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How do I know when I should go to therapy?

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therapy, for me, is a space to explore what's happened in the past, what's going on now, and what might happen next, and to navigate these sometimes difficult roads we have experienced in order to get back to ourselves

Last Updated on December 29, 2023 by It’s Complicated

Common fears around going to counselling

Is this the right time for me? How will I know?

In life, it is never quite the right time. We are very good at giving ourselves excuses and putting things off, so we don’t have to deal with the stuff. Often, taking small steps, such as researching therapists, finding out who is available in your area, or maybe starting to share with friends/family about considering therapy (or not, if you prefer to keep it private), are all good indicators that you are preparing yourself for therapy. Taking the next step might feel like the hard part, and this is common for many people. To help, you can request a short introduction session, or speak to the therapist by phone or Skype, putting a name to a face before starting therapy. Of course, as human beings, we can change our minds and come back to it at a later date, and that’s okay too.

I don’t want to talk to a stranger.

It is the therapist’s job to make you feel comfortable and give you the space and time to open up. The advantages of talking to a stranger are that they initially know nothing about your past and are not personally involved in your life. They won’t get bored listening to you or try to give you advice like friends sometimes do. Therapy then becomes your private space to talk to a trained professional about what’s going on with you, without judgment.

Therapy is too much of a commitment for me.

Therapy is a commitment, no doubt about it. However, there are different types of therapy with varying time frames associated with them. Some are traditionally longer-term, e.g., Psychoanalysis, and others are tailored to shorter-term work, e.g., Solution Focused Therapy and some types of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Therapists often make some kind of assessment, either formally or informally, in the first session to give you a rough estimate of how long therapy might be. Also, many therapists conduct reviews throughout therapy to ensure you are on track, getting what you want from therapy, and not working indefinitely. From a practical standpoint, you might have some money set aside to work on specific issues you want to bring to therapy. Again, discuss your expectations with your prospective therapist to align with their assessment or modality. I would also recommend reading my colleague’s blog about what to look for when finding a therapist: Link to the blog.

My problems are not bad enough. Other people go to therapy, not me. Other people are worse off than I am.

We have this idea around mental health that things have to be really bad before we seek help. Consider how we treat our physical health and the money and time we might invest in maintaining our physical bodies. What is difficult or worrying for you may not be the same for someone else, but this absolutely does not make your experiences or feelings less valid. The therapist’s job is to help you navigate and unpack what is important to you, whatever that is.

I’m worried that I will unleash a Pandora’s box of stuff that I don’t want to deal with.

Therapy is a process of building self-awareness on a journey of self-discovery, of healing old wounds and finding new ways forward. You may discover uncomfortable truths about yourself, but the therapeutic process ensures that these are unpacked in a non-shaming and healing manner. It is true that clients may experience a dip after the first few sessions, particularly when difficult material starts to unfold. The therapist’s job is to hold this space for you while this happens, providing a safe enough space for the therapeutic work to occur. Therapists also cannot force you to talk about things you don’t want to discuss. Maybe it’s not the right time for you, or you only want to delve into some aspects of your history. You’re allowed to say no or say, “I’m not ready yet,” and that’s okay.

Only privileged people or people with money go to therapy.

It is true that historically, therapy draws from a privileged, white, classist system. Therapy is often seen as something accessible to those with education and money, including the therapists themselves. However, therapy has evolved from this, with a shift over the last twenty years to make it more accessible to all, including a divergence in the types of therapy available. Access to therapy may depend on your privilege, the healthcare system you have access to, and sometimes simply the availability in your area, including the time you can commit, especially if you work long hours. Therapy has become less stigmatized in terms of shame around mental health, and more people are openly accessing therapy and discussing it with their friends and family. Some therapists offer a sliding scale or reduced rates, often with limited space availability, to accommodate clients where access to regular income is limited.

Further reading

How to Know When It’s Time to See a Therapist – verywellmind

Advantages of Discovering Your Therapist via It’s Complicated

  • No Setup Costs: Creating an account and reaching out to therapists is entirely cost-free.
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It’s Complicated is a therapy platform that not only helps clients find their perfect therapist but also supports therapists in their craft of helping others. Featuring over 2,000 mental health professionals from 80+ countries, counselling is available in almost 100 languages, both online and in person. A GDPR-compliant video solution, encrypted messaging, and easy invoicing guarantee a private and seamless counselling experience for therapists and clients alike. If you are in a serious crisis and need urgent help, please use one of these resources instead.

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