Considering Psychotherapy

By Gina Tober, LCPC

Okay. Take a deep breath in through your nose. Hold it. Now let it out through your mouth. Good. We are going to talk about your mental health.

What is it that makes us uncomfortable talking about our own mental health? Is it the cultural stigma? Is it a desire for self-reliance?  Or is it our tendency to underestimate our own need for help?  Often people sense that mental healthcare is for people who “really need it”  with “real issues,” people who have gone through “real trauma,” and for those in “real crisis.”  Well, that concept is really bad for us.

While psychotherapy is helpful for those in crisis, it is also a valuable resource for people experiencing mild to moderate concerns. And seeking mental health treatment is not all that uncommon. Consider for a moment that according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, approximately 18% of adult Americans aged 18 and older have experienced a mental illness. That equates to nearly one in five American adults. That is more than just people in severe crisis.

Why do people avoid psychotherapy?

Research identifies several consistent themes in addressing why people avoid psychotherapy. The cultural stigma and embarrassment of seeking therapy for a mental illness dissuade many from seeking therapy when facing mild to moderate concerns for their mental health care. Others minimize the severity of their problems and believe they can or should be able to overcome problems independently. Still others do not know how to find help, or they feel hopeless and too overwhelmed with symptoms to reach out. Finally, some simply dread the expense of time, money, and energy that they fear psychotherapy will cost.

When should I consider psychotherapy?

People seek psychotherapy for many different reasons. Some have identifiable events and stressors, while others have long term emotional concerns. People seek psychotherapy to overcome distressful symptoms and learn to understand or change unhealthy patterns in their lives.

How do I know if I would benefit from psychotherapy?

Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • Do you feel an overwhelming sense of helplessness and sadness?
  • Despite your best efforts, do your problems persist?
  • Are your behaviors harming yourself and/or others?
  • Is an important relationship in trouble?
  • Are others expressing concern for you?
  • Are you moving through an important life transition?
  • Do you notice yourself repeating negative patterns within your life?
  • Is your work or personal life negatively impacted by your moods?

According to the American Psychological Association, the purpose of therapy is to foster effective and long-term improvements in emotional well-being. But, before you can achieve long-term improvements, you must first participate.

How do I know where to go?

Your first instinct might be to turn to the internet.  An internet search would turn up seemingly hundreds of therapists with a string of letters after their names. You’d read about cognitive-behavior therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and holistic therapy. And you’d likely end up more confused than when you started.

How do you find a qualified professional when your internet search has failed? Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Make an appointment with your primary healthcare provider
  • Contact your health insurance company for covered mental healthcare professionals in your area.
  • Ask trusted friends, family members, or spiritual advisors.
  • Utilize your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
  • If you are in school, contact your school counselor or counseling center.
  • Call the National Alliance for Mental Illness helpline at 800.950.NAMI

Mental illness is more common than you might think.  Yet all too often, we neglect our mental healthcare and allow our skewed perceptions and fears to turn us away from seeking help. Identifying your needs and seeking psychotherapy is the first step toward improving your emotional well-being.