Public conversations surrounding mental health are becoming increasingly common, and are spreading through a growing number of circles in America today.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott famously became one of the first high-profile athletes to open up about his mental health struggles in the wake of the COVID pandemic in 2020. Other celebrities to recently admit their own emotional struggles include Demi Lovato, Michael Phelps and Lady Gaga.
Discussions about the importance of mental health were elevated by intense media coverage again this summer when Simone Biles, the most decorated female gymnast in history, backed out of individual and team finals events at the Tokyo Olympics, citing mental health concerns.
As Americans embark on improving their mental health with more urgency than ever before, a local mental health clinician is offering a helpful reminder: don’t neglect your physical well-being.
“Taking care of your physical well-being is a really critical foundation to emotional wellness,” says Emily Moriarty, Director of Clinical Services for the South Bethlehem-based mental health practice Reset Outdoors.
When working with clients to achieve a greater sense of well-being, a major focus for Moriarty is connecting the dots between their emotional and physical health.
“We talk a lot about the connection between how we’re feeling emotionally and how our body is doing physically,” said Moriarty.
Not all mental health practices adopt as holistic an approach as Moriarty and Reset Outdoors do. Counseling sessions with the practice often span topics that clients may not have tackled in other psychotherapy sessions, like the importance of nutrition, sleep and exercise.
Moriarty explained that our bodies can’t handle cortisol, commonly referred to as the stress hormone, without a solid foundation for functioning, which is achieved through proper hydration, nutrition, sleep and exercise.
“You can do all of this work in therapy, but if you’re not getting good sleep, if you’re not eating good food, if you’re not drinking lots of water, your body is not going to have what it needs to function in a healthy way,” she said.
Moriarty’s comprehensive approach to achieving well-being shines through in many ways, one of which is through what she calls her trauma-informed approach. Moriarty uses this approach collaboratively with her clients to address difficult or traumatic experiences.
In practice, this means involving the client in deciding what they do and don’t tackle in sessions. Moriarty consistently checks in with clients throughout counseling sessions to make sure they are comfortable with the conversations they are having.
“If we’re going to be talking about something that’s really hard we can come up with a specific plan for how we’re going to approach that conversation, and what that client is going to do afterwards to take care of themselves, so they’re not leaving the session feeling torn open,” she said.
That emphasis on preventing her clients from leaving a session feeling vulnerable is critical for Moriarty, and is a reflection of her dedication to a client’s well-being in and out of the office.
Well-being outside of the office is a consistent theme for Reset Outdoors. Moriarty’s husband and the founder of Reset Outdoors, Connor Moriarty, recently discussed the positive physiological effects humans experience when spending time outside. Their practice leverages those positive physical changes into emotional victories.
“A lot of the things we talk about in the pursuit of wellness can feel very elusive. It can be confusing. You can go down lots of rabbit holes and not really know where to go as the client, but one thing you can count on as being effective is getting outside,” Emily Moriarty said.
A helpful tip Moriarty offers her clients is to focus on being present, and she calls upon nature to assist in this process.
She advises her clients to unplug and spend time outside, focusing specifically on one or two senses. She enjoys honing in on the sounds of birds singing, or the smell of autumn leaves.
“Right away I can feel my stress level coming down, (as I’m) feeling more content and present,” she said.
Connor Moriarty will tell you that this time spent outside, on its own, is a victory for our physical well-being. Emily Moriarty adds to that, and stresses that this reflective time spent outside reinforces and expands upon the strides made in counseling sessions.
“It’s a really nice compliment to the talk therapy sessions, because those are an intellectual exercise where you’re thinking and talking and trying to find answers or solutions,” she said. “Going for a walk and just paying attention to what you notice is a great way to let your brain process the stuff we’ve talked about in a background way without a lot of pressure to figure anything out.”
That background processing, she explained, is critical to achieving those “light bulb”, breakthrough moments that people seek from counseling.
Exercises like that can be especially important in the wake of the COVID pandemic, which put an end to many activities in which we traditionally engaged to unwind and connect with people.
For a while, folks were unable to attend concerts, movies and sporting events in person. Many people went out to eat at their favorite restaurants far less than they used to.
Fortunately, many of these activities are coming back. However, more Americans are seeking counseling services than ever, even as they return to having fun in public.
Moriarty encourages the community to start seeing a counselor as a way to work on their well-being, in addition to enjoying the pre-pandemic activities that were off limits for so long.
The Reset Outdoors team is growing, and more counseling appointments are available to meet the community’s needs.
“We pride ourselves on our responsiveness,” Moriarty said, encouraging folks to get in touch with the practice through Reset Outdoors’ website.
Reset Outdoors will even work with clients to find the most suitable options for their situation, even if that is another practice altogether.
“If we find we’re not the right fit or we’re not equipped for what they’re looking for we do provide referrals for other options in the area, so we will help support folks getting connected with the care they need whether that’s with us or another provider,” Moriarty said.
A group of people Moriarty finds she is especially equipped to assist is the LGBTQ community.
Her first professional counseling experience after graduating from Lehigh University in 2016 with a master’s degree in education in counseling and human services was heavily focused on serving members of that population.
She built up a wealth of experience working with transgender clients looking to begin their medical transition, sometimes through surgery or hormone replacement therapy.
She explained that members of the LGBTQ community commonly experience higher rates of anxiety, depression, trauma, substance abuse and instability in living situations and employment.
At Reset Outdoors, Moriarty works with LGBTQ community individuals to improve their well-being in spite of the societal disadvantages they sometimes face.
Moriarty identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community herself, so she understands the complex issues other members are often faced with, and has experience providing support and making referrals to helpful organizations like the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, Lehigh Valley Transgender Renaissance and Project Silk Lehigh Valley.
Whether they are a member of the LGBTQ population or not, Moriarty emphasizes that building a strong, trusting bond with her clients is a critical part of the work she does.
“Ultimately, the biggest vehicle for change and success within a therapeutic context is the relationship between the client and therapist,” she said. “Finding the right fit is the most important thing.”
Reset Outdoors’ website has more information about their clinical services. Visit their Let’s Talk page to begin the process of working with their team of clinicians and figuring out if they are the right fit for you.
This is the second in a series of stories sponsored by Reset Outdoors as part of our effort to support local businesses while promoting healthy lifestyles. Be sure to also check out the first story of the series. To learn more about sponsored content on Saucon Source, click here or email Josh Popichak at email@example.com.