"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22).

As we enthusiastically embrace new opportunities for self-improvement with the beginning of a new year, focusing on more exercise, nutritious meals, financial goal-setting, etc., we often miss the big picture of psychological growth and well-being. Some individuals seem to have lost their fruit of spirit, appearing disgruntled, unhappy, insensitive and crabby. Statistically, about one in five individuals meet criteria for depression, anxiety or other illnesses that are frequently undetected even with frequent visits to a primary care physician. Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach problems and aches and pains, are often "masked" symptoms of depressive or anxiety related disorders that only a skilled mental health professional will detect. Although medication will temporarily present some relief for these ailments, they frequently return or are replaced by different symptoms. Often times, some physicians recognize the possibility of depression or anxiety and begin a regiment of psychotropic medication that may be helpful or not and, even worse, bring along side effects that make life even more uncomfortable for the individual. Sooner or later, some people find themselves with a "medication cocktail" that has not shown an improvement in quality of life, but created another, difficult to manage "monster."

The same goes for children who are often mis-diagnosed and treated for various illnesses such as ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity) and anger management or behavioral problems. If you or your physician has concerns regarding your or your child's mental health (or your child's development), ask for a referral to a psychologist. Once you have a referral, be a wise consumer by gathering information regarding the psychologist's credentials and orientation. Most psychologists are well-trained to assess, diagnose and treat various mental health concerns coinciding with the DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders); psychological treatment should be research-based and explained to the patient prior to initiating the process. A psychiatrist can also diagnose the spectrum of mental illnesses and has a medical degree with residency in psychiatry and also has prescription privileges. Treatment primarily focuses on medication management, including side effects and successful pharmacological treatment of psychiatric illnesses, such as depression and anxiety.

A clinical psychologist receives five years (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) of post bachelor training in all facets of mental health (child development, psychological assessment/testing, diagnosis and treatment), including a year internship and additional post-graduate training; only after close supervision of another licensed psychologist for a year and rigorous testing and examination via the Arizona Board of Psychologist Examiners, is licensing granted. There are many specialties in psychology, such as pediatric/family, neuropsychology and some psychologists prefer teaching at universities and pursue a career in research.

As a wise consumer and educated individual, acknowledging the existence of mental health issues, the choice for a mental health professional is a very important one and vital for psychological growth and improvement; there are no "quick fixes" and remedies when it comes to mental health concerns and medication should be a last resort and not a first choice; consulting with a psychologist could be an important first step in recovering the "fruit of the spirit."

Happy New Year!

Dr. Astrid Heathcote is a licensed clinical child/family psychologist with residence and private practice in Ahwatukee Foothills. She can be reached at (480) 275-2249 or www.drastrid.org.

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