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Physical and Verbal Cues in Someone in Need of Psychotherapy

Jul 12, 2023

Interpreting physical and behavioral cues alone is not sufficient to diagnose someone’s mental health condition. However, certain signs and behaviors may indicate that someone is experiencing mental health challenges. As an LMHC, I am trained to take a current mental status when a client enters the office for the first time.  Such observations as general appearance/dress, motor activity, thought content, flow of thought, judgment, affect, mood, and interview behavior are a means to determine the mental health state of a person.

For example, if  a well-established client walks in and there are noticeable changes in weight, hygiene, or grooming habits , this can be indicative of underlying mental health issues. I usually inquire about their sleep and eating patterns. Frequent exhaustion, difficulty sleeping, or irregular sleep patterns may be signs of stress, anxiety, or depression. Significant changes in eating habits, such as increased or decreased appetite, may indicate emotional distress or an eating disorder. Observable changes in a person’s movement, such as slowed speech, decreased coordination, or unusual clumsiness, might suggest psychological distress. Physical manifestations of stress,  like headaches, stomachaches, muscle tension, or unexplained pain can sometimes be linked to mental health conditions.

If the client reports these symptoms or I notice a significant change, I will sometimes request collaboration with a loved one-spouse, parent, sibling- to hear their observations.  The ideal scenario would involve a family session in the first few meetings so I can establish an accurate marker for the current state of my client. During interactions, I also look at behavioral cues.  Are there reports of social isolation or withdrawal? If someone consistently cancels plans, or distances themselves from loved ones, it could be a sign of depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns.

Also, changes in communication patterns and reports of mood swings or emotional instability are signs I look for.  Sudden shifts in someone’s speech, such as talking more slowly or rapidly, increased irritability, or difficulty expressing thoughts, might indicate mental health issues. I will ask family members if there are frequent and extreme changes in mood, including outbursts of anger, sadness, or irritability, that could be associated with various mental health conditions. If someone loses interest in hobbies, sports, or activities they used to enjoy, it may be a potential indication of depression or other mood disorders. Impaired concentration or decision-making or remembering information may suggest underlying mental health challenges, such as anxiety or depression.

If an individual exhibits any of these cues, it may not mean they have a mental health concern.  I must consider all symptoms within a broader context of a person’s life.  For example, some people may have eccentric personalities or unconventional ways of expressing themselves, which can be unrelated to mental health concerns. It’s important to avoid jumping to conclusions or making assumptions based solely on someone’s eccentric behavior.

Also, life transitions, whether they are relational, geographic, or developmental, can indeed impact an individual’s current mental health state.  Experiencing changes or transitions in life, however, does not automatically indicate a mental health pathology or disorder. Transitions can be both positive and challenging, and they often bring about a range of emotions and adjustments. It’s normal to experience a mix of excitement, stress, anxiety, sadness, or even personal growth during these times.

In general, if the emotional or mental health challenges become prolonged, severe, or significantly interfere with daily functioning and well-being, it may be beneficial to seek support from a mental health professional. Typically, if they are oriented to person, place, and time, there is probably no need for a crisis intervention. It’s important to maintain self-care, seek social support, and engage in healthy coping strategies during periods of transition. Being aware of the potential impact of transitions on mental health can help individuals navigate these changes more effectively and seek help when needed.

Mental health conditions are complex and require a comprehensive assessment by a qualified professional to make an accurate diagnosis. It’s essential to approach each individual with understanding, empathy, and without judgment. If you have concerns about someone’s well-being, it’s best to encourage open communication and offer support, but leave the actual diagnosis to professionals in the mental health field.

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