Therapy is not for “crazy” people. Let’s get that one out of the way.
Therapy is for people who want to be proactive about resolving limitations and growing through difficulties. Don’t believe me? Check out this Forbes article.
Obviously, people experience different issues and levels of chaos in their lives. Some people have been dealt a deck of cards that is very difficult. But, having super difficult stuff is not the only reason to go to therapy.
First, let’s talk about how to know when it is time to go to therapy.
You are going to know in 2 ways:
ONE: There is a threshold reached inside of you.
Usually that threshold is marked by emotional or physical pain. You find yourself repeating patterns and you are sick of it. Maybe you hate yourself for how you are handling things. You are physically uncomfortable with the intensity of your emotional experience, whether that is anger or anxiety. Or maybe, nothing is fulfilling anymore. And the numbing or lack of meaning or motivation is unbearable.
Sometimes we have to reach a point of noticeable discomfort to get into action and commit to helping ourselves.
When my clients come in feeling like they are at the end of their rope, I always tell them this is great news and it is perfect that they are feeling this way. I’m pretty sure they don’t love it.
Here’s why it is great news: In the human emotional system, pain is a powerful motivator. That is the design. If you are in pain, you will likely seek to mitigate it. Hopefully you make some positive choices when you are trying to soothe the discomfort, like look for a therapist or get advice from a friend who is a positive influence. As opposed to other choices that could just land you in a deeper pool of struggle.
TWO: The circumstances in your life are putting a mirror up to the growth that wants to happen inside of you.
Consider the central tenet of Humanistic psychology: human beings are always tending toward growth. We have an innate drive toward self actualization. That means you are going to set yourself up in situations that are going to push you to grow past limitations. Often unconsciously.
It definitely doesn’t look like this at first. It looks like a sh*t storm and you are not loving it. It looks like things are going really wrong in your life. But don’t let this fool you.
In the moment of the hard stuff, you don’t have to worry too much about what growth wants to happen or what the circumstances are mirroring back to you.
You need to stabilize things and get some support.
Your therapist can help you sort out what limitation you are trying to grow past through the current difficult circumstances showing up in your life.
So, basically, either your internal world (you pass a threshold of discomfort) or your external world will give you the clue that it is time for to look for a therapist.
If you find a therapist that is a good fit for you and you do yourself a favor to make sure you get the most out of therapy, it will work and help you recover as well as grow through the challenge you are facing.
How can you get the most out of therapy?
ONE: Make sure there is some alignment between you and your therapist.
You want to make sure that your life philosophies somewhat match up. It doesn’t have to be exact, but you are going to be growing toward your therapist’s orientation toward challenges and emotional difficulties, so you don’t want to block that process by just not being a match. You will spend more time in therapy wondering if you trust your therapist’s reflections and whether you feel right about where you are being led than actually healing. Waste of time and money. Just do your best get the right fit from the beginning. Look at therapist profiles, call up a couple that you think could be a good match, maybe even do a free in person consult with a couple if you are still not sure.
TWO: Make sure that you actually like being in the room or in a conversation with that person.
You are going to be spending a significant amount of time, make sure you find your therapist’s presence to be somewhat pleasant, in the very least.
THREE: In therapy, you are doing the work.
This is different than a doctors office. When you go to the doctor, the doctor (or the technology or the medication) is doing the work in traditional terms. Make sure you come to therapy ready to be honest and wrestle with the resistance toward being vulnerable and receptive. You are going to get uncomfortable. Breathe with it.
FOUR: Come up with goals with your therapist so you know when the work you came to do is done.
Sometimes people want to stay longer for another round of goals. That’s awesome. But you should feel like you are getting somewhere. By having goals, you can see that you actually are making progress.
FIVE: Write down the good stuff from each session: realizations you came to, connections you made between current problems and past unresolved stuff.
SIX: Go before you HAVE to.
To be healthy, build a net before you need it. The earlier you make it to therapy, the easier it will be to make progress. If you see a challenge or growth period on the horizon, start a relationship with a therapist. You will be happy you did.