Based just on the title of this blog you might already be formulating arguments as to why you don’t need therapy. Despite the fact that many people see, saw, or will see a therapist at some point in their lives, seeking help from a mental health professional remains a fairly stigmatized topic. Let’s face it, people would rather talk about seeing their gynecologist, rabbi, or even their ex before fessing up to seeing a shrink. While some of my clients proudly boast that they are in therapy and even introduce me to their friends if I run into them in public, most of my clients walk through my door feeling heavy with shame. They report that seeking my assistance makes them feel embarrassed, indulgent, or weak. It is as if needing therapy is a sign of their failure as humans, a scarlet letter on their heart.
But here’s the truth…we all need therapy. Me included. None of us are completely rational or objective. There are some things we just can’t see with our own eyes. Even when we know better, if passions are high, we can behave badly. Perfection is a high mark that none of us will ever achieve. Have you ever met someone who couldn’t benefit, even just a little, from some deep introspection and focus on self-enhancement? Of course not! Because you only know humans and being imperfect is part of being human.
People tend to view therapy in the same way they view the fire alarm handle behind the sign “In case of emergency break glass.” They see it as a last resort, something reserved for only the darkest of moments. Even if you are incredibly well-adjusted and happy, there is always more you can learn about yourself. Just because you are in good shape, doesn’t mean you stop going to the gym. Our exercise regiments aren’t fixed, but vary, so we don’t hit plateaus. When we can test our muscles in new ways we can become stronger and more agile. Our emotional world should be held with a similar sensibility. Maybe things are going well now, but what happens when the shit hits the fan, and you haven’t bothered to develop your emotional emergency preparedness kit.
Still not convinced…here are my top five reasons why everyone should be in therapy.
#1 - Therapy Is A Gym Membership For The Mind, Not A VIP Club For Crazies
Saying therapy is just for crazy people is like saying that working out and healthy diets are only for fat people. Go to the gym or your local health food store and who do you see? Healthy looking people! That’s because if we want to be in good shape physically we must take care of ourselves on an ongoing basis, we don’t stop once we’ve hit a goal. Our emotional well-being is no different. People will go to extreme lengths to improve themselves physically but spend years running from their own minds. If we want to be healthy in a well-rounded and holistic way, we must put as much thought and effort into our relationship with ourselves as we do our relationship to our physical body (or even our career).
#2 - Your Friends And Family Aren’t As Helpful As You Think
You may have friends that rival Carrie Bradshaw’s crew of supportive gal pals, but even they got sick of hearing about Mr. Big and eventually sent Carrie off to see a therapist. While leaning on friends and family is a great tool to have in your arsenal, it’s not quite enough. First of all, your friends are not trained experts in mental health, communication, or relationships. When you have a physical ailment would you ask your friend to diagnose you? No, of course not. You would go to a doctor who has years of training and expertise in treating the physical body. The same rule applies for the mind. Your friends may be well intentioned and may have some good advice, but this isn’t their wheelhouse. You are better served by someone who has dedicated their life to treating these sorts of issues.
Secondly, your friends and family are not objective. Their advice and support is biased by their relationship with you and their own motivations and needs. Even though I’m a therapist, I’m not objective with my own friends in the way I am with my clients. A friend recently asked for relationship advice and I was caught in a selfish mental loop about how her spending more time in another city to be with her new man would mean she would have less time to spend with me. The objective lens of the therapist allows us to see ourselves and our situations more accurately. Sometimes talking to friends can be like walking through a house of mirrors.
Lastly, we can alienate people we love by relying on them too heavily to handle emotional matters that are outside the scope of their capacity. When we have a therapist to talk with about our emotional struggles we have the capacity to maintain a more balanced relationship with the other important people in our lives.
#3 - Stepping Outside Of Your Comfort Zone Is Good For You
Another reason for seeking therapy is that pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is good for you. The idea of revealing your deepest thoughts, fears, and wishes to a stranger may sound daunting, but that is exactly why you should do it. There has been significant research over the last decade that indicates that allowing vulnerability is the key to a happier and more connected life. Brene Brown’s Ted talk on “The Power of Vulnerability” addresses this exact issue. A recent article in Psychology Today points to how the number one factor between happy and less happy people is risk taking! So if going to therapy sounds uncomfortable or risky, that is a sign that it is something that could probably really serve you. Each time we overcome one of our fears we are rewarded with feelings of increased competence and confidence.
#4 - Communication Is Hard. Really, Really Hard
I would consider myself an expert in effective communication strategies and I still mess it up sometimes (okay maybe more than sometimes). Effective communication is hard. It is both an art and a science. If nothing else, therapy can help you to improve your communication skills with the important people in your life…friends, family, significant others, bosses, employees, etc. A large part of what I do is help my clients shift their communication from styles from problematic (passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, or altogether non-existent) to effective. I teach people how to express themselves in a way that honors their own voice and desires, but does not alienate or harm others. I often find that there is nothing wrong with what people are trying to say, it’s how they are saying it (or what they are afraid to say) that is getting them into trouble.
#5 - Cause You’ve Tried Other Strategies And You’re Still Wanting More
You’ve read half the self-help section from Amazon.com. You’ve attended a few “meetups” on self-improvement. You went vegan (or maybe dated one) and started practicing yoga. Despite all of this you still feel like you are running in place with the same emotional issues and self-defeating patterns. If you feel like you have given everything else a shot and nothing has worked it might be time to try something else. Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” But sometimes even when you are doing the right thing you may experience failure and doubt. An impartial third party can help you parse out what is feeling, what is fact, and what might be responsible for failure. If we want different results, we need to shift our cognitive approach and be disciplined. By providing opportunities to appropriately express feelings, understand patterns of thinking and behavior, gain perspective on past events and current relationships, therapy helps people remove obstacles that have prevented them from attaining goals in the past.
Hopefully, you’ve begun to see that therapy is not something just reserved for “In Case of Emergency” situations or people who talk to themselves. It’s something we can all truly benefit from in one way or another. The next step is finding a good therapist. Unfortunately not all therapists are created equal. Coming up in my next blog are my suggestions for how to find the right therapist for you. In the meantime, start thinking about the specific ways that therapy could serve you.