Most people spend weeks, months, even years thinking about going to therapy before making that first phone call to schedule an appointment. It’s normal to have mixed feelings about going to therapy. Your hesitation may be a sign of avoidance or an indication that you’re simply not ready. It’s helpful to first understand these two distinct reasons.
Avoidance: Avoidance is completely normal as it typically feels scary to begin a process of change and open up to a complete stranger about your struggles. The goal of feeling better must outweigh the discomfort of reaching out for help. And many people describe feeling great relief after just making that first phone call to a therapist.
Not Ready: Going to therapy when you’re not ready or open to it can actually be counterproductive. Talk therapy is not a passive experience. It requires active engagement by both the patient and the provider to create opportunities for change. You must be willing to put some effort into the emotional work of therapy for it to be effective. If you’re not ready to take on the emotional work of therapy, then you’ll end up feeling frustrated and sabotage the therapeutic process.
So how do you know when is the right time to start talk therapy?
You’re Having Difficulty Coping with a Major Stressor
Life is full of events beyond our control which can profoundly impact our lives and well-being. Stressors come in many forms like a new health diagnosis, job loss, relationship problems, accident, family transitions, identity changes, or loss of a loved one to name just a few. Sometimes we are able to effectively cope with these challenges using our existing resources. We may struggle a bit and feel some distress but are essentially able to continue functioning well throughout the process. No therapy may be needed. But other times the stressors can become overwhelming and our typical coping strategies fall short. When you feel like you’re relationships, self-care, or job begins to suffer due to a major life event, then it may be time to seek help. Therapy can help you develop insight into the problems you’re facing and learn strategies to more effectively cope.
You Anticipate a Major Challenge
Sometimes we can see the tidal wave coming. When you anticipate a major stressor is on the horizon, therapy can help you prepare and manage it more successfully. In fact, engaging in therapy BEFORE a major crisis can significantly reduce your suffering. You may still be in a calm and thoughtful state of mind rather than emotionally flooded. Your mind can think more clearly and solve problems more rationally. It’s empowering to effectively prepare yourself for a challenge.
You Feel Stuck in Patterns You Want to Change
Sometimes we realize that our thoughts or behaviors are not very healthy but feel unable to change them. Perhaps you realize that you’re in a cycle of self-criticism, avoidance, judgement, isolation, or self-sabotaging behavior. This insight and humility is key to begin a process of change. Yet the longer we engage in a pattern, the harder it can be to shift. Thoughts and behaviors can become engrained in our minds and feel very familiar even if they are destructive. Therapy can help you learn to accept and love yourself as you develop new strategies for changing these patterns.
Loved Ones or Medical Providers are Recommending Therapy
Other people who know us well can sometimes see changes in us that we simply can’t see in ourselves. Our family and friends may say that we sound, look, or behave differently. Their concern comes from a place of love, wanting us to be well. Medical providers may not know us as well personally but are trained to recognize common signs of anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns. Allow yourself to consider the feedback you’re getting from people you trust. Use this feedback to explore for yourself whether now is a good time to start therapy. Are there emotional, relationship, or behavioral issues for you to work on right now? Are you ready to start a process toward personal wellness?
The truth is that no one can force anyone else to engage in therapy. As mentioned earlier, therapy is an interactive process that both patient and provider embark on as a team. Both need to trust that they can work together, communicate honestly, and make progress. Choosing to go to therapy is a very personal decision. No one feels excited or completely comfortable about making a therapy appointment. You can’t wait until it feels easy. But therapy will be most effective when you feel ready and motivated for change.
Written by Suzanne Smith, Ph.D. for the Lakefront Psychology Blog. If you are interested in more original articles about mental health, postpartum issues, wellness, relationships, and parenting, please subscribe to the blog using the button below. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment with Dr. Smith, please contact Lakefront Psychology at 216-870-9816.