When to Seek Therapy
Sometimes you need to talk to someone, someone who can help. . . When you feel like you can't do it alone. . . When you feel trapped, like there's nowhere to turn. . . When you worry all the time, and never seem to find the answers. . . When the way you feel is affecting your sleep, your eating habits, your job, your relationships, your everyday life. . . When even the advice offered by family or well-meaning friends doesn't really help you feel any better.
Recognizing the need for professional help is a good first step towards improvement. Therapy can be of real benefit, providing help for a wide range of problems such as depression, loss, marital strife, parent-child concerns, or emotional distress. It can also help fulfill aspirations for personal growth or self-improvement. Therapy has one clear and definite purpose: that something of positive value and constructive usefulness will come out of it for you.
Some of the most common reasons for seeking help from therapy include:
From time to time, everyone experiences emotional pain. But sometimes the distress is particularly severe or long-lasting and interferes with your ability to function in your daily life. If you are experiencing sadness, grief, or anxiety that is persistent, therapy can help relieve the symptoms, address the underlying causes for your distress, and provide you with help in restoring emotional well-being.
Therapy can help you overcome obstacles that have kept you from reaching your goals and becoming the person you want to be. Although you might not have a clinical condition or symptoms, therapy can help you learn more about yourself, as well as others, and how you can live your life with deeper personal satisfaction.
Your distress may be coming from difficulties in your relationship with a spouse, parent, child, coworker or significant other. Therapy can be valuable in helping you understand the root of the problem and providing you with the understanding and skills you need to improve the relationship.
Sometimes emotional distress or relationship problems are associated with coping mechanisms, such as excessive shyness, weak communication, lack of assertiveness, or poor anger control. Therapy can enable you to acquire or strengthen skills that can benefit many of the most important areas of your life.
Experiencing a break from someone who is important to you (through death or separation) can result in great emotional pain. Therapy can be significantly helpful in coping with the loss.
How Does Therapy Work?
If you are hurting inside, or your life just doesn't seem to be working, talking with friends or family members can sometimes help you feel a little better for a while. But even the most well-meaning friend can't provide therapy. Therapy is a treatment process that uses specialized techniques of caring that have been designed to offer effective, long-lasting help for people suffering from a wide range of difficulties, such as emotional distress, anxiety, marital strife, fears, a significant loss, or a clinical disorder. Therapy can also help fulfill aspirations for personal growth or self-improvement.
One of the biggest misconceptions about therapy is that seeing a therapist is a sign of weakness. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Recognizing the need for help and seeking professional therapy is a sign of both strength and your determination to live a productive and meaningful life! Working together, you and your therapist will identify your goals (what you want to have happen) and agree on how you'll know when you are making progress. Therapy has one clear and definite purpose: that something of positive value and constructive usefulness will come out of it for you.
Therapy has often been called the "talking cure," since the exchange of words between the client and therapist can appear to be the most obvious form of communication that is going on. In reality, therapy can offer a much richer experience than the simple exchange of words and advice. The thoughts and feelings you share and the professional techniques the therapist uses are not nearly as important as the relationship you build together. Because the relationship with the therapist is so essential to the effectiveness of the process, it is very important that you find someone with whom you feel a comfortable connection, a therapist who makes you feel understood.
As therapy progresses and your trust in the therapist's nonjudgmental acceptance of your thoughts and feelings is established, you will actually use the relationship as an opportunity to reshape significant emotional experiences and work through problems in your life. In therapy, you intentionally make yourself vulnerable to another human being and you may talk about some things that are very painful for you. However, it is the very process of trusting that it's safe to release your feelings--the good and the bad--and knowing that the therapeutic relationship permits you to safely explore deeply felt sources of conflict and dissatisfaction that will finally allow you to make lasting, positive changes in your life.
Choosing The Right Therapist
As you go through the process of choosing the therapist that will best serve your needs, trying to first decipher the confusing array of academic degrees, licenses, and certifications used in the psychology profession can seem daunting, to say the least. You may come across literally dozens of designations, such as Ph.D., M.D., MA, Psy.D., M.F.C.C., or L.C.S.W.
Some will be "licensed", some "certified", and others will be "registered." They may also list a particular orientation like psychoanalytic, psychodynamic, cognitive/behavioral, gestalt, or solution-focused. Quite understandably, many people are confused about what all of these initials and titles mean. They may be unsure about just what they should be looking for, and they worry about making a wrong choice. These concerns can be heightened by the fact that when you're in emotional pain, you want help and you want it right away.
Wisdom, empathy, compassion and character are all attributes you'll want your therapist to have, but they aren't enough. Knowledge and good professional training are essential but you will want a therapist who has acquired all of the following:
1. Intensive academic study in a field of mental health.
A good, competent therapist starts with a master's or a doctorate in a field of mental health (e.g., MA, MS, MSW, PhD, PsyD, MD).
2. Supervised clinical experience.
It is important to know whether or not the therapist you are considering choosing has completed an extensive psychotherapy training program ("clinical training"). This could have been part of their academic degree, or it could have been a separate postgraduate program. Some MA's and PhD's have academic knowledge about psychological research or medication, but have never had actual training or practice in psychotherapy. Psychotherapy cannot simply be learned out of a book or in a classroom. You want a therapist who has also benefited from supervised training.
3. Certification or registration or licensure.
Following their successful training, the therapist is pronounced worthy by an authority to which they will then be accountable. This can be a government licensing board, or some other credentialing organization. Some of the more common designations you might see include: LCSW, CSW, MFT, LMFT, MFCC, AAPC, LPC, NCC, or NCPsyA. The type of credential is not as important as some may want you to believe. For instance, a psychologist may not necessarily be a better therapist than a licensed professional counselor or a state registered intern.
When you feel confident that a particular therapist's overall criteria meets your needs, you're ready for the first phone call. Although you might be feeling nervous during this initial conversation with the therapist, it can still offer an opportunity to evaluate how clearly you are able to communicate with one another and how the rapport feels. Remember, you are the one doing the choosing.
During your first meeting with the therapist, pay attention to how you feel in their presence and in the therapeutic setting they've created. Note how "listened to" you feel and how their style of responding to you and sharing information makes you feel. Although making yourself vulnerable to another human being is always anxiety provoking, observe how you feel as the session progresses, including changes in your level of ease and shifts in the depth of information you reveal.
It's important to remember that therapy is a much, much richer experience than just problem-solving. The foundation of good therapy is the relationship you and the therapist build together. Because this relationship is going to be so crucial to the effectiveness of your therapy, it is essential you find someone with whom you feel a comfortable connection, someone who makes you feel understood and accepted, a therapist who creates and maintains an environment within which you can feel safe to explore even the most deeply felt sources of pain or conflict. Choose a therapist with whom it feels very right to establish such a life-changing and life-enhancing relationship. You deserve the best possible therapy experience.
Is the information discussed in therapy kept private?
One of the most frequently asked questions about therapy is: "Will what I tell the therapist be kept private and confidential?" The answer is "yes." You have a right to expect absolute privacy and confidentiality in therapy. Without your explicit consent, the therapist is prevented by law from discussing information you share during your sessions with anyone else. Knowing and trusting that anything you say will be safely contained in the therapeutic space is essential to meaningful therapy.
Are there ever instances in which the therapist does reveal what a client tells them?
There are some limitations to confidentiality in therapy. The legal system acknowledges that there are times when the client, society or both can benefit from release of information. The circumstances in which confidentiality can be breached are defined by State and Federal case law. The most common circumstances include:
Danger to self or others:
All states allow a therapist to reveal the name of a client who is deemed a real and present danger to self (e.g., suicide) or others. Some states even require that the therapist warn or attempt to protect the person against whom the threats are being made.
Abuse of children, elderly, or mentally or physically handicapped:
In most states a therapist is required to report credible knowledge of current or past abuse. This applies to situations in which the client is the one who was abused as well as to situations in which the client is the abuse.