I once suggested to a friend that she might want to consider looking into therapy as a step toward resolving the concerns she was describing to me. She was not very open to the idea, stating that she couldn’t understand why she would go to a therapist when she already knew what the problem was. Her response was a surprise, but understandable if that was her belief about therapy. If there is no hope that therapy would offer any help other than telling you what you already know, why would you consider it? I wondered if that was a general assumption that people make.
It is true, therapy can definitely be an opportunity to name a problem. However, the goal is more often to understand what is causing the problem, explore how to become un-stuck, and create the life and relationships we want.
Asking for help in general can be difficult. It is understandable to want to be fully self-reliant, especially when cultural norms often dictate needing help as a sign of weakness. But in truth, navigating obstacles alone often leaves us at a standstill, vulnerable to discouragement, self-criticism, and failure. The good news is, asking for support is actually a sign of strength, and there is wisdom in knowing how to ask for help when you need it.
So how do you know when to ask for help from a mental health professional? A good question to start with that can help clarify if now is a good time to seek out good psychotherapy is…
Am I stuck?
- Do I see unhelpful even damaging patterns of interaction and outcome in my life that are keeping me from having meaningful relationships, and getting what I want and need?
- Am I doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result?
- Have I experienced a traumatic event or relationship and can’t seem to be able to heal, or move past it?
- Am I overwhelmed and unable to find balance no matter how hard I try?
- Are my thoughts and actions self-defeating, persistent, and damaging to those I love?
(For parents: these are all questions you can ask in regard to what you observe in your children and your interactions with them.)
“Am I stuck?” is only one of many questions to consider when thinking about getting help. Psychotherapy can yield many benefits, in many situations, for many different reasons. However, determining whether or not the issue is pervasive and or repeating is a good indicator of the level of help you might want to get.
As my friend pointed out, most of us know the problems we face, therapy is a place where we can work to understand and resolve them. Therapy is work, be sure of that, and it is different for everyone. But if you are willing to be open, curious, and committed to the process, a good therapist will meet you where you are, and help you get to where you want to be.