Meet the therapist: When to seek help
By Savina Akoumianaki
Many people often wonder about the usefulness of mental health services, but also about exactly when it is indicated to seek the help of a therapist. It’s often feelings of fear, anger, disappointment and boredom which prevent people from seeking psychotherapy or at least delay their decision until things become “too much”. Due to time-consuming jobs and other commitments some people simply don’t have enough time to even consider it. There are others who try to deal with things in their own way through the use of Internet resources; by talking to friends or reading self help books. There is nothing wrong with any of that. It can all be very helpful, informative and educational.
But at the same time we need the help of someone who can be objective about our problems and “hold up a mirror” in order to help us understand the way we think and act. We need a person who can help us develop the necessary skills to cope with our problems. This person cannot be a friend. A friend is useful, providing the love and emotional support we need, but no one wants their friend to overdo it and end up feeling “burnt out”. This is something that can cause problems in any relationship. Furthermore, even though friends may be well meaning, they may not know precisely how to help.
First step: Recognize the need for therapy
People usually seek help from a therapist when they feel that they can’t cope anymore and that they can’t control their daily lives, which ends up causing them excessive pain and stress. There is a wide range of psychological “problems” that can lead someone to the door of a psychologist or therapist. Some common ones include:
• Anxiety or mood disorders: We don’t expect everyone to know what “mood disorder” means. We are referring to when an individual experiences symptoms that make their life difficult, such as panic attacks, sadness, hopelessness, anger, insomnia, eating problems, etc. The disorder comes in when intense suffering from these symptoms leads to dysfunction in the individual’s professional or personal life.
• A loss: There are those who need the help of a professional in cases of a loss (real or otherwise) such as the death of a loved one, a major breakup or losing one’s job. Loss is a part of life for every human being and it’s important to have a little psychological help.
• Trauma: This can include traumatic or painful situations in the work place, abuse or surviving an accident. In these cases the shock for the individual is causing serious harm, making them suffer and fear victimization.
• Addiction: Even if addiction can be a part of another disorder or “problem” it is in itself a sign that the individual should seek professional help.
• Behavioral problems: In these cases it is usually other people who advise or insist on the individual meeting with a therapist. Those with behavioral problems often have extreme difficulty communicating with others – something that can lead to isolation, conflict and dangerous, self-destructive behavior.
• Personal growth: Therapy can also help people who feel the need for personal growth or self-improvement.
Second step: Accept your need
After someone has recognized that “something is wrong” they will need to go further by accepting their need for help. This is not an easy decision for everyone because it can result in feelings of guilt or shame. Some might think that it is their fault or that if they visit a therapist it means they’re “crazy”. But it takes courage to take this decision. We have to think that all those negative thoughts about ourselves are not in fact true, but rather part of our current situation and that they will soon change. The decision to seek help also indicates that the individual is still struggling – that they are a person with hopes and dreams who wants to evolve and change something in their life. In other words, the decision to visit a therapist is an important indication of “health”. Finally, motivation in therapy is always very important. We must be willing to change in order to bring about a change in our life. We feel the personal need and the strength to seek special help when problems that concern us are unresolved despite the fact that we’ve tried many times.
Third step: Take action
After going through the previous internal processes, the next step is to call a professional and make an appointment. It is very important to find the best one for you, but this is no reason to delay. The best therapist is always the person who makes you feel comfortable and makes you feel that you can open up to them. The only way to see that is to make an appointment and speak with a therapist about what you need and expect. Let them explain how they work and see if it makes sense to you. The most important thing is how much you want your life to change.
Savina is a licensed Cognitive-Behavioral Therapist and author of technical articles, theatrical plays and self help texts. She has served as a Cognitive-Behavioral Therapist and Systemic Therapist at health centers, a Clinical Psychologist at hospitals and clinics and as a teacher at NGOs. She has also worked as a researcher for the European Social Fund. Her research projects have been featured at conferences and published in scientific journals.