Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Sustaining Friendships Through Seasons of Change

Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter:
    whoever finds one has found a treasure.

Faithful friends are beyond price;

    no amount can balance their worth.

Faithful friends are life-saving medicine;

    and those who fear the Lord will find them.

Those who fear the Lord direct their friendship aright,

    for as they are, so are their neighbors also.
Sirach 6:14-17

A couple of years ago a friend told me that she wasn't sure that we could be friends any more because we were in very different life stages. In fact she put it more bluntly than that: "if I met you now I am not sure we would be friends". Ouch. She was single and dating around, and I was married and in talks with my husband about trying for our first child. I was hurt and confused. I wasn't the type of person who cared about those type of things, even though I've always been aware of them. After all I met my husband when I was eighteen. We had been dating ever since, married young, and have been together for more than a decade. In all that time I still valued female friendships, still sought them out. I cannot seek all of my needs and support through my spouse. I don't expect him to do so either.

Maybe this is because I have been on the other end of things as well. I have felt friends slip away when Mr. Right comes along. I've noticed friends call or check in less and less after cross-country moves and job changes under the excuse of busyness. I know I have used that as an excuse as well - whether true or not! Which leads me to this question: how can we sustain friendships during life changes? 

There is an old adage that says, "people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime". I think we have all heard it and can admit that it's true. There will be people who come and go in our lives regardless, and that is okay. However, I still believe it is important to put work into friendships because they matter. Just as I put work into my marriage I also make time for those in my life who are important to me.

The most important thing we can do is communicate. I have struggled with this over the years, but have been putting forth more of an effort. While you do not need to talk with your friend every day or even every week it is still worthwhile to make time for one another. Set up a monthly Skype chat, meet up for brunch, or send a random text. It can be easy to fall into simply following one another on social media and interacting there, but it is not the same as a genuine conversation.

Communicate when you are busy, and understand if your friend truly is. When a big life change such as a move, marriage, or child enter the picture it does take time for adjustment. You or your friend are navigating new territory and it is not reasonable to continue on like before. Take some time to enjoy this new phase of life, or allow your friend to do the same. Celebrate that season with them! Send a card, offer to visit their new city, set up a meal train for a new mom, or even send a care package. All are small gestures that mean a lot.

Communicate when you are hurt. I am going to call myself out here. I held in a lot of hurt with a friend once during a season of change, and it led to me spilling all of it out at once on them. It wasn't pretty nor was it healthy. Guess what? They didn't take it well. If something is bothering you then let your friend know. Use "I" statements to prevent sounding accusatory. "I was hurt that I didn't hear from you after my grandmother passed away," for example. If they are a "friend for a lifetime" they will hopefully be able to come to a resolution with you. If both of you are unable to do so, maybe you were only friends for a season. You enjoyed that season, but have moved on. That friendship was beautiful, wish them luck, and enjoy the new season you are in.

Lastly, appreciate the ebb of flow of friendship. There are times when you may feel close to a friend and other times you may feel separated or distant. Relationships are ever changing and so it is only fair we extend grace and love to those friends during that change. Make time for those you love, but understand that relationships are a two-way street. If a friend is not serving you or putting in the work, then focus your energy elsewhere. After all a new friendship may form during that time. If you feel that someone has been placed on your heart and you haven't spoken to them in a while, reach out. Doing so may rekindle something.

Change tries friendships, but it does not have to be the end of them. When the tide is changing and it can all seem overwhelming, I am so happy I have women in my life I can depend on to be a sturdy shelter.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

I Can't Afford Therapy, Now What?

One reason many people do not seek mental health counseling is they feel that it is outside of their budget. After all, sessions may be $100/hr if not more. So what are you to do? Here are a few options for non-emergency cases. If you are having thoughts about harming yourself or others please seek assistance immediately. Referrals can be made to affordable options.

Call your insurance. Something I would tell clients to do is to call their insurance for a list of in-network providers. Oftentimes insurance will either cover sessions completely, or offer a discounted rate (co-pay). You may need to read the fine print. See what providers are covered by your insurance if therapy is not specifically mentioned, such as a social worker or other provider. 

Schedule with a community behavioral health center. I worked with community behavioral health centers as a clinical social worker, and we had many low cost options for clients. Often Medicaid covered services, and we offered sliding fee scales for those in need of a discounted rate. Many cities have such centers and can be found online easily. If they are not accepting clients at this time ask for a referral to another agency. We had many agencies we worked with in the field and could make recommendations for people with specific needs. 

Attend support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or other groups in your community. These moderated support groups will help you connect with others who are going through something similar. Learn more about groups in your area by visiting NAMI or the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance as well as the links above. 

Meet with a spiritual adviser. While not a replacement for therapy, talking with a preacher, pastor, or priest may bring some comfort. Moreover many congregations have partnerships with community behavioral health centers and can make referrals. I worked with Catholic Charities, and we had a wonderful relationship with congregations throughout our diocese. 

Talk with your school counselor. Clinical work is certainly not their focus, but I have known school counselors to make referrals and help parents find treatment for their children. If you have a great relationship with your school counselor start there. 

Take a look at your budget. Consider your budget and see if you can move some things around, or if you can save elsewhere. Mental health affects all aspects of life and if you feel you need to see someone or continue already helpful services, then it may be beneficial to re-evaluate expenses. 

I personally caution against self-help books and websites only because information can be taken out of context or may not be written by a trained mental health professional. If you enjoy reading them and they seem to benefit you, great, but they are not the same as tailored treatment by a social worker, counselor, LMFT, or doctor. If you are unable to continue meeting with a professional ask them for any recommendations they may have for podcasts, websites, or literature about what you would like to work on.