It Can Get Better

A Letter From Our Therapist, Emily Vallarta

Something isn’t working well.

That is true for all of us, at times through life.

But for you, that “something” is big, and it’s right now.

Perhaps it’s the result of something that hit all at once – such as a sudden loss, illness, or other traumatic event. Maybe it’s one primary thing that is screaming, that you deal with every day – a negative relationship, toxic workplace, too much stress and responsibility. Or it could be a buildup of many different-sized stressors you’ve been collecting and carrying for so long, you can’t remember when you didn’t feel overwhelmed.

Regardless, you know you can’t keep going like this, so you’ve been looking for ways to fix it.

You’ve tried the things you know, things that have worked in the past. You’ve tried hoping your problems will go away on their own, that things will work themselves out if you just ignore them long enough. You’ve tried distracting yourself, tried to think about more positive things.

People in your life may have started to notice something is off, and given advice and opinions about what they think you should do. But you feel they really don’t understand, because if they did, they wouldn’t think it was so easy.

You may be used to being “the strong one,” to figuring things out yourself.” You may be the one other people go to with problems, so the idea of letting someone else know you are struggling feels impossible. It feels like weakness. And you don’t want people to worry about you.

Help is available if you're going through a tough time.
If you’re nearing a breaking point, IOP can be an effective option. Things can get better.

You don’t know what else to do, so you’ve begun considering asking for help. You start looking into options, and see that one is Intensive Outpatient programs, which is group therapy.

Sharing your struggles in “group therapy?” That may feel like an immediate “no.” Why would you go into a room of strangers and share things so private that you may not have even talked to family or friends about them? What if they judge you? What if you have to face things you don’t want to talk about? What if they are way worse off than you and you can’t relate? What if you are way worse off than them and you feel embarrassed?

All of this can feel scary and impossible. And it’s here that a lot of people give up.

People who come to IOP often start with this kind of story, and may have gone through this experience of considering help and then falling back into their patterns multiple times before they ever make a phone call.

These reservations make sense. And yet, when people make it into group, despite their unique and difficult circumstances, despite their strong and understandable skepticism about what group therapy can offer them, people see incredible positive change in treatment. Why?

What makes IOP so powerful?

Clients often end up realizing they have been wearing a mask so thick, and for so long, they have been living without breath. They are being suffocated by having to show that they have it all together, that “everything is fine.” They have learned to keep things bottled up, protecting themselves from being seen, being judged, being criticized, and feeling weak.

It may seem strange to share these things with strangers. But really, who better? People who don’t know your personal life don’t have a vested interest in what you choose. They don’t have loyalties or fears of upsetting the status quo. Your honest thoughts and emotions will not leak to your mother or spouse in a phone call, or to coworkers over the water cooler. You are able to receive heartfelt and objective feedback without worry about causing further emotional complications with the players in your life. Group members get to know one other gradually, and are able to share honestly and meaningfully about their lives in a safe environment.

Although clients develop a connection with the group, there is a complete separation between treatment and your personal life. You are able to talk things through, figure out how you feel and what you want, and hear thoughts from other group members. The purpose is to assist you in thinking out options for yourself about how you want to handle things. Then you walk out of the building and back into your world.

IOP group therapy offers a number of benefits for dealing with mental health challenges.
IOP group therapy offers a safe, judgement-free space to process whatever you’re going through.

Some other benefits of IOP:

  • We meet you where you are. You have good reasons why things have gotten to where they are in your life. We are not here to judge what you should or shouldn’t have done. We are here to support you in finding your way, wherever that way leads. You will not be pressured to share things you aren’t ready to let out. You will not be forced to tell your life story on day one. We walk with you, and let you show us what you are ready for.
  • You learn an important secret. When people are asked what they benefited from most in IOP, 100% of clients say the same words: “Finding out I wasn’t alone.” People often come in feeling isolated, and there is something wrong with them, even something to be ashamed of. They are embarrassed by things they’ve done or how they feel, or about not being able to handle things on their own. They have often labeled themselves as “lazy,” “stupid,” and “weak.” And yet, they find a room of strong, intelligent people struggling with similar situations. They find out that they aren’t “weird.” They aren’t “crazy.” They are just a person struggling with person things. This experience can only happen in a group.
  • You receive structured education. Emotional and mental health involve stuff that affects everyone with a brain and beating heart, but we didn’t really learn about it in school. In IOP, you receive new concepts every session that you can use to make changes in your life. Some examples of topics:
  • Thought patterns
  • Acceptance
  • Grief
  • Goals
  • Trauma
  • Prioritizing life stressors
  • Coping Skills
  • Defenses
  • Family Systems
  • Communication
  • Mindfulness
  • Depression, anxiety, PTSD
  • Personal Values
  • Identity
  • Time Management
  • Relationships
  • Self-Esteem
  • Boundaries
  • Your treatment is personalized. We base our program on what current group members are experiencing, relating to, and requesting. Each group is customized based on the group members in attendance for the day and how they would most benefit, considering where they are emotionally, and where they are in the course of their treatment at that time.
  • You receive structured time to process your emotions. Life happens quickly, and once it starts coming, it doesn’t stop until we realize we can choose our pace. In a world before we begin questioning things, life is happening largely by habit and default. It probably doesn’t include much time for quiet and to let things settle in your mind, to make sense of situations and to ask yourself if what you’re doing serves your bigger vision. In group, you are offered time to sit with your thoughts without pressure, time to talk them through without correction or immediate reactions or interruptions. This will help you figure out where you actually want to go instead of just ending up somewhere. 
  • You aren’t told how to think or persuaded toward a certain outcome. It is recognized that you are the author of your life, and what is “right” for one person may be exactly wrong for you. You are presented with information and decide what makes sense for you.

Why choose IOP over individual therapy?

There is no need to choose. Both offer invaluable things, and we strongly encourage clients in group to also connect with an individual therapist.

Individual therapy can often be beneficial.

Some benefits of individual therapy:

  • This is time focused just on you. For many people, this time is the only time in their lives that they are not caring for others, pulled in several directions at once, caught in the middle of complicated family dynamics, or subjected to others’ emotional reactions about how they feel. This is time to breathe, to focus solely on you.
  • You are able to go more deeply into your own mind and emotions. In group, you share a few hours with a number of other people. You may choose to share more carefully because other people are there, and these are sensitive topics. Also, time doesn’t allow for the depth of processing that can occur one-on-one.
  • Due to the private setting, you can develop a strong connection and trust with your therapist. The most important thing for any therapeutic relationship to work is a good connection. When you develop a trust and level of respect with your therapist, you can depend on a sense of safety and support, may have something to look forward to, and feel there is someone in the world who understands and accepts you on a deeper level that you don’t show to just anyone.

Sometimes individual therapy is enough. But sometimes things have gotten to a point where you need more support, and need concentrated time to learn about yourself, build a blueprint for how things can get better, to think without so much stress.

How does your stress get alleviated just by coming to IOP?

You can take your hands off the wheel for a little bit. You don’t have to be in control, you don’t have to answer constant demands, you don’t have to know the answers. For 3 hours, 3 days a week, you come to a comfortable chair and let someone else take the lead. You breathe in new information, connect with other human beings, have 3 hours of separation from your life stressors to work toward a better life to return to.

If you are working, we encourage you take medical leave from your job. This is because the mental and emotional work you’ll do in IOP is enough to be focusing on. We don’t want your healthy decision to seek treatment to be an additional obligation to what is already on your plate – we want you to have this time away, to allow a true focus on yourself, with time to reflect, try new things, and regain your footing. Staff is happy to complete FMLA and/or short-term disability paperwork for the duration of your treatment.

If anything you’ve read here speaks to you, give us a call by dialing 314-388-2225.

We’ll talk with you, listen to your situation, and answer any questions you have. We’ll decide together if IOP might be a good fit for you. And if so, we’ll get you started as soon as possible. And if it doesn’t work out, we can help guide you to care that fits.

We’re here for you either way.

And if there is still something holding you back from calling, just consider this: You might just be surprised by what can happen in the space of just one session.

Emily Vallarta, LPC

Lead IOP therapist, Emily Vallarta, has 15+ years experience helping people heal from wide range of mental health challenges. She’s developed a unique, proven IOP curriculum – adapting concepts from CBT, DBT, and many other specializations. Emily believes in treating each individual as a whole, unique being and helping produce fast results for distress relief.