‘Is There Something Going On?’

Healing advice from a psychotherapist

JESSICA CRAIG'S south Charlotte office smells like flannel. Everything in here, from the air freshener to the plush couch and the blue-and-orange accents, is designed for comfort. Craig, 28, is a psychotherapist, with a master’s of education and health counseling and her own practice, Craig Counseling, PLLC. The desginations for mental health professionals can be confusing: A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who treats mental health or behavioral disorders, and a psychologist has a Ph.D. in psychology and is trained to provide psychological testing and clinical counseling. Craig doesn’t prescribe medication and does diagnostic evaluations at times. She specializes in counseling for adolescents, young adults, and families. Her hands-on approach involves finding the strengths in her clients and using those to better the situation at hand. Here, she shares with us some advice about seeking help with mental health and overcoming your fears, whatever they may be. — Leah Hughes

Charlotte magazine: What defines your approach to psychotherapy?
Jessica Craig:
I think my approach is different, because it’s very hands-on and in the moment. I give a lot of assignments, so it’s very action-oriented. My goal is for my clients not to be meeting with me for years and years and just doing talk therapy. From what I’ve seen—putting yourself in action, doing role-playing, getting up and doing sculpting—there are so many activities that seem to make a big difference. It’s almost like muscle memory; you leave here, and you remember what you did or how you moved.

CM: Do you specialize in a specific population?
Recently, I decided to put my focus toward adolescents, young adults—young adults maybe go up to 40 years old—and families. Those are just my favorite populations to work with. I feel that I’m most helpful with them. However, I have some clients who are in their 60s, and I have tons of elementary school kids.

CM: What drew you to that population?
I think that population probably likes me a little more or just feels more comfortable meeting with me, especially parents bringing their teens who don’t want to talk to them about things, but may feel comfortable talking to me. I think there’s a level of ‘relatability.’ But then again, I have older clients who come and meet with me and say that they knew that I was younger than them, but when they go to people who are their own age or older, they feel judged. It’s more comfortable for them to speak to someone who is younger. 

CM: If someone is concerned about a friend or relative, how should he or she approach it?
I would say just ask. Point out what it is that you see. I see you isolating yourself. I see you becoming extremely nervous or anxious in certain situations, or I see you crying every day. Is there something going on? Do you know that there are people you can talk to? There are things that you can do to help that. I think people will appreciate you for it, whether they’re brave enough to take the step to go to counseling or not, just that someone notices that they’re hurting.
Counseling can really be life-changing, and if someone has the opportunity, even if they’re not going through some major life struggle, but maybe even has smaller character flaws or something they want to explore or work on, I think it’s a great place.

CM: When someone is new to your practice, what can he or she expect on that first visit?
They’ll complete paperwork, the professional disclosure statement, get information about me. (There’s an) intake form with basic background information, the presenting problems, different things related to their everyday living. Do they exercise? Are they having issues with their appetite? Are they experiencing sadness? Usually, by the end of this intake form, I have a pretty good idea of what direction we’re going to go in. From there, we create goals. 

CM: Are there issues that you see most often, or do they vary?
In private practice, I get less-intense diagnoses. Psychotic disorder, schizophrenia, things of that nature—I don’t get tons (of those). But more so, depression, anxiety, relationship issues, family issues, co-parenting issues for couples who are divorced or separated. Some people come in with suicidal ideation, and so we talk about that. We talk about a safety plan. We discuss what happens if maybe they have the thought in the middle of the night, and what they should do, and who they should call.

If I could say top three: depression, anxiety, relationship issues. And tons of confidence issues, and they kind of fall into all of that. Confidence issues could lead to depression. Confidence issues could lead to anxiety. Confidence issues could lead to relationship issues. And poor boundaries—perhaps someone could be in a situation where they are mistreated by others, or they get stepped on often, or they never really learn how to stand up for themselves. When they start relationships with people, they kind of start them off on the wrong foot, because they’re not putting certain boundaries in place or being assertive when the time comes to be assertive. Being passive causes them to set up a certain pattern with other people that’s detrimental, and I see that every day.

CM: Mental health is a buzzword today, but it’s a topic people are unsure how to address. Do you see any changes in the stigma surrounding mental health?
There’s going to be a stigma with mental health no matter what. … I can only go off of what I hear from clients who call to schedule an appointment. They’re very nervous. … They don’t want to share it with many people that they’re doing this. However, once people come here, I think maybe I’m just a good normalizer, in that everyone goes through stuff. I’ve gone through stuff; I’ve met with a counselor in the past. To get licensed, I had to meet with one for two years. To me, it’s normal. If I’m going through an issue, I’m going to go speak to a counselor. If my hair looks bad, I’m going to go to a hairstylist.

CM: I have to ask: What’s that tattoo on your wrist?
I challenged myself last year (2014) to work on some of my anxieties. So it says “brave,” and it’s an infinity sign with some little birdies. I had a pretty bad fear of all things medical: doctors, exams, needles, dentists. I had always been that way. I was like, I challenge my clients all the time, and I have these silly anxieties. So last year, I went to the doctor a couple of times to get lab work done. I added tests that I usually wouldn’t request. I was like, I’m really going to push myself to get over this anxiety. I went to the Red Cross and donated blood, which is something that I thought I could never, ever do. There were a couple of other little things, but the culminating thing was, I said I would get a tattoo, which is obviously inflicting pain by needle, which I was terrified of. 

To learn more: craigcounselingpllc.com or 704-728-0905.