Wednesday, August 7, 2013

When To Seek Professional Help

By Soraya Grant

Anyone who has been scammed, or who believes they may be in a relationship with, or even just talking to someone they suspect of being a scammer is more than welcome to use the resources listed here at Scams of the Heart. We also warmly welcome those who were not scammed themselves, but are concerned about a family member, housemate, or friend. We also encourage our readers to seek support in their offline communities. In some cases, that may mean professional counseling or other mental health help.

We urge you to seek help if:

You are thinking of harming yourself

It does not matter what you did before, during, or after the scam. You do not deserve to die for it. If you are thinking of killing yourself, or seriously harming yourself in any way, we urge you to please visit your nearest hospital or mental health clinic, speak to your pastor, rabbi, or other clergyperson or spiritual advisor right away, or call or log on to a suicide hotline immediately.

You have the urge to harm other people or pets

Violence toward yourself or anyone else is never a productive way to deal with any part of the scam. If you fear you may hurt a family member, friend, or pet, please speak to someone at a hospital, clinic, religious or spiritual organization, or a crisis hotline right away. The only people who deserve anything bad to happen to them after a scam are the scammers, and the only way to punish them is to educate people to avoid becoming involved with them, thereby cutting off their supply of victims. Never act on any urge to harm another person or a pet, no matter how angry, despondent, or fed up you may be feeling. There is always a better way of handing the situation.

You are unable to return your eating, sleeping, work, or other daily patterns to normal.

Some disruption in your life is to be expected during and after the scam. It may take a while to sleep and eat normally, and you may need to take some time off work. But if nothing you do to try to get back to normal works, you haven't been able to sleep or eat well for months, and your livelihood is in jeopardy, it may be time to call the health professional of your choice and schedule an appointment.

Your fear of the scammer prevents you from leaving your home.

Even though it is not in the scammer's own interest to do more than send you some creepy messages, it is still normal to fear them for a bit. Most scam victims can remember those days when everyone and everything made them jump. But if you cannot leave your home for an extended period of time due to fear of the scammer, you may want to speak to a professional about the situation.

You aren't violent, but you do find yourself "taking it out" on other people

Nobody is in a great place right after they realize they've been the victim of an online romance scam. You are probably not going to be in the mood to hear about your sister's absolutely real kids when you just found out the child you were planning to be a stepparent to doesn't exist, or hear your friend's financial difficulties when you just gave large chunks of your savings to a someone who turned out to be a scammer. You certainly won't feel like hearing about someone's boyfriend or girlfriend or their romantic dates or how many people were attracted to them at the party last night. Pulling away from people at first is normal. Flying into verbal rages, becoming seriously angry over minor slights or rude moments, and refusing to speak to anyone for long periods unless you absolutely have to are not. Reach out for professional help any time you notice yourself treating people poorly, losing friends, or avoiding all human contact for long periods of time.

Some behavior of yours feels out of control to you or is frightening or distressing to others

Substance abuse may be the first thing that comes to mind, and if you find yourself drinking excessively, abusing other drugs, or using substances that are against the law to cope with the scam, it is certainly a good idea to seek help. But this applies to any and all behaviors, including gambling, overeating, shopping, and even excessive cleaning or personal hygiene practices, such as spending your entire eight hour day disinfecting your home or taking a series of showers in a short period of time. Anything that is causing a major disruption to your life, is upsetting someone else, or is scaring you may be a cause for concern.

Your focus on the scam and the scammer intensifies over time rather than lessens

When the pain of the scam is fresh, focusing on it is to be expected. Anyone who learned they had been scammed would need to know what happened to them and why. But in most cases, gaps begin to appear, and then increase over time. You may think of nothing but the scammer for two weeks, then realize you spent two hours playing with your grandkids without a scammer related thought. Over the next few days, you may cook a meal or write a work email without thinking of the scammer as well. In time, you only think of the scam when you dredge it up on purpose to help someone else. The timing will be different for everyone, but gaps should begin to appear and they should increase. If you find that you cannot stop thinking of the scam and the scammer for even brief periods of time, or if you find yourself becoming increasingly interested in things you only associate with the scam, it may be time to seek professional counseling.

Finding Help

The best place to look for mental health care is in your hometown or neighborhood. Look online or in the print phone directory for mental health therapists in private practice, or look for something called a "mental health center" or "behavorial health" clinic or center. The first thing you need to make sure of is that the practioner you choose is licensed. Anyone who presents him or herself as a Psychiatrist, Psychologist, Marriage and Family Therapist, Social Worker, or Licenced Professional Counselor must be licensed to practice in the state where they reside. You have the right to check up on any mental health care professional's credentials by asking them for their license number and the name of the professional body that licenses them. If you encounter someone who acts insulted, angry, hurt, or irritated when you ask for this information, or refuses to give it to you, do not use their service.

Licensing is the minimum professional qualification. A mental health professional provides a service just like any other professional, and just like any other professional, some provide excellent service, some mediocre, and some poor. If you notice that the therapist appears to be distracted, hostile, or simply uncaring and focused on their own agenda rather than your healing, you have the right to seek help from a different licensed professional. Remember that your therapist is there to provide you with the service of helping you learn to cope with the difficulties in your life. You may need to tell them information you would normally only tell a close friend in order for them to do that, but the therapist is still a professional providing a service. Report the situation to the therapist's licensing body and any supervisors they may have any time a mental health professional asks you for personal favors, flirts, makes suggestive jokes or comments, or asks you for a date, or in any situation where the person encourages you to do anything you know to be illegal, harmful to others, or dangerous.

As of this writing, there are no known mental health practioners trained specifically to deal with online romance scams and we do not know of any mental health professional who makes this the focus of his or her practice. However, you have the right to expect any professional mental health care provider to take the scam seriously. Return to your research and find another professional in your area if the therapist makes light of the scam, minimizes the pain caused by the scam, or refers to the scammer as your "ex" and behaves as though it were a real relationship.

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