Updated: Jul 29
How do I know if I need therapy?
This is a common question with many different answers! Usually, someone is considering therapy because they have a problem in their lives that either feels too big to solve on their own, or that they’ve tried to solve unsuccessfully. Maybe you’re finding that you rely on alcohol or drugs in order to manage stress and need help finding some different coping strategies. Maybe you’re going through a traumatic life change such as a divorce, job change, or grieving the loss of a loved one. Maybe you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts. Many people find themselves turning to therapy when they’re in a crisis, or in pain that feels unmanageable. However, there are many other valid reasons to enter therapy when you’re not in crisis. Symptoms of persistent low-level depression, for example, may not interfere with your daily functioning, but you may find that you’re having trouble connecting with others, or finding simple ways to be happy. Anxiety is another feeling that most people cope with at some point in their lives, and might feel “normal” because of the fast-paced world we live in. But consider if your anxiety–which can cause opposing symptoms like sleeplessness and fatigue–is creating barriers to enjoying your partner, family or friends. Even small issues that you may not think are “important” enough for therapy will be welcomed by your therapist. Finally, therapy can be a very effective way to cope with the “human condition;” that is, those universal events and questions we all grapple with around birth, death, sex, love, loss and meaning.
Okay, I need therapy: How do I find a therapist?
There are probably more ways to connect to a therapist than ever before, in part thanks to the pandemic and the unprecedented stress it caused for most of us.The need to move activities online provided many more opportunities for people to try therapy in a virtual setting like telehealth. Here at GPS, telehealth appointments are always an option. There are also virtual-only therapy options like Pridecounseling.com for LGBTQ+ folks and Regain.us, which specializes in couples and relationship therapy. Online therapy is a good option for those looking to address more common complaints like depression, anxiety, body issues. It’s not a good choice for more serious issues like suicidality or psychiatric conditions like Bipolar Disorder or anyone experiencing psychosis. We will cover the topic of how to decide what therapy is best for you in an upcoming blog post, so stayed tuned :)
You can always go the “old school” route first and ask around in your circle if someone has a therapist they would recommend. Word of mouth recommendations can ease the anxiety around talking to a “stranger.” Another tried-and-true method for religious people is to ask their church leader for a recommendation. Religious leaders are often very connected to community resources such as mental health practitioners.
If you’re ready to turn to the internet, psychologytoday.com is a fantastic resource that shows different practitioners in your area. You can narrow your search by the issues you’re looking to treat (depression, addiction, sex therapy, etc.) or the treatment specialty of the therapist, such as psychodynamic, couples and family therapy, cognitive-behavioral, dialectical, etc. Peruse the pictures and the brief description that each clinician posts to introduce themselves and see if anyone feels like a good fit. Many years ago, when I found myself engulfed in overwhelming anxiety, I found my therapist on psychologytoday.com. She was highly credentialed, but I chose her because she had a kind face and quoted Anais Nin. I saw her on and off for the next decade!
Feel free to ask for a consultation before hiring a therapist. You can get a gauge of their personality ask them questions. Questions can range from asking about their professional experience with the issue you’re dealing with, to how they manage conflict in therapeutic relationships, to scheduling questions and payment options. Don’t be shy about taking the opportunity to get to know a therapist before committing yourself to an appointment.
But…what if I don’t ‘click’ with my therapist?
Consider what you’re looking for in a therapeutic relationship and whether or not those goals can be met in therapy. For instance, while therapists are there to advocate for you, support your learning and provide a safe and empathetic listening environment, they can’t befriend you outside of the office, nor can they always offer direct advice or opinions the way a friend would. If you’re looking for brief, solution-focused therapy, looking for a therapist with a cognitive-behavioral background is going to align with your goals better than, say, a psychoanalytic approach. But it’s true, sometimes you and the therapist are not a “good fit” and if you feel this after the first few sessions, communicating that with your therapist is the best idea. Remember, this isn’t a social relationship where your therapist will be hurt if you don’t like them! Open communication can help both of you discover whether or not you can work effectively together, and if not, the therapist can refer you to someone else who might better suit your goals. Research consistently shows that the relationship between therapist and client is the biggest indicator of successful therapy, so when in doubt, trust your gut. It’s ok to keep looking and be really intentional in finding the right therapist.
I’m all better! Discontinuing therapy
A good question to ask your therapist is: how will I know when I know longer need therapy? Your therapist may ask you to envision what your life would look and feel like if the issues you’re coping with are no longer present. When you find yourself ready to move on from therapy, again, open communication is the best approach. You and your therapist can consider whether you feel that you’ve mastered the skills you need to handle the stresses of life on your own. You and your therapist may decide to have a few last sessions together, or move to bi-weekly or monthly sessions. Alternatively, your therapist may express that they feel you still have more work to do together and encourage you to remain in therapy longer. Of course, it’s always your choice when and how long you want to do therapy. Some people may choose to stay in therapy indefinitely, off and on throughout their lives. Therapy is an incredible self-care tool and if it’s working for you, there’s no hard and fast rules about termination.
Whether you choose short-term or long-term, entering into therapy can help you cope with everyday stresses, traumatic experiences and, sometimes, even help you make peace with some of the big questions of life. Though it begins by asking for help, a good therapist can help you discover that you have the power and the answers within you to guide you into creating the life you want.
By Alison Napoleon, MSW Intern