Making the decision to start therapy can be daunting. During first sessions my clients often ask something along the lines of, “Do you think therapy can help me?” Sometimes this is out of fear that problems are too big (they never are), but often people are concerned about just the opposite. People are often worried that their problems aren’t bad enough to warrant treatment. I can honestly say that this isn’t the case. There is no such thing as a “good enough” reason to seek treatment.
Although I don’t subscribe to the notion that everyone should be in therapy all the time (I believe therapy should be targeted and goal-directed), I do believe that there are many people who could benefit from treatment who are not seeking that help. I frequently see people who have been struggling for months or even for years before they decide to ask for help. While it is certainly true that ups and downs are normal and that life is often painful, it is not true that suffering has to be a part of it. The longer we wait to seek treatment, the harder it can be to find relief.
People start therapy for all kinds of reasons, including mood and anxiety concerns, difficulty managing or forming relationships, coping with events from the past, or setting goals for the future. Reasons for starting therapy can be very broad (“I want to feel better about myself”), or very specific (“I want to stop fighting with my partner”). Problems can feel mild (“my mood has been low”) or debilitating (“I can’t think of a reason to live”). No matter what your reason for considering treatment, it is valid.
So, when is it the right time to start treatment? Here are some signs that now may be a good time:
1. Your methods of coping just aren’t working. Sometimes we tell ourselves that if we just try a little harder, just take a few more deep breaths, just wait another day, it will all get better. Sometimes things do get better, but if those days have turned into weeks, months, or even years, it’s probably time to seek treatment.
2. You’re doing okay now, but feel like the “next thing” may just send you over the edge. People often try to push through on their own and don’t seek treatment until things feel like they are falling apart. Treatment is often more effective (and faster) if it starts before things fall apart. That doesn’t mean all is lost if you wait to seek help, but preventing a crisis is often easier than recovering from one.
3. You aren’t sure what the problem is, but you know there is one. Often people don’t know exactly what needs to change. On the surface, everything may look great. While you may not be able to identify anything in particular that is “wrong,” you still have the feeling that things could be better. Someone who isn’t “in it” (a treatment provider) can help to identify the problem and work toward a solution.
4. You don’t want the same thing to happen again. Sometimes treatment is more about prevention than anything else. Often we make it through difficult situations in one piece but think, “There has to be a better way.” Cycles of difficult relationships, mood swings, depression or anxiety can be broken.
5. You just don’t want to do it alone. Maybe you could push through it and come out okay. That doesn’t mean that’s what you have to do. Treatment can simply help to lighten the load.
Here’s the bottom line: don’t fall for the myth that things need to be “really bad” before you can ask for help. Most of the time, if you are wondering if therapy could help, it probably would. If you are considering therapy, give a provider a call and ask, “Do you think therapy could help?”