Everyone has ups and downs, or feels anger and deep sadness at times. But how do you know when your emotions are the everyday kind that are likely to get better with time? Or when it's time to get help?
The best clue that it's time to see a therapist is a sense that the way you're thinking, feeling, or behaving is interfering with your normal life. And that this has been going on for some time. You don't need a clear understanding of what's bothering you before you get therapy. It's enough to say you're feeling overwhelmed, immobilized, or out of your depth. It can be hard to find the words to name what you are feeling. A therapist can help.
Psychotherapy is based on the idea that you're only aware of a small part of what's going on in your mind. The part of you driving the way you think, feel, and behave is called the unconscious.
Have you ever had a disturbing dream that brought to mind something you hadn't been thinking before? That is the unconscious at work.
Most often when people have trouble coping with life, it's mainly that they are getting in their own way. A pesky part of yourself works against change to keep things the way they are.
Psychotherapy is designed to help people solve emotional, behavioral, or relationship problems. The goal might be to stop or reduce symptoms such as a phobia or feelings of sadness or anxiety. Another goal may be to improve how you function in relationships or work.
Most therapists do talk therapy (counseling). They understand and help through talking and building a relationship with you.
To be successful, the therapeutic relationship must have the following parts:
The frame. Therapy works in much the same way as good parenting. It includes building a healthy relationship. And it must have a thoughtful and consistent structure to be effective. The frame includes a comfortable private setting, a regular meeting time, and an agreed-upon fee.
The approach. Your therapist should be well trained in a method or combination of methods that they can explain to you.
Nonjudgmental listening. Therapists are people too. So they have their own reactions and opinions. But to help you, they should keep these to themselves. You have to make your own choices and decisions. Your therapist should not second-guess you or tell you what to do. The exception is if you're doing something very destructive, such as threatening to kill yourself or someone else. In that case, your therapist must not stay neutral.
Trust. For your treatment to succeed, you have to believe your therapist has your best interests in mind and is acting in good faith.
Caring. Therapy is a business relationship. But it's a real and caring one. A good therapist is nonjudgmental. But they are not detached.
Empathy. No one but you can really know what it's like to be you. But a good therapist, in addition to being warm and caring, should make every effort to understand what you are going through. It's vital that they can get into your experience and really understand you.
A good fit. Therapy is most successful when you choose a therapist whose personality and way of working are a good match with your own. In other words, find someone you feel comfortable with.
To find a mental health provider:
Check with your insurance company to see what types of mental health services are covered. They may have a list of preferred mental health providers
Ask you primary care provider for a referral. If your insurance does not cover mental healthcare, ask your healthcare provider if there are free or low-cost community mental health services.
Ask trusted friends or family members for therapist names.
Call local professional organizations for names. This could be the professional organization for social workers, psychiatrists, or psychologists.
Contact a local university psychology department or social work department. Or contact a college of medicine’s psychiatric department.
Call your local community mental health center.
Once you have found a name, check with your state's department of professional licensing. Make sure the person is licensed and has no complaints filed against them.
If you have a specific problem, ask for a provider who specializes in that area. For example, many therapists have in-depth training in alcohol and drug addiction, eating disorders, domestic violence, or depression, among other things. When you contact the therapists, check to see if they take your insurance. Ask what type of payment plan they have.
If the first therapist you meet doesn't work out, don’t give up. Keep interviewing therapists until you find the right match.
Therapy is really just you and a well-trained person who cares about you talking and working together to understand you better. And in the end, feeling that you're deeply understood will help you get a handle on your problems.