Do I Need Therapy? by Jack Sheehan

When it comes to the topic of mental health it seems that there is an unfortunate paradox prevalent in modern society. On the one hand there is the emergence of a new-age wellness reform. Our social media feeds are overwhelmed with positive quotes and assurances that ‘its okay not to be okay’, and we have an abundance of mental health advocates, mentors, influencers, and coaches at our fingertips, validating our difficult feelings and encouraging us to accept ourselves as we are. Similarly the concept of therapy has certainly become much more widespread in recent years and we have made an attempt to follow the lead of our American counter-parts who have no hesitation in seeing their ‘shrink’ regularly. This movement is a hugely positive and comforting one.

So why then, do we simultaneously see the continuation of feelings of shame and embarrassment associated with people who are experiencing any emotional difficulties or mental health disturbances. Surely if so many people talk about it, that should be removing the stigma, right? The conflict for me is that the amount of people who actually access supports for their mental health is disproportionate in comparison to the amount of effort taking place to highlight the topic. I’m sure that’s partly down to the limited access to affordable public services, which our governments need to be answerable for. But it’s not only that! Even those with the means to access private therapy don’t always do so! I guess it makes me think that perhaps the damage from the past is so deep-rooted that it is hard to overcome. The tradition of repression and just ‘getting on with it’ that is so engrained in our core beliefs, still restricts us, (even in this modern and evolving world), to actually believe that it is okay to reach out for help when we need it.

I guess we are all predisposed to what has come before us. For many of us as children, it would have been uncommon to hear our parents talking about going for therapy. Likewise, we didn’t learn in school that mental health was a priority. Therefore, if our Educators and even our Governments did not role-model that sense of importance, acceptance, understanding, and normality around emotions and mental health, well then it’s plausible to consider that we are a generation who don’t innately value our own emotional well-being. Imagine we never learned to read when we were kids and had to start from scratch now! We could do it, but it would be challenging and it would take time! Perhaps this is the process we are undertaking now regarding our mental health. In other words, we are learning the value of it and trying to have that lived experience, but the very fibres of our being still struggle with the concept.

So, ‘do I need to go to therapy?

The biggest problem with this sentence is the word ‘need’. If we reframe it we could ask;

‘Would I benefit from therapy?’

or let’s go wild and throw in..

‘Do I want to go to therapy?’

Who would want to go to therapy, I hear you ask!

Lot’s of people! Maybe you!

 

You see this is part of the problem – people feel they should only go to therapy if they are in a crisis or have a serious issue to contend with, and very often this is when they will reach out in a state of desperation. Ironically the very act of going to therapy earlier may have either prevented the situation from escalating to this level (although not always as we can’t control what happens in life), but at the very least it most likely would have equipped you with the tools and support system to manage the difficulty with more ease.

Let me give some examples to help clarify. I recently had a client who had originally booked six sessions. We were coming to the end of her six sessions and I asked if she would like to continue attending. She looked hesitant, so I thought perhaps she felt like she wanted to end therapy. When I explored it further she admitted she really wanted to continue therapy, but was worried that I would think she wasn’t ‘sick’ enough or that her problems weren’t ‘bad’ enough to keep coming. It was a wonderful learning experience for both of us. It reminded me that I need to help my clients understand more clearly what therapy is for. So here it goes;

  • Therapy is NOT only for people who feel ‘sick’ or have what they consider to be ‘bad’ problems.
  • Therapy is NOT somewhere that you can only attend in a crisis.
  • Therapy is NOT time-limited.
  • Therapy IS a safe place for you to come to talk about ANYTHING that is important to you.
  • Therapy IS a place where you can come to gain personal awareness, maintain your mental health, embark on a process of personal growth, or just talk!
  • Therapy IS usually for as long as you need it to be and your therapist can support you in making that decision.

Let me also take this moment to say – having difficult feelings, emotions and behaviours as a result of challenging circumstances in your life, or past-events or trauma DOES NOT mean you have a mental health problem! Going to therapy can help you gain awareness around this and increase your understanding as to why you are feeling the way you are. When it makes sense, it’s not so scary!

Another recent client, before even telling me his name was apologising for being there –

“Don’t worry, I know my problems aren’t as bad as other people’s” he murmured with his head bowed down and barely unable to look me in the eyes. I asked him what had brought him to therapy. Once he had reluctantly told me his story I replied “Wow, that sounds like an awful lot to deal with”.

Suddenly he sat up in the chair, he was more confident. By just validating his right to be there, he felt more at ease! But what I would like to say to anyone reading this is that you don’t in fact need anyone to validate your right to go to therapy – if it’s important to you, it’s important! And it will be important to your therapist too!

Sometimes my clients look utterly surprised when I casually throw into conversation that I go to therapy too! I guess I can understand that, there’s probably part of our brain that wants to feel like our therapist is a robot, an expert, has it all together and wouldn’t possibly ever need support for themselves. Fortunately that just isn’t the case! In fact the very mark of a good therapist is one who understands their own need for emotional support and has an awareness around the importance of seeking that professional help in order to be able to work more effectively with their own clients. I engaged in a process of weekly therapy for a number of years throughout my Psychotherapy training, and although I don’t attend with such regularity now, I do check in from time to time, not always because I need to, but because yes, you guessed it – I want to!

Therapy is a place for;

tears, laughter, epiphanies, awareness, ranting, healing trauma, learning, problem solving, building relationships, meditating, developing skills, being silent, BEING YOU!

Thanks for reading!

Jack

Psychotherapist & Co-Founder of MindSpace

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