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.