By Mike McMahan, LPC
Kudos to Selena Gomez for being so open about facing her mental health struggles. Every person who takes this step knocks one more brick out of the stigmatizing wall that surrounds mental and behavioral health. In this article from Vogue, she recalls feeling "depressed" and "anxious" as well as experiencing "panic attacks."
There’s quite a bit to explore in her remarks from the Vogue piece. She discusses the struggles she had with touring, something that many of us can probably understand and NOT understand simultaneously. On one hand, so many people dream of being a rich and successful performer. On the other, no matter our life situation, face challenges and problems. From reading years of rock star memoirs and biographies, it seems these problems may be magnified when the pressures of fame are rolled into the mix with their mix of temptations. Clients frequently struggle with this dilemma: “I have a problem, but it’s not as bad as children that are starving.” This may or may not be true, but we can only deal with the things in our own life and from our own perspective.
Gomez talks about efforts to slow her life down and create boundaries between herself and the world of fame, as well as seeing a therapist five days a week. “DBT has completely changed my life. I wish more people would talk about therapy. We girls, we’re taught to be almost too resilient, to be strong and sexy and cool and laid-back, the girl who’s down. We also need to feel allowed to fall apart.”
DBT is an acronym for Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. I spoke with therapist Karen Nowacek, LPC, who works with clients at San Antonio’s Eating Recovery Center and is a DBT practitioner and advocate to get her thoughts on Selena Gomez’s words, though she has obviously not worked with Gomez personally.
“It sounds like Selena Gomez is living into one of the basic assumptions of DBT—the assumption that everyone is doing the best they can and in the next moment can make changes to do better,” Nowacek said. “When you start from that premise, it really helps to us to build empathy for those that have invalidated and hurt us in the past.”
Many psychotherapists use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. If you’ve been to therapy, odds are good that this is the approach your therapist used (though it’s not the one I use personally, which I’ve talked about previously).
“DBT is an emotion regulation therapy,” Nowacek explained. “It offers real life skills (such as minding the consequences and checking the facts) to help regulate our strong emotions that can make life difficult to handle. Most of the maladaptive coping we do is just our struggling to feel better.”
“DBT is a mindfulness based therapy—teaching us a practice which helps to focus on present moment awareness while noticing our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations,” she added. “It is in the non-judgmental noticing that we can let go of those thoughts, emotions and feelings that are so difficult. This therapy has been truly life changing for many.”
Unfortunately, this approach is not as widely practiced, so it can be challenging to find a clinician with this orientation. However, they are out there and websites like Psychology Today make it easier than ever to find a therapist and discover their approach before calling.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms that Selena Gomez discussed, please talk a mental health professional in your area.
Mike McMahan, LPC, is a psychotherapist based in San Antonio, Tx.
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Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture