When do I know I need therapy?

Girl with balloons

One question I hear a lot is, how do you know it’s time to see a therapist?

Life is hard, sure, but how do you know when you need to enlist the help of a complete stranger to get through this?

Therapy is often painted as this mysterious process in a dimly lit office where a philosophical and bespectacled, cross legged academic gets his ho-hos from analyzing you and your crappy childhood. This can leave the impression that only the “seriously troubled” need apply for therapy.

Trying not to feel anxious about impressing your new boss at work while getting three elementary aged kids ready for school every single day hardly qualifies. Does it?

Oh yes, and your air conditioner just died. In July. In Florida. Ka-ching.

And your doctor wants to run more tests. It’s probably nothing. She doesn’t seem too worried but says she wants to be on the safe side.

That’s life, right?

Many of us are pretty resilient and try hard to manage our daily challenges as they come. Most of the time, that works. We naturally develop ways of coping with our stressors by watching those around us while we’re growing up.

Some coping skills are healthy, like exercise, meditation or reaching out to connect with good friends. Some dip their toes into the unhealthy pool, like drinking a glass or two of wine every night after dinner to unwind or using carbolicious food to calm those anxious emotions.

But let’s not be judgey. At the end of the day, positive or negative, coping skills do work.

Until they don’t.

  • Going for a run no longer takes the edge off.
  • Killing that entire bag of chips sends you into a serious shame spiral.
  • You isolate yourself from your friends and family and pledge allegiance to Netflix.
  • You call in sick to work multiple times rather than face the stress and pressure of your new boss.

You’ve officially overwhelmed your coping skills.

Here’s how you know: when the things you’ve always done to deal with your problems suddenly don’t work anymore, that’s the time to consider a professional perspective.

This is especially true when your problems begin to affect your functioning, like keeping your job or maintaining important relationships.

How can a therapist help?

First, don’t underestimate the power in just telling your story to someone uninterrupted.

Your therapy session is your time, and you can talk about whatever the heck you want.

This is powerful. Even at the very beginning, you can find some insight while you’re rolling out all the details and forming a timeline of events.

And because your therapist presumably has her own life to live, she has no vested interest in your story turning out any particular way.

You get to be the hero.

Second, an objective third party can help you get an aerial view of behavior patterns and ways of responding that may not be that effective for you.

It’s really hard to see that while you’re in it.

Understanding why you’ve responded to things a certain way and learning how to adapt those responses to meet your needs is the key. Patterns matter. They give you hard data that sets you up to create real change in your life.

Third, when you work with a therapist you officially have a team working with you.

How cool is that? ?

You and your therapist work together to help you determine where you want to be, then develop a plan of action to get there. Your therapist holds you accountable in a nonjudgmental way and helps you measure your progress.

The goal of therapy is that you develop the skills to kind of be your own therapist.

The skills you develop in therapy go a long way to help you build resilience to better manage the common issues in your life.

Therapy can empower to meet your challenges with confidence and purpose.

Get started with us today!


How to stop chewing your cud

Do you ever have days when you just can’t stop thinking about something that really got under your skin? Maybe it was something that happened yesterday, or maybe even 12 years ago.

Or maybe it’s just a thought you’ve always believed about yourself.

Like you’re not smart, or you’ll never amount to anything.

And no one wants to hang out with you.

And that’s why you’re not in a meaningful relationship.

Which means you’ll always be alone.

So you may as well stay home tonight.

And people who are alone don’t amount to anything.

Aaaand we’re right back where we started.

Let the chewing begin.

Welcome to the downward spiral of a dank little mental process called “rumination.”

Technically and all scienc-ey, rumination is the leisurely and regurgitative digestive process our four-stomached bovine friends must endure to better process their food. Apparently after enjoying their breakfast from Chik Fil-A, they must bring it back up and just keep on chewing.


Mental rumination, however, can be a sure fire catalyst for depression.

Every emotion we experience starts as a little seed of a thought that we entertain. If it’s a healthy thought, it leads to feeling happy or content, which leads to smiling, laughing and other positive behaviors.

Life is good. Chips and salsa all around.

But an unhealthy thought we tend to chew on over and over and over. We don’t challenge the thought or look for any evidence of it actually being valid or true. Instead we entertain it just long enough to let it lead to another, more unhealthy thought.

Which takes us down the path to what’s now a damaging thought.

Keep in mind, we’re not looking for a solution when we do this; just focusing completely on rehashing the bad parts.

We keep chewing that bad boy until we’re now furiously obsessing over what’s happened to us, something we probably had no control over anyway.

And now we’re angry, sad or maybe even feeling hopeless, the diagnosable stuff of depression.

Swallow. That. Cud.

While cud chewing is healthy for cows, it’s a maladaptive pattern for those of us with just one stomach. In order to stop ruminating, you have to deal with the thoughts you keep coughing up.

Write down the very first unhealthy thought, and be a detective. See if you can find evidence of its truth.

If it’s true, fine. Make a plan to address it. You might be alone not because you’re a loser but because you really haven’t put yourself out there. It’s hard not to be alone when there are no other people around. Just sayin’. Find ways to engage more with others.

If the thought’s not true, find a way to reframe or restate that thought in a healthier, more positive way before it gets you all worked up. Yes, you appear to be alone right now but you have a plan to join your church’s young adult group so you can meet people whose interests you share. And there will probably be pizza.

Either way, you’re processing the thought just the one time.

With the time you save, you can then use your new healthy thoughts to launch you into healthy and productive actions.

Is this something you’ve struggled with? Please do share.



Don’t hate on anger

Anger gets a bad rap.

Out of all the emotions, it’s the only one people don’t seem eager to embrace. No one really relishes wallowing in anger like they do disappointment, sadness, and especially fear. (Don’t lecture me, some people enjoy their pain. You know I’m right.)

While there are certainly enough books on managing anger or letting it go, there aren’t as many trying to explore what anger may be trying to tell us.

Things like, “Hey, this person’s not good for you.”

Or, “Look how that lost opportunity really meant something to you.”

And the always popular Twisted Sister-esque, “You don’t have to take that anymore.”

We can learn from this scorned emotion before we start trying to shoo it away. Anger can give us valuable data to discover some things we need to work on.

Anger isn’t a bad emotion.

One of the first things I like to tackle with my clients, especially with kids, is the perspective of emotions as good or bad.

First of all, we therapist types like to think in terms of healthy or unhealthy. That removes some of the character shaming that can come from labeling things as good or bad.

Because if we think of emotions as good or bad, we might be tempted to think of ourselves, the carriers of those emotions, as good or bad.

And nobody wants that.

If I hold a pen in my hand, and with said pen I stab you in the hand, is that pen a bad pen?

What if I took that same pen and wrote you a beautiful note extolling your wondrous virtues? Is the pen now miraculously a good pen?

If you’re keeping score at home: it’s neither. Pens are neither good nor bad. They’re just pens, for corn’s sake.

The devil is in how they’re used.

Anger protects softer emotions.

Anger is sometimes called a “hard emotion.” It lays over the top of softer emotions like fear, vulnerability, hurt, and disappointment.

Consider, if you will, the plight of the beetle.

Beetles have a pretty hard exoskeleton. It’s designed to protect the vital organs just under that hard shell, and it’s quite durable against many natural predators.

But when you step on a beetle (by accident or on purpose, I’m not judging), what immediately comes splattering out? White, gooey, soft liquid. That’s the real existence of the beetle.

Lying just under its supposedly impenetrable exterior was its own true nature, where the real beetle lived. That hard shell was doing a bang up job. Until it wasn’t. Now the beetle is exposed and in our little scenario, likely dead.

Wow, that’s really gross, Lori.

It’s easier to be pissed off and angry than to admit you’re hurt and scared. Because that means you’re out there and you can be hurt even more. And then you have to do something with that hurt. Who wants that?

Better to just avoid flat-footed humans and keep that outer shell in place.

Stay angry, my friends.

Anger is an indicator of what we’re not getting.

Think about the last time you got angry at someone who cut you off in traffic. I know you can think of something because everyone these days has a bad traffic story.

Why did you get so enraged at a perfect stranger, someone you’ll never see again and who has nothing invested in your life?

Think about it.

What would have happened if, in cutting you off, they hit your car and caused you to spin out? And what if you suffered a traumatic injury as a result of that collision? That stranger’s actions would have kept you from arriving at your destination safely, which was your intended goal.

Not to mention possibly changing the trajectory of your life, maybe keeping you from achieving your life’s dreams.

Believe it or not, all this goes through your mind when you get cut off in traffic (in addition to any relevant profanity).

We get angry at people because their actions are blocking us from our goal.

  • We get angry at a spouse who cheats because they are blocking us from our goal of a healthy marriage and a strong family.
  • We get angry at an abusive parent because they are blocking us from the unconditional love and acceptance we’re supposed to get from our parents.
  • We get angry at a boss because their actions may keep us from advancing in our careers.

Breaking free from all that anger really isn’t the goal. Without anger it would be hard to know what’s bothering us.

And of course, I’m not talking here about anger that results in violence. We all have to make responsible choices about what we do with that anger.

But we can use anger to measure our discomfort in certain areas, and ask ourselves some real questions.

Should I leave? Should I forgive? Should I set some boundaries? What’s really going on here?

Seeing anger as a diagnostic tool, rather than a character flaw, can open your mind to discover a way forward in some very difficult situations.