Friday, February 23, 2018

Don’t suffer in silence

Psychologists ‘there to help’ when life gets stressful


LEARN TO DE-STRESS: Clinical psychologist Jodi Gonsalves.

Mark Fraser

Take a drink for that—that’s the cure-all for most Trinbagonians for everything from the flu to a tabanca.

 It’s that laid-back attitude that makes such a hard sell the necessity of seeing a psychologist; especially when life gets overwhelming.

In fact, it has been the experience of clinical psychologist Jodi Gonsalves that once one starts seeing a mental health doctor, people label them as crazy. It is for that reason a lot of people who are struggling with life and difficult circumstances suffer alone—some eventually going into deep depression that sometimes leads to suicide and even murder.

“That’s why we are seeing the kind of crime we are seeing in this country,” Gonsalves declared.

“I returned from the US this year (after volunteering at different institutes) and I want to be able to play a part in reducing the national crisis of crime and violence in T&T.”

“I want people to know that life is not easy, but there is help if you feel you can’t cope,” said the 30-something-year-old Gonsalves, who looks at least ten years younger.

Gonsalves, who has two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Psychology from Florida University and a Master of Science degree in Clinical Psychology from The University of the West Indies, with a concentration on children and adolescents, has been working in the field for the past five years.

While in the US, she worked out of the Mercy Centre in Colorado and at the Aspen Point Enterprises, also in Colorado.

“I was able to work with a different type of population that included war veterans, the homeless and people who were bipolar.”

Gonsalves trained with Dr Ricky Greenwald in Progressive Counting, where she was supervised by Lilly and Bennet Gaev, a husband-and-wife therapy team with their own facility called Therapeutic Associates. 

“Progressive Counting is very structured and research-based; it helps the client to ‘digest’ and heal from the traumatic memory and reorder it into the brain so that the person no longer feels upset by the experience.

“It works well and quickly and has no long-term effects.”   

Gonsalves also learned the Holy Listening technique, by Dr Leanne Hadley, in which spirtuality is introduced into therapy. 

“Children were found to have made great improvements when they had special time to ‘make a prayer’ to God (regardless of their religious beliefs) and receive a special ‘blessing’ before leaving the session.”

Now that she has her own practice, Gonsalves incorporates some of what she has learned.

She incorporates art therapy, too, particularly with children and adult clients who can’t properly express themselves.

Clients may be asked to draw a place that they find relaxing and comfortable. As they are working on their creation, Gonsalves talks to them to get to the root of their problem.

“There are some clients who say they can’t draw and so we do abstract. It’s not about the art but about engaging them. 

“Art therapy (including Play therapy and Sandplay techniques) uses creative processes to help people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behaviour, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and achieve insight.”

Clients aren’t always forthcoming at first, she admits.

“Of course, when people come in it is difficult for them to open up; but psychologists are not here to judge but to help the client achieve his or her goal.”

Gonsalves added that women are the ones who are likely to seek psychological help, but  she blamed culture and upbringing on the hesistance in men to speak to a professional.

“Men, from boyhood, are told to shut up and suck it up. So when they become an adult, how do you expect them to talk?”

The men who end up in her office do so because they are encouraged by their wives or girlfriends, Gonsalves said. And, in almost all situations, children are involved.

“They will come and then end up taking over the session with what they have to say; which is always good.” 

Only an individual will know when life becomes too much, Gonsalves said. No one can look at a person and determine that.

Feeling overwhelmed with life, the lost of interest in activities that you usually enjoy, the loss of appetite or bingeing are some of the ways depression is manifested in adults.

In children it might be body aches, regressive behaviour, being extremely clingy and irritability. 

Since her job involves the consumption of other people’s problems on a daily basis, Gonsalves also has to find a way to de-stress and not let her work get to her at the end of the day.

Sometimes it may involve talking with her peers about her feelings in an informal setting. 

“Life is hard; even psychologists need to talk out their stuff, too.” 

She added that happiness is within reach but that it is up to an individual to carve it out.

“A simple thing like waking up early and having a cup of coffee as you sit in your favourite chair. Or attending a prayer meeting, getting a massage, exercising—self-care is also important.”

Gonsalves said she usually encourages her clients to stay in the present. 

“The present is a gift,” she said, pun well intended.

“The past is depression and the future is anxiety.”

And when you feel that you absolutely can’t cope, she said, get help.

“There are a lot of services out there—some free, some you have to pay for. But get the help. 

“There is light even though everything seems desperate and hopeless. There is always hope and many options to get out of that pit of darkness and despair. 

“There are many people who care and want to help you become whole and happy again. “

Jodi Gonsalves can be reached at