First off, there are some clear signs that professional help should be contacted right away - if you are having thoughts of hurting yourself, or you’ve had a rapid change in your weight, or you’re having severe anxiety/panic attacks - please let someone know. Contact a help line such as 1-888-NYCWELL or 1-800-LIFENET and tell them what’s happening.
However, it can be less clear if you aren’t in crisis, but you’re feeling overwhelmed, sad, more anxious, irritable, “just not myself.” Maybe it’s become hard to do things that are usually manageable. Therapy is on your mind but you’ve taken no steps to begin. Someone said “maybe you should try therapy.” Many people have been in that place, but how bad do things have to get? It’s hard to know when to go. I know that because I put it off myself.
During the times I struggled in high school or college, I am pretty sure that my mother suggested I “talk to someone.” I resisted, being a private person who seriously doubted that some stranger could begin to understand my problems, and certainly could not help fix them.
I pushed through, took care of myself, and had a certain pride in that. When I enrolled in a Master’s program, a requirement that I still needed to satisfy was participating in therapy. That’s right, I planned to be a therapist before I’d ever tried it. It seemed like people always came to me to talk, so I wanted to get training in how to be of real help. We were encouraged to have therapy in order to see how it felt, to learn self-management and resolve the personal issues that could get in the way of our work. I continued to put it off. There were tough times, but not past the point where I could deal with things myself.
However, I had a boyfriend who had a lot of stress in his life (touring with a band, increasing success, trouble with his ex, substance abuse) and as he started to crumble, I felt the pressure. I worried a lot about him, and us, and found it hard to focus on my school, internship and job when I was preoccupied with my personal life. I couldn’t hold myself up while trying to hold him up. I started working with a great therapist who didn’t judge, who respected my intentions and choices in life. I discovered that I was leaving the sessions with new hope and energy. I got clarity on how to cope and what I needed to do for myself. Things began to change, for the better. To my surprise, “wow, I should have done this sooner!” was a recurring thought.
I learned that therapy wasn’t something to be ashamed of, I wasn't there because anything was "wrong" with me, and that I felt stronger for going than not going. It’s for attention to self, to look clearly at the problems and give voice to fear or sorrow, and find a new response. I’ve worked with a few therapists now, and each one was different, but I was always able to learn skills and find truth during difficult times. Talking to family and friends can help, but leaning too much on them doesn't feel right. I found that investing time and money in a conversation devoted to my own goals made a huge difference. Therapy is not the only way to work through things, but most people find it gives them a much better chance at resolving the problems and making good changes.
So, if you are going through a tough phase and wonder “should I go to therapy?”, or yet another caring person brings it up again, maybe now IS the time to listen to that encouraging voice… and then go ahead and try therapy.