that going to therapy means you are weak, crazy, limited, hopeless, etc–these stigmatic ideas could not be farther from the truth. I know my clients: THEY ARE BRAVE. They are good people who see their worth. My clients–and those who seek help in other ways–are my heroes and I will always and forever shout that from the rooftops! We need to do away with any and all stigmas that therapy is just for broken, crazy people. It could not be farther from the truth! 

If you have been letting your emotional broken ankle heal on its own because you have felt you do not “belong” in therapy, the time to act is now. Allow a licensed, qualified, experienced therapist, to help you. Emotional health, healing and happiness are possible. Contact me today!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville,Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.


Willpower: The Powerful Pre-Step in Addiction Recovery

Willpower - The Powerful Pre-Step in Addiction Recovery - Cluff Counseling, Denton Marriage & Family Therapy

Willpower - The Powerful Pre-Step in Addiction Recovery - Cluff Counseling, Denton Marriage & Family TherapyAccording to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in 2007, 20.8 million persons (8.4 percent of the population aged 12 or older) needed treatment for a substance problem, but did not receive it. As addicts try to stop their addictive behaviors, they may cut ties with their friends, avoid certain establishments, and purge themselves of their addictive substances or actions. But, more often than not, their actions do not last and the addict falls back into the cycle of addiction. Willpower needs to be coupled with additional resources in order to lead to lasting change.

Willpower is defined as control of one’s impulses and actions. In the context of addiction recovery, willpower is the choices and the efforts the addict makes to break addictive habits. Examples of exercising willpower to get on the road of addiction recovery could be avoiding certain people or places that encourage deviant behavior, discarding any substances or items that promote further addiction, and getting outside support for addiction recovery. Willpower is an essential step to get you started in the addiction recovery process, but it is not enough, on its own, for lasting change.

When my friend was little, she fell off the high beam at gymnastics and broke her arm. She was unable to go to class, let alone tumble or do anything active for several months. As much as she wanted to be well and healed, she could not make that happen on her own. She had to rely on doctors to prescribe proper methods for healing, a cast to set the boundaries, and time to allow her bones to transition back into place. Her willpower was not enough to heal her.

This example may seem quite obvious and somewhat silly in the context of a broken arm, but the same principle applies in the context of addiction recovery–outside help is needed. There will be times when more is needed than just our willpower. Sometimes, healing and recovery is out of our control and we need help. Sometimes we need to rely on qualified doctors or therapists to help us find balance and proper health. Sometimes we need a cast–or set rules/boundaries–to keep us out of harm’s way. Sometimes we need to rely on a support system of family and friends so we are not alone in recovery and can fall back on and be accountable to them. When these tools are used in unison with your willpower, lasting addiction recovery can occur.

All recovery programs that I know of call on the addict to recognize his/her powerlessness and to ask for help. Ironically enough, by surrendering his/her will and recognizing that he/she does not have all the answers, addicts find the will to recover. Asking for help is key. Let me highlight two resources that can bolster your willpower:

  1. Family and close friends. They love you and want what is best for you. Not only that, but your family and closest friends are the people who see you most, who are in regular contact with you, and can help you during moments of weakness. They can provide accountability and are readily available to help during those especially tough days.
  2. A licensed, qualified therapist. When my friend broke her arm, she received help from a professional who was experienced, knowledgeable, and had tools to properly diagnose her injury and give her a personalized plan for recovery. A therapist is your emotional doctor; I have spent years working with those struggling with addiction. I can help you.

By letting family and close friends, and a therapist help you in your journey, you will find strength in numbers, which will aid you greatly as you continue to seek recovery.

Many of my clients battle with some form of addiction. Whether they are addicted to drugs, food, substances, pornography, sex, or something else, I greatly admire them for seeking help. Their desire to change is the essential pre-step to addiction recovery. The desire to improve, to make lasting changes, and to leave behind destructive habits and behaviors must come from the addict him/herself in order for it to be lasting. Your willpower will carry you through those moments of weakness, push you attend counseling sessions, and keep you away from people or places that could threaten your progress. Willpower is just that–POWER. Make that step today and channel your willpower to help you overcome addiction.

Now is the time to channel your willpower and use the resources around you–namely your support system of family and close friends, as well as the help of an experienced counselor. Contact me today or set up your first session to get yourself onto the path of addiction recovery that will help you make lasting changes.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.


Are You Addicted to Your Phone?

Cell Phone Addiction - Cluff Counseling, Addiction Therapy

Cell Phone Addiction - Cluff Counseling, Addiction TherapyWhen the topic of addiction arises, we often think of drugs, sex, alcohol or gambling.  What we neglect to see, however, is our own dependence on everyday things. Anderson Cooper did an incredibly interesting segment on 60 Minutes where he discussed how major companies are not creating programs for people, but instead programming people. Watching this made me think about how much time I spend on my phone. I realized that we are programm-able; the developers of major software companies in Silicon Valley have literally conditioned us to constantly use our phones…it is like an addiction for some of us! Using our phones gives us satisfaction, but repeatedly using our phones makes us need them more. Although this may seem less serious than other addictions, it shares many commonalities with more severe addictions, and deserves some attention and self-reflection.

Defined simply, addiction is the consistent repeated use of a substance or an activity, despite the harm it has on self or others. Addiction is often accompanied by cravings–a recurring need to be filled–withdrawals, and an increased need of the substance, thing, or activity. Have you ever thought about your smartphone usage in this light? Former Google product manager, Tristan Harris, compares our smartphones to slot machines; every time we pick it up, we are wondering, what did I get? And I can relate to this! I will admit that I feel different when I have a well-liked photo versus one with less likes. Getting likes, messages, texts, or comments on posts is powerful reinforcement to stay on our phones. for example, I recently learned Snapchat has a feature called a “streak” that builds as you consistently send messages; if you are unable to consistently send snaps, your “streak” goes down. If you have ever felt panicked by a lack of access to your phone, you may want to reflect on whether or not you are addicted to your smartphone. Although they are incredibly useful, and can be used for beneficial purposes, smartphones can be addictive if we can develop an unhealthy reliance on them.

This addiction is literally caused by a chemicals in our bodies. When we hear our phone going off, we become anxious. A hormone called cortisol is produced (best known for its involvement in the ‘fight-or-flight’ response), and the only antidote is to check the phone. Once we do so, the molecule dopamine is released–which aids in the creation of desire and pleasure. This cycle will repeat itself over and over again. To demonstrate this in the 60 Minutes segment, a researcher applies electrodes to Cooper to track his heart rate and perspiration while he was distracted by the computer. Unbeknownst to Cooper, another researcher was sending text messages to his phone–which was just out of his reach. Every time his phone went off with a bing!, the line measuring Anderson’s anxiety peaked on the tracking device. This informal experiment mimicked what other formal experiments have shown: there is an identifiable chemical change that takes place in our brain which fuels our need to check our phones. Fact: the typical person checks their phone every 15 minutes or less, and 50% of the time there is no alert or notification triggering our need to do so! Our need to check our phones is impulsive–it is coming from the brain–and the only instantaneous cure is more phone. Recognizing our dependence on our phones and then setting parameters for our smartphone intake is a more long-lasting solution.

Although some may say this “addiction” is not problematic, from my point of view it IS for the following two reasons: 1) even being hooked to a smartphone for innocent reasons can easily lead to being hooked to a smartphone for very serious reasons (read: pornography, gambling, chatrooms, online shopping addiction); and 2) the more time we are staring at our screens means less time we are interacting with and having meaningful relationships with those around us (read: a spouse, children, family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, etc.) and ourselves!

Of course there are many positive ways to use our smartphones. I am not suggesting we all revert back to the flip-phone or abandon our cell phones altogether. What I am simply suggesting is that we recognize when we are potentially feeding an addiction by being glued to our phones; admit that you are not being present in an important conversation or relationship because the cyber-world has you hooked. Set limits and boundaries about when you will be on your phone, for how long, and what you will do with that time. I encourage you to delete certain addictive or time-consuming apps off your phone. You know what works for you. Set healthy limits and stick to them.

Let us put the phones down and tune into the important people and things in our lives. If you need assistance formulating a plan to break up with your phone, as always, my door is wide open. Contact me today to set up your first session.

Additional resources:

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Addiction 101: Analogy of the Driver’s Seat

Addiction Therapy | Cluff Counseling, Dallas Fort WorthWhat do you think of when you hear the word “addict”? Often when I ask this question, I hear responses like weak, lazy, broken, drunk, homeless, selfish, loser.   In my years of treating clients with varying addictions, I have realized that those struggling with addiction are largely misunderstood. I have learned words like resourceful, shame-based, creative, hard-working, tender-hearted, fearful, and powerless are more appropriate adjectives. Through my blog posts, I hope to remedy some of the misunderstandings around addicts and addiction. If you have questions about addiction or about a loved one dealing with addiction, contact me–I would love to help you find some answers.

Addicts are good, ordinary people, like you and me, who have relied on certain behaviors to escape dealing with painful situations or relationships. Truth: we all have appetites that need to be fed–ranging from the food we eat, the entertainment we view, to the sexual needs we have. There is nothing inherently wrong with engaging in a pleasurable activity! Watching Netflix, drinking alcohol, perusing social media accounts, working out, planning your food intake, having sex, shopping, or playing video games in moderation can be used as healthy outlets. But when any of these activities go from something enjoyable we choose, to something we need to escape reality…addiction can occur. In this post, I will focus on the basics of addiction–beginning with defining addiction.

Addiction defined
Simply stated, addiction is defined as having a dependence on, obsession with or being enslaved to something. According to The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), addiction is commonly characterized by impairment in behavioral control, the presence of cravings, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Although substance addiction is the most widely known form of addiction, behavioral addiction is another type of addiction that is formed through repetitive processes and habits. The International Journal of Preventive Medicine explains the difference between these two types of addiction:

“Contrary to the commonly held belief that holds addiction to be a particular kind of dependence on drugs and chemical substances such alcohol, nicotine and heroin, behavior science experts believe that any source which is capable of stimulating an individual, could become addictive. The change of behaviors such as gambling, drug abuse, computer gaming or chatting and internet browsing from habits into obligatory behavior, can be considered as the development of addiction.”

Imagine you are driving your parents car with your high school friends. One of your inexperienced, underaged, uninsured friends, begs you to let him take the wheel. You know there could be some serious negative consequences, but you don’t want to be a “party pooper”, so you give him the keys. After a little while of touch and go/figuring out the pedals, he goes nuts! He starts cutting off other cars, speeding excessively, weaving dangerously through traffic… Addictive behaviors are like the friend who took over the driver’s seat; not only can they start innocently, but they can quickly escalate and take full control of your life. Although the behavior was invited (by your initial consumption of the behavior), it is quickly unwelcome because you lose complete control of where, how fast, and how far you will go. Unless you take back control of the driver’s seat (through therapy, support groups, healthy coping skills), your addiction can negatively impact every aspect of your life.  Imagine if your friend crashed the car–your financial life would take a downward dip. If one of your other friends in the car got hurt, your social and relational life would suffer.  If you were penalized by the law, your future occupational goals could be severely hindered by having a record. If you got seriously injured in the accident, your physical, mental, and emotional life would forever be changed!

Where to go for help to overcome addiction
Addiction does not have to be a dead end–as portrayed in this analogy. It is possible to take back the drivers seat and avoid a host of negative consequences that can accompany addiction. Please refer to the resources at the end of this post, as well as the “Resources” section of my website.  While those resources can be incredibly informative and helpful, meeting with a highly trained and skilled addiction therapist can be invaluable to your recovery or to your healing process. If you are exhausted from struggling with an addiction, or with a loved one’s addiction, schedule your first session with me today. It’s time to take back the driver’s seat.

And be sure to stay tuned for future blog posts on relationships, mental health, and self care. I’ll be posting each Saturday!

YouTube, “The Opposite of Addiction”
Addictions and Recovery, “What is Addiction?”
American Society of Addiction Medicine, “Definition of Addiction”
International Journal of Preventive Medicine, “Behavioral Addiction versus Substance Addiction: Correspondence of Psychiatric and Psychological Views”
Addiction Recovery Guide (12 Step Program)
Psychology Today, “Living a Healthy Life”