Talking about our issues and feelings with people we trust can be therapeutic, but sometimes we need extra help from an outside source who can provide guidance and equip us with tools and strategies to improve our lives. But how do you know when the time is right to seek out a therapist and what are the benefits of going to therapy?
“A good time to consider therapy is typically when a person is experiencing a prolonged condition of distress, unhappiness or low mood – especially if these feelings start to interfere with their functioning and they aren’t able to address them by talking with a family member, exercising regularly or doing activities that they enjoy,” said Dr. Karen Lawson, a clinical psychologist. “A period of time to watch whether or not a low mood improves is typically two to three weeks.”
Finding a therapist
If you think therapy could be helpful, Lawson offers the following tips:
- Speak with your primary care physician who may be able to make some recommendations for therapists.
- Ask a friend or someone else you trust whether they have any recommendations. Often, a friend knows a good name of someone.
- Check your healthcare insurance policy to see if there are therapists who are covered by your insurance, since cost can certainly be a consideration.
- Do a simple internet search for a therapist in your area who specializes in the issue(s) you want to work on. Finding a therapist closer to you rather than far away can increase the likelihood that you will find appointments easier to keep.
Lawson cautioned that if you are not satisfied with the first therapist you talk with, you should not be discouraged. Going to therapy can be a long-term relationship. Because you are disclosing a lot of personal information, you want to feel comfortable with your therapist, so it’s fine to make appointments with different therapists until you find the right one for you.
Benefits of therapy
Going to therapy can be extremely beneficial because it is a place where a person can talk about problems, things that are on their mind, and concerns they deal with that they perhaps can’t talk about with anyone else.
“There are many different styles or approaches to therapy and that should be something that the client asks about at their first meeting,” Lawson said. “A therapist should be straightforward and have no difficulty explaining how they do therapy, what their theoretical orientation is, and what a therapy session with them might be like.”
If you are interested in therapy but are reluctant to try it, Lawson says that in the long run, it may be helpful to consider pros and cons. Through therapy you can learn to look at situations differently and address patterns of thought that are problematic or negative.
It’s important to remember that therapy does not need to last forever. Some people are afraid that if they go to therapy that they are entering a very long-term commitment, but in reality, one to six months of therapy is common.
“If a person is reluctant or concerned that taking steps toward therapy might be difficult, thinking about the long-term benefits after engaging in those steps might helpful to them. I would recommend just trying it and seeing how it goes,” Lawson said. “You do not need to commit beyond one session at a time. The important thing is to not let personal distress continue for too long without reaching out for help.”
Dr. Lawson is an assistant professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Read more about the Baylor Psychiatry Clinic.
-By Julia Bernstein