When I meet with new clients, one of my first questions is “What brings you to counseling at this time in your life?” Or to put it simply, “Why seek counseling now?” About half of the time, individuals disclose that they have been thinking about it for some time, but due to finances, fears of being seen as a diagnosis, worries about being on medication for the rest of their life, or uncertainty about what they might need to face in therapy, they haven’t yet come. As with most things in life, there are a number of good reasons to attend therapy as well as a number of reasons people want to avoid it. I think the question we need to ask is, “Do I need counseling?” When we are faced with facts and convinced that we need to make changes in our life, whether it be a need to lose weight, pay our bills, go back to school, etc., we are willing to move past the barriers we put up, both real and imagined.
So have you ever wondered, “Do I need counseling?”
Honestly everyone can benefit from therapy at one point or another in their lives. Life is filled with transitions, large changes, and overwhelming events that necessitate support and guidance. Often, my clients are surprised when I share the fact that I have been a client in therapy from time to time. Even therapists have their own blindspots sometimes, and I have benefited from therapists utilizing the same techniques I do. The question of whether or not to go to therapy for mental health is similar to the question of whether or not to go to the doctor for physical health: should I go regularly to maintain my mental health or wait until there is a larger issue that needs to be addressed?
I encourage everyone to utilize any resource at their disposal for help in their healing journeys. Podcasts, self-help books, spiritually and emotionally mature friends, religious communities, self-care activities, medication and exercise are wonderful resources. But sometimes they are not enough. A big indicator of whether or not therapy is needed is when, after various attempts to change negative behaviors or emotional states, you feel stuck and overwhelmed. For example, an individual with an addiction who has tried almost everything with no lasting success may need to seek out the personalized expertise a therapist can offer.
We will all experience sadness and negative emotions, but an emotionally healthy individual is able to experience positive emotion, too, and is able to self-regulate. When mood states and previous events present limitations in major areas of your life (professional, personal, and social), there is more than likely an underlying issue that needs to be addressed in therapy. Often we rely on close friends too much in these instances, and treat them as our therapist, asking them to share our wounds and provide support when we are not able to do the same for them. When this begins to occur, we find ourselves asking more out of our friendships than they can provide and it’s time to look for a therapist.
With so much time being spent at home as a family unit, issues that were ignored previously due to the distractions of life are more apparent and palpable. I usually suggest that couples and families get counseling when their communal life begins to feel mostly negative or they feel as though they are living parallel lives with little overlap. We will always try to find ways to deal with anxiety, uncertainty, and setbacks, and when you are in a marriage and/or a family and are unable to turn towards them for support, something is wrong.
But what if you are not experiencing severe symptoms? Earlier, I mentioned treating therapy as a way of maintaining a current state of health. Oftentimes, clients will come for therapy when they are experiencing a major life changing event such as the birth of a child, divorce, career change, or the death of a loved one, with the understanding that although they are healthy at this point, it is best to deal with the emotions they are experiencing and ensure they are processed appropriately. With the current pandemic, schools, work, church communities, and other organizations are drastically changing. Now is a great time to discuss with a mental health professional how you are handling the stress and uncertainty everyone is experiencing, to ensure that unhealthy coping strategies, beliefs, or thoughts are not taking root. Therapy does not always have to be a weekly occurrence or a long process. It can be a resource used in tandem with others when we are faced with trying seasons in our lives.
If any of these experiences ring true for you, please seek out a qualified therapist. Our mental health impacts the quality of every single aspect of our lives. You are worth the investment, and now is a great time to begin your healing journey.
Mark Martinez MA, LPC