Thoughts on therapy and when you need it

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Therapy is becoming ubiquitous. Pretty much every boob out there has something to say on the subject, whether it’s “why pay a stranger when you can get advice from a friend?”, or “therapy is for wusses who don’t have a grip on their lives”. Another popular misconception is that “psychologists are in it for the money, and they just want you to talk while they rake in the dollars”. But the discussion on therapy and when you need it is less common.

We bandy words like “depression” and “anxiety” around, but we are horrified when someone we know commits suicide. A common refrain is that he/she seemed fine. We don’t dig too deep or ask too many questions when someone casually mentions they’re suffering from insomnia or addiction. We celebrate the party animal and the Casanova, but we rarely think about what lies beneath.

Life coaching vs self-help vs therapy: Some misconceptions

Life coaching can certainly help you. Other alternative treatments can help too. Many studies show that just talking to someone about your problems has tremendous benefits. But more than a few of us humans choose self-help, learning from motivational speakers, podcasts, or books, which can really work. Or not.

The fact that movies and popular culture have stereotyped therapy doesn’t help. We all think of therapy as a person lying on a couch and rehashing emotional events from their childhood. Going for therapy is often presented as a sign of weakness, that you’re just not tough enough to survive in this dog-eat-dog world. This kind of stigma is why it’s becoming increasingly common for men to choose life coaching over therapy.

Another misconception is that therapy is the assessment you have with a psychiatrist before they prescribe you pills. Or maybe it’s that session on a TV series where the protagonist is shown inkblots and asked what they see (erm, what does it mean if you see boobies?).  Rarely do we see therapy presented as what it is, a holistic approach to healing that often combines elements of coaching, self-help, and cognitive behavioural therapy.

Thoughts on therapy and its purpose

The primary purpose of therapy is to help you become aware of your unconscious mind, so that you can eventually get control over them. Of course, therapy also works with the conscious experience, helping you to understand how self-limiting behaviour is driven by thoughts and feelings and beliefs you might not be completely aware of.

Most psychotherapists offer talk therapy

Most therapists practice talk therapy, where you’re encouraged to open up about past events to explore how they’re affecting you now. For example, you feel overcome by rage when your partner is late all the time, making you late for specific events. Through therapy, you uncover that his action triggers the lack of control you felt as a child growing up as the child of an alcoholic. When your partner repeatedly makes you late despite knowing how this makes you feel, you feel disrespected, unloved, and unheard  – and like you have no control over your life or your relationship.

By digging into your past, you understand your present, allowing you to master those habits, feelings, and thoughts that hold you back from achieving your goals. You’ll look at your childhood, emotional development, past traumas etc and process your feelings in a safe space. Then you can become more aware of how a behaviour triggers that response and learn how to be in control over it. Or you’ll learn to communicate that allows you to grow and change. A successful therapeutic experience does not you’re cured, it means you have learned how to deal with the ups and downs of life.

CBT is another common therapeutic approach

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is helpful when you want to change specific thoughts or behaviour patterns. CBT focuses on observing your thoughts and how they lead to behaviour, rather than your unconscious feelings. It’s a more direct approach that often has set goals or outcomes as you learn to change your thoughts through affirmations and other techniques.

Of course, you get many other therapeutic approaches and combinations of approaches, like hands-on therapy, where the therapist uses physical touch to treat patients, or humanistic therapy where the client has the tools for their own healing.  Most psychotherapists offer a combination of approaches tailored to the individual.

So, what’s the difference between therapy and self-help or personal development?

Therapists are healthcare professionals trained to deal with mental illness. Self-help gurus and personal development coaches aren’t subjected to the same rigorous training and licencing requirements. Yes, they might be able to help you, but they don’t necessarily have the same academic background or experience.

Many life coaches are also psychotherapists or counsellors but there is no governing board for life or success coaches (and literally anyone can write a self-help book or blog, including me!). Yes, self-help definitely helps, but sometimes you do need a helping hand, especially when you’re overwhelmed trying to do it all yourself.

You can read more about therapy and life coaching here.

Difference between therapy and counselling

While people use therapy and counselling interchangeably, counsellors don’t have the same academic qualifications. Again, they can help – talk therapy is proven to be successful because the focus is on you and your healing. The key difference comes down to education, licensing, and training.

While any professional that advertises psychotherapy must be licensed, not all counsellors have advanced education or licenses to practice psychotherapy. This article has a lot of information if you want to learn more about the difference between counselling and psychotherapy.

A focus on therapy and how it can help:

  • Know who to see if you’re having mental health issues

People often mistake clinical psychologists, therapists and counsellors for psychiatrists. Psychiatrists prescribe medicine and specialize in mental illness. Clinical psychologists have experience in treating severe mental illness with psychotherapy (but cannot prescribe medicine), whereas most therapists and counsellors do not.

If you’ve been diagnosed with a severe mental condition like schizophrenia, you’d need a psychiatrist to monitor your medication. But if you’re suffering from anxiety or depression, chances are you need to see a psychologist.

Psychologists might refer you to a psychiatrist, or vice versa, but generally, psychologists want to help you heal by getting to the underlying source or root of your pain. Most psychologists will work with a psychiatrist if you have a severe mental issue, but will not prescribe (and sometimes won’t recommend) medicine. Find out more about the key difference between a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist.

  • Therapy can only help you if you help yourself

Therapy isn’t a magic pill. Many people think that therapy can fix them. They get frustrated when their healing isn’t quick or painless or hide their feelings by not participating in their session (passive resistance). Most people who achieve success in therapy do so because they’re doing most of the work. If you see the therapist as the facilitator there to guide your own healing, you’re probably in the right headspace. If you’re expecting to quickly sort out your issues without disclosing much of yourself, you’re probably not ready. If you aren’t willing to do the work, your therapist can’t help you.

  • What’s your end goal?

Therapy still needs to have some kind of end goal. Don’t get stuck in never-ending therapy. Most therapists are guided by their ethics, and if they feel that you’re using them as a crutch, they’ll advise you to seek another therapist or try a different approach. Others might not be as ethical, and you could find yourself in a relationship that’s not serving you anymore, isn’t helping you grow, or worse, becomes destructive.

Therapy should be uncomfortable. It will help you to be vulnerable. It should help you see things from a different perspective.

  • Do your homework when choosing the right therapist

Most of us aren’t selective in the therapist we choose. You might even choose a clinic that assigns you the first available professional. But that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily the right fit for you. Do your homework! Finding the right therapist should be a serious process, where you’re interviewing therapists to see if they align with you and your goals.

Many therapists offer free consultations where you can meet them and get to know how they work. Most will have a website, and many will have published work in journals or blogs you can read to get a feel for what they’re about. Try find someone that you relate to. Someone that you feel like you can trust.

  • Accept awkward and uncomfortable

When I first saw a student therapist at university, he was a slightly older male who would stare at me very intently and scribble in his journal while I recounted harrowing memories from my past. I found the process to be awkward and uncomfortable, but I would never have dreamed of asking for another therapist because I wouldn’t want him to think I didn’t rate him. But if I’d gone for a free consult, he wouldn’t have been offended if I didn’t go ahead. That said, I’m still seeing a male dentist that I find awkward and uncomfortable so maybe there’s a pattern here 😊

Sometimes awkward and uncomfortable is what you need to get to the unpleasant stuff. Or maybe you need a completely different perspective from someone who literally has nothing in common with you.

Blue-footed Booby Success Formula: How to know when you need therapy

The APA suggests seeing a therapist when something causes distress and interferes with your life.

Here’s how to evaluate when you need therapy:

  1. Ask yourself if you spend more than an hour a day thinking (or obsessing) about it
  2. Does it cause you embarrassment, or make you want to hide from others?
  3. Have you noticed this problem impacting your quality of life?
  4. Does it affect your education, career, or relationships?
  5. Have you made any changes in your life to compensate for this issue/problem?

If any of the above sounds like something you’re experiencing, you might want to consider seeking professional help.

Carefully consider what type of therapist would be able to help you and put in the effort to find them. I hope these thoughts on therapy help you figure out which way to go on your journey to knowing yourself.

If you found this article helpful, please let us know in the comments below or shoot us an email.

And don’t forget to join the blue-foot flock!

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