Far too often, people let problems overwhelm them before they seek help. This could be due to a number of factors, perhaps most often the stigma associated with seeking assistance with mental health issues. In therapy we often use the “broken arm” analogy- if your arm is broken, you wouldn’t hesitate to go to the doctor and get it fixed, right? Mental health issues are no different. A wealth of research tells us that the sooner you seek help, the sooner you will find relief. Here are a few issues that often motivate people to seek assistance from a therapist:
Everyone experiences the range of human emotions at times. But- how much is too much? Frequent, intense, and prolonged periods of anger, sadness, fear, and even excitement could be signs of an underlying psychological problem. Even grief, which is a natural depression, can become complicated or “stuck” for various reasons. These intense emotions are often accompanied by problematic thoughts- catastrophising about the future, regrets about the past, and a negative view of one’s self and abilities. A therapist can help you to recognize and manage these feelings, challenge negative thinking, and cope with stress.
Dr. John Gottman, through years of extensive research, has identified the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” when it comes to failing relationships- criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. When you and your partner argue, do you often use language that attacks your partner’s character, with the intent to make sure someone is “right” and someone is “wrong”? Do you engage in name-calling, sarcasm, or dismissive body language? When you argue, do you often respond to your partner’s complaints with complaints of your own without validating each other’s feelings? What about the ‘silent treatment’? Sometimes one or both partners in a troubled relationship will withdraw in order to avoid conflict. Working with a therapist can help to increase positive communication in your relationship, help each of you recognize your responsibility for the problems you are having, and learn to repair disagreements before they become fights.
Unfortunately, relationships often deteriorate to the point where they cannot be salvaged, and divorce becomes the healthiest option for all involved. Divorce is one of the most stressful life events adults experience and can have an especially tough impact on children, who often struggle with feelings of abandonment, guilt, and anger. Some divorces are especially contentious, and the children involved need a therapist to be an advocate for their best interest in court proceedings.
There are a myriad of other family issues that could be resolved with the help of a therapist. These include sibling rivalries, children with behavioral problems such as acting out, lying, or inappropriate sexual behaviors, emotionally troubled adolescents and teenagers, and parenting issues.
When a person has an experience that is particularly scary, shocking, confusing, or overwhelming, he or she may experience either short-term or chronic problems as a result. These problems include increased anxiety, nightmares, intrusive thoughts of the experience or ‘flashbacks’, relationship problems, and depression, among others. Many people simply describe it in terms of “I just can’t stop thinking about it.” Therapists trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and/or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR Therapy) can assist you in understanding and resolving these problems.
Substance Abuse and Other Addictions
Are you using a substance to cope with stress? Virtually any substance or behavior can be addictive- alcohol, gambling, sex, even food- when it becomes a priority in your life above family, work, relationships, and your physical and mental health. If you find yourself using increased quantities of alcohol or other substances, engaging in behaviors that place your relationships and health at risk, or spending excessive time thinking about using substances to cope with stress, it is time to talk with a therapist.
Work and School Performance Problems
Are people at work concerned about your performance? Many people have problems at work when they are experiencing emotional or other psychological issues. If you find yourself falling behind, feeling disconnected, or having trouble concentrating it could be time to talk with a professional. Similarly, students who experience problems such as trouble completing work, attending class, or test anxiety could benefit from counseling.
Life Transitions and Chronic Illness
The transition from high school to college, changing careers, leaving the workforce early, retirement- each are examples of life transitions that can be accompanied by increased stress, feelings of insecurity, fear, and worry. Coping with physical illness can be difficult. Learning to accept and live with loss of functioning, chronic fatigue, and pain are issues that can be addressed in therapy.
When emergencies happen, the strongest of coping skills can be overwhelmed. People in crisis are overcome with hopelessness and fear and they feel powerless to change their situation. A therapist can help you begin to see the opportunity for change, to “take the blinders off” and begin to see options and solutions.
Of course, if you are having thoughts of harming yourself or another person, it is of the utmost importance that you seek help immediately.
Obviously, this list is not exhaustive. Therapists often provide other services to meet the needs of the clients they serve- comprehensive alcohol and drug assessments, caregiver-child bonding assessments, evaluations for gastric bypass surgery, and home studies for adoption, to name a few.
A good rule of thumb is as follows: if you have a question as to whether of not you need help- make an appointment and discuss it with a therapist.