Is it time for therapy?

How do you think about psychotherapy or counseling? For many people, just the mention of those words sends them running. Sometimes the suggestion that there’s a bigger problem than you can fix on your own has the opposite effect than what was intended by a well-meaning friend or relative. Since the days of Freud, it has conjured images of helpless people lying on couches, divulging their dreams to a dry analyst to be, well, analyzed. No one likes the feeling of being analyzed or judged!

On the other hand, you might be the kind of person who believes in therapy and has experienced getting help from therapy but who is wondering if you really need it for this particular problem you’re having. After all, not everything is an emergency and sometimes the only way to get through something hard is to get through it. This is true even if you’re already being seen by a therapist. So how do you judge? How can you know if what you’re experiencing is outside of what’s normal or doable on your own? What symptoms will help you discern that spending the time and money on therapy is a good investment? Do you leave it up to your instinct?

Some Helpful Guidelines

For those of us who want straightforward information about what is normal when facing a crisis, it can help to do an assessment. You can certainly go to a therapist for this assessment, but it’s easy to do a bit of self-reflection this way:

Have your recently gone through a crisis and are still experiencing the effects? Perhaps the actual crisis has passed but you still feel in it: you are unable to let go of a relationship that ended or are still reeling from a job loss. There’s no table for how soon you should recover from a crisis, but if you find yourself having difficulty coping and it’s affecting the way you live your life at work or school or is affecting you physically (like not being hungry or having trouble getting out of bed), that’s a good indication you should seek the help of a counselor or therapist. Even if you don’t think your problem is big enough to ask for help, it doesn’t hurt to find out. Sometimes it’s helpful to see a list of possible symptoms. If you find you are saying yes to many of these, that’s another good indication to seek help:

• Feeling unhappy for no reason

• Not being satisfied with your life

• Having trouble making decisions

• Having trouble setting or reaching goals

• Being tired for no reason

• Feeling hopeless

• Changes in sleeping or eating

• Acting in ways that you don’t like or that get you into trouble

• Anxiety that feels hard to manage

• Problems with alcohol or drugs

• Problems with uncontrolled anger

• Relationship problems or family problems

• Having trouble at work or school

• Thinking about death a lot or thinking of hurting yourself

Finally, some people choose to come into therapy for growth work. In other words, they feel like they are functioning well, but they would like to grow in certain areas like conflict resolution or being more authentic in their relationships. These can be very rewarding times in therapy, as well.

The decision to seek therapy can be hard - it’s time consuming, requires you to invest your money, and has historically carried stigma. Doing a self-assessment can help give you objective guidelines for when to seek help, but if you’re not sure you can always make one appointment to find out! You might find that taking regular time, just about your own needs, can help you live into your new normal after a crisis, accept or manage a chronic problem, or just reach a healthier way of living life.

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