May is Mental Health Awareness Month – Meet Dr. Cheryl Wise

As we spend May spreading awareness and love, County 10 sat down with Dr. Cheryl Wise, Licensed Psychologist at the Lander Medical Clinic and Western Family Care.

What drew you to the field of mental health?

Like a lot of people, I really didn’t know much about mental health when I was growing up – it wasn’t something that was talked about very often.

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My first experience in mental health was seeing a counselor at my college after I was mugged. It was eye-opening how such a minor traumatic event had an impact on me for a few months. I was actually an English and philosophy double major in college and in my first jobs after college, I found that I really liked hearing others’ stories and learning about what they’d experienced in their lives. The more I learned about counseling and working with people, the more I wanted to understand, so I just kept moving forward in my work and education.

Where did you receive your higher education? 

I went to St. Joseph’s University for my undergrad work, Villanova University for my Master’s in Counseling and Human Relations, and Temple University for my Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology. Definitely a Philly native!

What do you love most about your work?

I love being able to use myself as a normal human to connect to others’ normal human experiences.  It’s the most important part, in my opinion, to be a good therapist. Then my training and experience kick in to help us work together to clarify what is going on for this person and what might be useful moving forward.

What has been unique for you in working at Lander Medical Clinic?

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Being at Lander Medical Clinic makes it much easier to reach people in the community who might not otherwise consider mental health or how it affects their everyday lives. I may be biased, but the providers here are some of the most intelligent and kindest people I’ve ever met, so their patients really trust them. And since the providers know me, they can easily let people know who I am and what I’m like, what they can expect in a counseling session, and how to schedule an appointment. For many people, just a few sessions can help them through a difficult time or help us determine if more or different types of support might be necessary.

What do you wish more people understood? What do you want to “shout from the rooftops” about mental health? 

Many people still feel that talking with a psychologist or counselor means they’re “crazy” or worry that their thoughts or concerns are too trivial to seek support. Just like physicians are there for their patients for everything from a short stomach bug to a life-threatening chronic illness, mental health professionals can assist with coping with short-term stressors and transitions up to managing more long-term mental health problems. 

What would you tell someone who is hesitant to enter therapy? 

Therapy does take time and resources and sometimes needs to wait until a person’s life is able to accommodate the commitment. That being said, I generally recommend that if people notice – or are hearing feedback from people they trust – that their concerns are interfering with their life: home, work, school, relationships, hobbies, and other activities that it’s probably a good time to schedule an appointment.

What are some tools you can offer for dealing with depression and anxiety?

There are many different approaches to dealing with depression and anxiety. From the beginning of my career, I have always believed that my ability to form a relationship with my clients is the most important thing that I can offer. When people feel safe and free from judgment, then it’s much easier for us to explore the different options available and pick the ones that seem most likely to help. For some people, that might mean working on conflicts or difficult situations, grieving a loss, working on decreasing your reactivity to anxiety-provoking situations, changing lifestyle habits, or changing your thoughts about situations. For some people, medication might play a role in treatment and clients can work with their doctors or a specialist while also going to therapy.

As time progresses in therapy, clients have someone who knows how things look when the client is doing well and when they’re struggling. It can be very valuable to have objective feedback from someone who is outside of your immediate circle and committed to maintaining confidentiality.

Do you have a ‘typical’ client? What are the most common things people come to see you about?

The only “typical” thing about clients is that they’re often not feeling good – and it’s enough of a motivator to take the time to come in and talk with someone. People come in for anxiety and depression, difficult situations (break-ups, loss, etc), family conflict, substance use issues, parenting issues, trauma, coping with chronic illness and pain, issues related to attention, identity, phobias, and so on.

How can we support ourselves or others if we notice warning signs?

If something obviously difficult has just happened – a death, car accident, break-up. etc., I often encourage people to care for themselves as if they are just getting over the flu – making sure to eat, sleep, rest, and do small activities that help them feel more like themselves.

If you are noticing warning signs that someone’s depression or anxiety seems to be getting worse, letting them know that you care about them, what you are noticing, and what you can do to support them getting help if they need it is very positive. If you are worried about your child or teenager, talking it over with their pediatrician can help with deciding what steps are needed.

Does technology impact our mental health, and if so why?

Technology can have positive and negative effects on our mental health. Over the past year, technology was a lifeline for many to stay in contact with family and friends, medical providers, and schools during the pandemic. We have really started to improve our use of technology to help people access services and use apps and other programs to help support our overall health.

On the other hand, the availability of content and activities through technology is endless and can get in the way of relationships and other parts of a balanced life. The internet, in particular, can also send us off into dark, unhelpful corners that can be very distressing. Certainly, people’s use of technology is becoming a greater and greater part of the discussion on therapy.

How can we promote wellbeing and tackle the causes of mental health problems?

The most important thing is to continue to reduce the stigma of mental health problems. We know that a large number of people will go through temporary or chronic emotional problems and we know there are things that can help. Just like good nutrition, exercise, sleep, etc. can help improve overall health, it can improve mood and help people cope with hard things that happen in life. Further, positive relationships, purpose in life, and fun are essential.

Upheaval and great divides in opinions throughout the country and the world have had an increased role in mental health in the past few years. It is unavoidable that humans struggle with their differences but knowing how to do so while taking care of yourself and taking care of your opponent is crucial to the mental health of our community.

Tell me a little about yourself personally.

I was born and raised in Philly and met my husband, Randy (yes, the Randy Wise from the Pioneer Museum in Lander!) when he was running a theater company outside Philadelphia. We returned to his hometown about 7 years ago when our boys, now 14 and 10 were getting older and busier. I have always loved comedy, improv, cooking, biking, hiking, and traveling with my college friends whenever we get the chance.


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