Often when there’s a discussion on health, most of us tend to think about our physical health (such as how we diet and exercise) and forget the significance of our mental health. But in many ways, your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and increasingly, there is overwhelming support for the idea that the two are closely linked.
Taking care of your mental health doesn’t necessarily mean treating a diagnosed illness; just like staying in optimal health doesn’t mean only seeking professional help when you're feeling ill. Most times, the problem is knowing where to start getting help, especially in Hong Kong, where it’s less culturally open to discussing mental health issues.
To help you understand more about psychology and mental wellness, we’ve created a comprehensive guide for everything you need to know about psychology in Hong Kong in 2020.
What is psychology?
Psychology is the science of the mind. It involves the assessment of a person by a psychologist (therapists, counsellor). Together, therapists work with patients to understand their emotions and attitudes, and help them develop healthier patterns of behaviour. They’re professionally trained to maintain the confidentiality of patients so we can be comfortable about sharing our feelings or talking openly about our struggles with them.
Psychology or psychiatry?
Psychology can often be confused with psychiatry. Although they can overlap, there are differences between them. While both psychologists and psychiatrists help with issues like depression and anxiety, psychiatrists prescribe medication and admit patients to hospital.
Psychologists, on the other hand, are qualified to provide counselling services, psychotherapy, psychological testing for diagnosing and managing emotional, adjustment and relationship issues.
There are also other professionals who deal with different aspects of mental health and functioning:
- Behavioural therapists — They work to treat mental health disorders, usually by seeking to identify and change potentially self-destructive or unhealthy behaviours. Behavioural Therapy can help reduce undesirable or atypical behaviours and aims to increase appropriate behaviours. This form of therapy is particularly successful with children who are struggling with their behaviours both at home and at school. Although therapy and counselling are often used interchangeably, they also differ. Counselling can be said to be more focused on a particular problem that needs to be addressed, in comparison to therapy, which can focus on a broader range of longer-term issues.
- Educational psychometricians — Psychometricians design and analyse assessments that measure psychological characteristics, such as intelligence or behaviour. Many work simultaneously as psychologists to specialise in a practice. Psychoeducation can be especially helpful with child development.
When should I see a professional?
Again, you don't need to have a clinically diagnosable issue to see a professional. You can just be feeling off, burnt out or stressed. We cannot emphasise enough that no problem is out of scope to talk about.
However, it can be challenging to identify the symptoms of a clinical mental illness before they turn into more severe mental disorders. If you're unsure, these could be early warning signs that you need to consider counselling:
- If you feel overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness and sadness
- If you struggle to concentrate on routine activities
- If you worry excessively
- If you are aware that your actions are harmful to yourself or others
How do I choose a therapist?
It should take little to no convincing that having a good connection with your therapist is critical for your mental health. As you'll be working collaboratively, it's not only crucial for them to understand you but for you to be comfortable working with them.
With so much information out there though, it can be overwhelming to know what to look out for. Unfortunately, in Hong Kong there is no official statutory registration for therapists, so they are under no obligation to be licensed or registered in order to practice. This could make it harder to find a therapist in Hong Kong.
You should spend a lot of time considering a therapist, but here are some common points people look out for:
- Credentials and qualification — Since there is no regulation in Hong Kong, looking at their credentials and qualifications becomes essential in choosing a psychologist you can trust. This can give you a good idea about where they were educated and established.
- Experience — Looking at your psychotherapist's experience can be useful for you to understand what areas of practice they have covered before. Usually, this can help you judge if their expertise will align with your expectations of what they can help with.
- Methods of practice — Not all therapists are the same; they all have different approaches to treatments. You need to find one that works with a method of therapy that best suits you and your needs. Understanding their practice methods helps you know how your treatment will progress.
Most of this information can be found in your practitioners About Page. Alternatively, you should be able to call and meet your therapist to inquire further.
Benefits of therapy and counselling
No matter the state of mental challenges we are facing, seeing a therapist can help us manage our emotions. Here are several ways it can improve our mental well-being:
1. Seeing your thoughts from a different perspective
Perspective-taking is a fundamental aspect of psychology. Therapists try to put themselves in your shoes and see things from your point of view. In discussing the experience you are going through, they can offer advice and perspectives on issues that may otherwise have been hidden from thought.
2. Feeling less alone with your problems
Having a therapist listen to you one-to-one reassures you that there is always someone who you can confide in. Talking to a therapist can relieve you of carrying your burdens alone, and help you through your challenges, emotions and struggles in a joint effort.
3. A greater degree of self-awareness
Self-awareness is a crucial aspect of psychological health. Therapists provide an environment for you to examine your thoughts and feelings with external guidance, resulting in a heightened sense of self-awareness.
4. Improve your well-being
Therapy tailored towards well-being focuses on your problems and helps you change the way you feel, think and behave; ultimately, eliminating unhelpful thinking styles and behaviours.
Psychology in Hong Kong
Studies have found that one in six Hongkongers suffer from a common mental disorder (including anxiety, depression and psychotic disorders). In a city that works on overdrive, it’s no surprise that many causes of these issues are related to the long working hours and high costs of living.
Further, there’s a noticeable social stigma in Hong Kong surround counselling and mental health services. These stigmas can be attributed to a few long-running issues ingrained in the culture here. Often, a lack of knowledge about mental health is the most significant barrier, with many people unaware that mental health directly impacts your lifestyle. Biased attitudes also fuel stigmas, with lots of mental health media coverage shown in a negative light. All these make it difficult for people to speak up about their mental health.
How can OT&P help?
Seeking initial assistance can be a challenging first step but a huge relief when found. Opening up to a therapist can help you explore your feelings and struggles in an honest and safe environment, and sets an essential foundation for restoring your emotional balance.
If you’re feeling depressed or having difficulty dealing with trauma, you can reach out to us at our dedicated mental wellness clinic, MindWorX. We have a range of therapy services and experienced therapists who can treat a broad spectrum of issues you may be facing.
If you need free help, here are some resources available in HK:
- The Hospital Authority maintains a 24-hour mental health hotline and a number of other non-government organisations also offer enquiry hotlines and mental health support.
- Suicide Prevention Services runs a 24-hour hotline.
- The Hong Kong Society of Counselling and Psychology also provides a WhatsApp hotline in English and Chinese.
Contact emergency services if there’s a crisis and you require urgent assistance.