Many people may have a negative view toward therapy. Some pervasive beliefs include that therapy is only for those who are mentally ill or suicidal. Such faulty beliefs have deterred many from seeking out a therapist when they really need one. For some time mental health professionals have tried diligently to debunk these inaccurate beliefs, but we still have a long way to go. A 2004 poll by the American Psychological Association indicated that 30% of Americans worried about others finding out if they saw a therapist, and 20% wouldn’t seek out a therapist due to the stigma associated with therapy.
Although therapy is less stigmatized than it was several decades ago, there is still a long way to go before many will feel comfortable receiving therapy for certain mental or emotional problems, whether it be mild depression, marital problems, or even anger issues. Perhaps you have found yourself stuck in some patterns and feel the need to get some outside help. Maybe the stigma is preventing you from reaching out to a professional. Or maybe you’re just not sure that you are a good candidate for therapy. No matter the reason, here are some tips to help you make the decision about seeking out a therapist easier.
Certain experiences can consume our thoughts, emotions, and even our behaviors. When we experience something like this, our brain can get “stuck” - meaning it does not know how to integrate the experience into the other memories it has already stored. We know a memory is stuck when we replay the incident over and over in our minds - usually with the original negative emotion accompanying it. When this occurs, professional assistance is often needed. Such unprocessed memories can result in strained relationship dynamics and increased stress, fear, and anxiety. Almost everyone experiences something like this in their lifetime and therapy can be a beneficial way to process such an experience most effectively.
If you find yourself getting stuck in the same negative thought process, it could be a symptom of depression. You may not need medication, but therapy will help you overcome negative thoughts so that they don’t consume your everyday-thinking or activities. Letting these negative thoughts get out of control can potentially cause a bigger problem than it was originally.
Relationships give our lives meaning. Without meaningful relationships, we often feel lonely, fearful, and angry, which can often be a sign of depression. Failed relationships and the inability to connect with others often stems from the loss of interest in activities that were once pleasurable, decreased energy, and even irritability. These are all indicators that you may be suffering from mild depression and need the help of a therapist to help you regain the vitality that you once had.
Can you think of a few people in your life that you feel completely known by? Do you fear people will leave you? Do you tend to keep people at a distance? Often those who struggle to connect meaningfully with others wonder why some people seem to connect so effortlessly. If you struggle to think of people you feel securely connected to and known by, that is often a good indicator that you should seek out a therapist to gain some insight into how your relational skills can develop more effectively.
Seek out a therapist if your doctor cannot explain your physical symptoms or attribute them to a specific medical condition. Our minds and bodies work interconnectedly. That is, if we are experiencing psychological pain, our body can be negatively affected and vice versa. Many people feel confused by their physical ailments when they cannot get answers from their medical professionals. A simple mental health assessment by a mental health professional can often give us great insight into a variety of physical issues and psychological conditions.
Therapy can be expensive and uncomfortable; it’s often unpleasant to admit we may need professional help. Letting another person into our suffering can feel vulnerable and frightening. However, everyone needs the help of others to progress and get better. Humans are neurologically wired to experience healing in relationships. Therapy provides a safe platform to do just that. When we refuse the help of others, we often miss the beauty that relationships can bring to our lives by showing another perspective, another way of relating, or another way of being.
If you have tried different at-home techniques to overcome negative thoughts and emotions and you aren’t sure where they stem from, then it is time to seek out professional help, especially if you find that your personal and/or professional life is suffering as a result. Letting your thoughts consume you can often cause lack of concentration, unwarranted feelings of guilt and worthlessness, and even excessive sleeping. Once again, you may not need medication, but therapy will certainly help to get to the root of your problems and help you learn techniques for controlling your thoughts in a constructive, rather than destructive, way.
Those closest to us can be the best gauge for how we are really doing. We can learn a lot by asking our friends and family the simple question: “How do you experience me?” Asking such a question gives us a vast amount of insight into our relationship dynamics. If your friends have voiced problems or struggles with you, then listen. If you’re unsure if their concerns warrant a visit to a therapist, then ask them for their opinion on the matter. It takes great humility to do ask such bold questions, but such humility often gives us great rewards.
Therapy is expensive and can be uncomfortable. If you are unwilling to face yourself realistically, you are shortchanging the experience. Remember, you entered therapy because something in your life wasn’t working - most likely something about yourself. By being unwilling to view yourself truthfully - all the good and the bad - you are robbing the effectiveness of your therapeutic experience.
Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with a psychological ailment, therapy can bring to light certain problems that you may be having mentally. And just because you are having mental problems, doesn’t mean that you are mentally unable to control yourself and have a psychological condition. Everybody during their lifetime experiences certain times when life seems overwhelming. Therapy is a great outlet to help you navigate that time a bit more effectively.
You will have an ineffective experience with therapy if your main objective is to use your therapist as a pawn in a fight you may be having with someone else. It’s the pet peeve of many therapists to have their clients cornering them with loaded questions so they can use their answers as ammunition against the object of their frustration. Enter therapy with humility and open-mindedness so you can change yourself - not those around you.
Many people say they expect change within the first couple of sessions. That is an understandable expectation since therapy can be expensive. However, true and long-lasting change occurs over a period of time. Before entering therapy, consider putting together a map that reflects how much time and money you can invest so you don’t feel a time crunch. Usually six months is long enough to see some changes, especially if there are underlying psychological symptoms associated with depression or anxiety. Other times it may take longer.
Therapy does not feel good at times. That’s an important fact to understand. Looking at ourselves and our relationships realistically in order to improve them can be a bloody process. If you don’t feel good after a therapy session, that isn’t necessarily an indication that it isn’t working. True change causes growing pains.
There are therapists out there who aren’t highly trained and some may even be unethical. Know what you want to get out of therapy and research therapists you think may be a good fit for you. Look at your presenting issues and do a simple Internet search to find the most common therapies used to treat such issues. Ask your therapist if he or she has experience with the specific issue you are experiencing. The more you know about what is going on with you, the better you will be at finding a therapist who will be the most help to you.
There are many different types of therapy that will help for certain people and perhaps not as well for others. Music and art therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Interpersonal Therapy are just a few of the different types of therapy that can help you overcome anything from overwhelming negative thoughts, paranoia, lack of social support, anxiety and fear. It is important to ask your therapist about the different types and even try out each one to see which works best for you.
Remember that choosing a therapist is an important decision. Seek professional help if you are experiencing something you cannot stop thinking about. Also, if you feel isolated from others and your friends have expressed concern, then listen and call a professional. Therapy is not an appropriate venue for winning arguments with a significant other or loved one. Remember that therapy takes time and you will receive the most from that time if you do your research beforehand. Practice humility so you can view yourself realistically during the process, and remember it’s not always supposed to feel good!
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