Whether it's excess baggage, killer stress, a mother-in-law who bites, your difficult ex, problem habits, people nagging you into therapy, always second guessing yourself -- whatever has you down -- deciding to find a therapist is a big first step, and usually happens when circumstances in one's life have become unmanageable. You don't have to completely unravel before you get the help you need. Below are some common concerns and obstacles that may delay or prevent someone from finding a therapist. Read on. It might just help you understand why it's so difficult to take that first step.
- I believe It's a sign of weakness to ask for help - I should be able to manage my problems on my own. Actually, you've probably done a pretty good job on your own up to this point. It's exhausting trying to keep it together -- and lonely! It takes courage to make the decision to begin therapy and finally address the difficult emotions, behaviors and areas of life that interfere with your success and happiness. Men, in particular, have a difficult time with vulnerability and showing emotions, and have been conditioned to think that it's "unmanly" to ask for help. Women are known for taking care of everyone but themselves. When women neglect their own health and well being, the foundation crumbles.
- Therapy is for people with serious mental illness - Not so. Plenty of high-functioning individuals enjoy the experience of increased self-awareness and growth that occurs in therapy. Many of my patients feel that therapy has made them smarter, more in control of their thoughts, behaviors, and their lives. They've tapped the complexities of their own mind, which also generalizes to understanding the motivation and behaviors of others -- at home, in the workplace and beyond. Some people may feel very "sick" because they are unhappy and have resorted to all kinds of unhelpful and unhealthy behaviors in an attempt to feel better. Therapy and counseling can help people get "unstuck" in their lives by removing blocks and obstacles, clearing the path, so that they can create a happier, more fulfilling life.
- I have plenty of friends and family who are good listeners - That's probably true and nothing beats the love, empathy and support of good friends and family. This is a natural, great place to start when you notice some problems. Unfortunately, there is a limit to how much one can unload on friends and relatives, without feeling like a burden. Psychotherapy sessions are all about you. You don't have to give back to the therapist, or censor thoughts and feelings because of conflicts. Which means you are free to express whatever burdens you in confidence. The dialogue or conversation that occurs during therapy sessions allows the trained professional to use techniques to help explore problems and work with you to find solutions. Whew, what a relief!
- Talking only makes things worse - If you could put this into words, it would probably go something like this: "Talking makes it worse and I'm afraid I will fall apart completely. If I don't speak it, then the problem magically ceases to exist." Au contraire! Examining previously suppressed thoughts and feelings actually reduces the emotional pain and intensity, and makes it less likely that one will have to find other, more harmful ways to manage problems. Suppression does the job in the short term, but often has long-term consequences. The act of suppressing maintains or increases one's overall experience of negative emotions, which results in symptoms such as drug and alcohol dependence, obsessions and compulsions, eating disorders, anxiety and depression. Studies show that when people actively try to suppress something, it comes back with a vengeance. Shining a light on your fears and concerns does not make things worse, it creates a path towards acceptance, change or solutions.
- I'm not convinced talking about problems really helps. It actually does help. Research supports that many kinds of therapies are effective. Therapy, in all its many forms has stood the test of time. That said, it's important to ask friends or do your own research on the kind of style, theoretical orientation that appeals to you. Finding a good fit, someone you feel comfortable opening up to is key. People fear many things when beginning psychotherapy, not unlike the first day of school, it does tend to get easier when you find the right therapist. Complex emotions and feelings must go somewhere, even when you've done a bang-up job of sweeping things under the rug or obliterating emotions with drugs, food and alcohol. Finding a psychotherapist that you feel comfortable with and who you experience as non-judgemental helps relieve the emotional pressure caused by keeping thoughts and feelings contained. More than just talking and venting, an expert can help you gain a different perspective, find solutions that may be hidden to you, feel heard and understood and dig a bit deeper as you unearth aspects of your experience that were previously unavailable. Still sound scary and unhelpful? Read this article on the effectiveness of psychotherapy, released by the American Psychological Association.
- I don't want anyone to know that I'm seeing a therapist - Just so you know, therapy is strictly confidential and therapists abide by strict ethical standards. Therapists are not allowed to reveal the content of sessions or whether you are even a patient. The only exception is when the patient is a danger to themselves or others. In this circumstance, the psychotherapist, psychologist or psychiatrist has a legal responsibility to disclose information that is necessary to protect their patient or someone else from serious harm. Additionally, mental health providers are obligated to report any cases of child abuse or elder abuse.
- Seeing a therapist is too expensive - Therapists charge different rates for sure, much of that is due to experience and specialized training as well as other factors. While many do not accept insurance, plenty do and some even offer reduced rates for individuals experiencing financial hardship and students. Do some research and don't be afraid to ask the therapist directly about a fee reduction if this is an issue for you. Therapy is an investment in you and a financial commitment. Individuals who enjoy positive experiences in therapy find that there are plenty of areas of life that could be trimmed for this personal investment. What price is your mental health worth, and what would you be willing to give up to address the problems in your life or your emotional well being?
- Talking with a therapist feels like I'm betraying my family - You might feel like you're being disloyal to a parent, friends or your culture by seeking counseling. Therapists are trained to understand this conflict and treat it with sensitivity and care.
No need to suffer in silence and certainly there is no shame in asking for help. My patients, even those who are new to therapy, generally express feeling relieved at the end of the first session, and as trust develops, genuinely feel helped and less alone by having someone to share their concerns with. If you're interested in finding a therapist, psychotherapist or psychologist near you, these resources are excellent places to begin your search: GoodTherapy.org, Psychology Today, Therapy Tribe, Network Therapy, and a few of my go-to resources for helpful information on therapy, counseling, psychology and research: PsychCentral, APA, Psychology.About.com, NIMH, WebMD