This is a Guest Post by: Ronald Christian Rivera, LMSW – Leonard Street Counseling Center
Who is therapy for, anyway? Is it for me? How could I possibly benefit from talking to someone for an hour a week? These are questions I frequently hear as an outpatient therapist. I hope that sharing my thoughts on the topic of talk therapy will help to answer these questions.
Let me start by providing a short version of an answer: Most people stand to benefit from therapy for a variety of reasons. In general, it can be highly beneficial to have a trained professional to assist you through moments of crisis or simply to provide guidance and direction in times of doubt and confusion.
When I ask clients what brings them to therapy, I encounter a variety of universally held beliefs: “I’m weak and can’t fix my problems on my own.” “I must not be as strong as others think I am.” These responses reveal how mainstream society has stigmatized mental illness. This attitude stems from the belief that if you need help, then you must be weak. Due to this stigma, those who are affected by stress, anxiety, depression, and other problems begin to buy into the narrative that they are to blame. This serves as a roadblock to services for those who might otherwise be open to seeking help. Rather than stigmatizing and judging, we should acknowledge the strength and resilience necessary to endure tremendous pain and suffering. We should encourage suffering individuals with the message that there is hope, there is help in the form of professional counseling.
While society’s views about seeking help are a barrier for many, personal attitudes also play a role. Some refuse to ask for help due to pride; while others don’t feel they have a problem, they are not “sick” enough for therapy. Maybe these individuals have mild symptoms, or their problems pertain to relationships, life goals, or self-improvement. Avoiding professional help in moments of need may lead to bigger problems: worsening illness; impulsive decisions; increased likelihood of seeking drugs and alcohol to cope with stress. And, contrary to common belief, individuals with “minor” problems stand to gain tremendously from therapy: It serves as a tool to unlocking untapped potential, increased self-acceptance, and personal growth. In this sense, treatment offers a lens to the self. It deepens your understanding of what drives your thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and desires. In exploring these concepts, you experience higher levels of self-awareness and increased insight.
I’ve also had clients share that they’ve avoided treatment because they’d be wasting my time, which could be better spent on someone who really needs it. This is a common misconception. In reality, your perception of your situation is all that matters. If it’s important to you, if you believe it has affected you, then it has. Your stuff, however big or small, has an impact on you. You deserve validation.
Another barrier to treatment is the intimidation factor: the counselor’s office can be a scary place for many. We’re talking about opening up to a complete stranger, sharing things you don’t discuss with your loved ones, things you’d rather forget altogether. Talk about a leap of faith!
Truly participating in therapy means letting your guard down and allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Sure, this is a risk, but it’s risky to not seek help, and bear your burdens alone. I encourage your to consider the benefits of a trusting, collaborative relationship. Imagine the liberating experience of placing your burdens at another’s feet, and learning skills to navigate life’s troubled waters. Through therapy, you learn to become an expert at managing your thoughts, feelings, behaviors. You learn to address your needs in a healthy way, implementing permanent, lasting skills that equip you to deal with whatever comes your way.
If you’re still asking yourself, “Is therapy for me?” I encourage you to ask yourself, “Why not me?” When we reach the core of what the therapeutic relationship represents, we are talking about personal growth, a deeper understanding, a heightened awareness, an increased insight that illuminates the path in your personal journey. For some, personal growth simply means learning basic coping skills to reduce emotional pain and suffering. For others, it takes on a different meaning altogether. Whether you’re experiencing mild symptoms of anxiety, or you’re trying to discover your true calling in life, therapy is for you.