Healthy Beginnings

Provider Profile: Ruth Gentry Ph.D.

april14-gentry-300pxAfter having a wonderful experience with a counselor as a child, I knew I wanted to help people feel the same way by helping them make positive changes in their lives. This led me down my long journey of becoming a clinical psychologist. Initially, I started working with older adults with depression during my undergraduate career at Texas A&M University. I eventually left Texas to pursue my Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the University of Nevada-Reno, to which much of my time was focused on improving the lives of older adults with Alzheimer’s disease. As I approached my last years of education, I moved to LA to complete one of the few geropsychology internship programs in the country at the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs (WLA-VA). During my internship, I gained further training in geriatrics, but I also received valuable expertise in health psychology. The following year I was accepted to the only WLA-VA postdoctoral fellowship offered in health psychology. Throughout the next year at the fellowship, I worked with an inpatient rehabilitation unit for Veterans with serious medical problems. I assisted in the development of a chronic pain rehabilitation program and a women’s weight management program. I also worked in a sleep disorders clinic providing non-medication behavioral sleep medicine (BSM) treatments.

It was during my work in the BSM clinic when I learned that insomnia is a huge public health concern. It’s estimated that about 30 percent of the American population is affected by insomnia. Most people will experience some type of sleep disturbance in their lives, but insomnia is more than just occasional problems with sleep. Studies have shown that chronic insomnia is linked to an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and obesity. There is also a greater risk of developing depression or anxiety disorders. The bottom line is the more you allow insomnia to go on untreated, the more suceptible you are to greater health issues. The good news is that people do not have to suffer from chronic insomnia as effective non-medication treatments do exist.

Through my training, I gained valuable expertise in the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I), which is an efficient and successful treatment for insomnia. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, CBT-I has become the standard treatment for chronic insomnia. Typically, people will initially seek a physician’s advice, who may discuss sleep hygiene techniques and likely will prescribe medications. CBT-I, however, goes beyond the general physician counseling and addresses the key behaviors, as well as the thoughts, that can interfere with sleep. Unortunately, people will often believe medication is the only treatment. What they probably don’t know is that there really hasn’t been any reliable conclusions regarding the longterm effectiveness of sleeping pills. In reality, when insomnia becomes chronic it generally will not disappear on its own, and may not even improve with medication. Research has shown that the use of CBT-I has equal, or even greater, effectiveness when compared to medications, and may lead to sustained resolution of insomnia after drug discontinuation.

Fortunately, CBT-I is just one of the many treatments I provide. I also provide coping tools for people with chronic pain conditions, light therapy for seasonal depression and those suffering from circadian rhythm sleep disorders (i.e., “night owls”), treatment for chronic nightmares, and I can assist with relaxation strategies that help people sleep comfortably while wearing their sleep apnea breathing device. There are many psychologists that have training in cognitive behavior therapy, but very few have any training in sleep. As such, I recommend you find a provider that has training in CBT-I specifically. I’ve had many patients tell me they wish their doctors would have told them about CBT-I before prescribing any sleep medications. I feel like I’ve provided them with the right tools to use if insomnia becomes a problem again. Hearing all their positive stories reminds me of why I became a psychologist, and why I find great joy in treating people who have insomnia and other chronic health conditions. Ultimately, it is up to each person to decide how to make their own lifestyle changes, but my hope is that rather than resort to medications people will understand that they do have options.

For more info, contact Dr. Ruth Gentry online at renosleepwell.com and iswreno.com.