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NYC therapists listening to more patients lamenting the housing crunch, experts say

Psychotherapy sessions in New York City are increasingly

Psychotherapy sessions in New York City are increasingly serving as opportunities for New Yorkers to vent about their struggles to afford places to live, according to mental health experts. Photo Credit: iStock

Psychotherapy sessions in New York City are increasingly serving as opportunities for New Yorkers to vent about their struggles to afford places to live, according to mental health experts.

The city’s rising housing costs manifests in complaints about overcrowded conditions and “a hopeless feeling, economically,” according to Griselle Phillips, a clinical social worker/therapist in the Bronx.

“When you [can’t afford] housing, your dreams are shattered,” she explained. “Housing represents stability, security, and a sense of independence and identity.”

In more extreme cases, Phillips has seen victims stay with abusive partners, rather than fleeing, because they don’t believe they can afford to live on their own.

To help her clients, Phillips said she turns to “resources and advocacy.”

According to a report by Comptroller Scott Stringer, median rents in NYC rose 75% from 2000 to 2012, compared to a 44% spike in the rest of the nation.

The percentage of income that New Yorkers who earned $20,000 to $40,000 a year spent on rent in that time period went from 33 to 41%.

In 2016, real estate site StreetEasy predicts that the average New York City household will spend 65.4% of its income on rent.

Meanwhile, a 2012 report from the American Psychological Association found that 78% of New Yorkers surveyed cited money, work and the economy as a source of stress.

Expensive housing in NYC “is absolutely an issue” for patients seen by Dr. Frank Corigliano, a psychologist who practices in Queens and Manhattan.

Problems range from the wealthy bemoaning their inability to afford “the perfect five-bedroom penthouse on Central Park West,” to less affluent residents reluctantly concluding that “New York City isn’t the place for them.”

But, Corigliano noted, “it’s the folks in the middle who are really struggling.” Ineligible for government programs, but not wealthy enough to afford what they want on the open market, they lament their inability to afford a home large and safe enough for comfortable family living. 

The affordable housing squeeze also causes “a failure to launch, a failure to be able to nurture someone else or to bring someone into your life,” for young adults who don’t see how they will ever afford homes big enough to accommodate children, he added.

Som desperate people go so far as to “try to get diagnosed as mentally ill” to become eligible for subsidized housing, said Nancy Tartakoff, a clinical social worker and therapist in Rego Park. 

But that option is not as easy as it seems. 

“You really have to be mentally ill, with severe depression,” or another serious disorder, to qualify, she said.

When divorced couples remain living together because there is not enough money to support two separate households, it “is seriously confusing to the kids,” added Tartakoff.

And roommate agita is its own special hell for adults who would rather live alone, she said.

Pauline Parkes, a social worker in the Bronx, said she often loans her computer to her clients “so they can apply to housing programs.”

“If they’re getting evicted, I’m not going to say, ‘how does that make you feel?’” explained Parkes, who describes herself as “solution-focused.”

“I tell them about the low income lotteries [and] some people sign up for public housing,” she said.

Many of her clients “are constantly traumatized,” by housing insecurity, but turning to therapy to cope with housing problems is a catch 22, Parkes said.

“Until they’re stable, you can’t do the work,” necessary for constructive psychotherapy, she said.

Therapists emply different techniques to help people through housing frustrations.

Regina Ajunway, a therapist in the Bronx, works with her clients on stress management and reframing negative thoughts so they can stay strong during the struggle.

“It’s difficult to make them understand that it can take a long time,” to find a decent, affordable home, she said.

 

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