Top tips for better mental health from CMHA Toronto therapists

February 10, 2024
As we make our way through what has felt like a long winter, we asked some of CMHA Toronto’s clinical staff to offer practical advice to improve and sustain good mental health.

Trust yourself, trust the process

Debjani Kar, a psychologist and student trainee in the Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) program, advises people to trust in themselves. “You're the only one who can make your life better,” she says. The best advice she’s heard from her own therapist is to “trust the process, everything will start making sense.”

Stay curious, stay open, and face your emotions head on

Kerry Anne Parrett, a registered occupational therapist and case manager in CMHA Toronto’s Forensic Supportive Housing Program, reminds people to stay curious and stay open, even in the face of strong emotions. “Difficult emotions can be very overwhelming, and the urge to turn away from them can be strong. We can run from our emotions in a variety of ways, perhaps through food, substances, or work, but they will be there waiting for us. When we face our emotions, our inner pain, there is a chance to understand them and integrate them into our being. Be curious! Ask, what is going on here? What thoughts are coming up? What urges do I feel? Be open to observing these emotions and your responses to them. In that intentional, open curiosity, that purposeful awareness, we can find ways to better cope with difficult emotions.”

Kerry Anne says that her own therapist’s best advice was to stick with it. “He challenged me to bring more awareness to these scary emotions and thoughts, rather than less. He encouraged me to be with them. In doing that, they became a lot less scary. He also taught me that it's possible to live with unwanted thoughts and emotions and that I can experience happiness and joy alongside them.”

Do one thing you enjoy every day and focus on SMART goals

Rayhan Z. Hossain, a registered psychotherapist (RP) who practises cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and DBT in the Mental Health and Justice Addictions Program, advises people to “find and practice at least one thing each day for enjoyment and self-care.”

As for the best advice he’s received, he suggests that “mindfulness and focusing on SMART goals,” an acronym that stands for Specific; Measurable; Achievable; Realistic; and Time-bound, has been a useful guiding practice in his own life.

Value your time and meet self-judgement with self-compassion

Heather McFarquhar, a registered social worker (RSW) and concurrent disorders specialist in the Mental Health and Justice Addictions Program, recommends that people “treat your time and energy like currency. Don’t invest it on people and activities that don’t help you improve or maintain your mental health. And be aware of the cost and benefit ratio.”

The most important piece of wisdom she’s heard from her own therapist is that “judgement of ourselves by others and by ourselves directly is a very destructive force. It can cause us to be stuck in a loop of reinforcing ineffective behaviour.”

Keep a daily journal, nurture connections with others

Oksana Tchitchkevitch, RP, a DBT therapist, says that she finds it helpful to keep a personal journal on a daily basis. “Writing helps me to make better sense of what is happening in my life at the moment and how I feel about it.” She quotes 17th century Dutch philosopher Spinoza, who says, “Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it."

Oksana says that her own therapist’s guidance to “connect with others with similar interests and inspirations as a way to feel more grounded and motivated” has left a lasting impression on her.

Accept yourself and the challenges you’re facing; have courage to change what you can

April Trewhitt, RP, manager of CMHA Toronto’s Addictions Services Program, keeps focused on the therapeutic value of acceptance and change. She says it’s vital to “accept yourself and the challenges that are presenting themselves now and work to make small changes that help in the short term to get to your long-term goals.”

As for advice she’s received that has stayed with her to this day she cites the serenity prayer: “Accept the things you can’t change, have the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

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