Psych Central

Is it Ever Too Late for Therapy?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Q. I’m a 20 year old college student. I have two years left of school. And I just can’t seem to get the self harm under control. My parents really want me to get a regular therapist at school and at home. Because I’ve been cutting since highschool and they think its out of control and is dangerous for my health. They are threatning to take me out of school and force me to get help. But I feel like im too old and im supposed to be an adult at this age.And be able to handle my problems myself.But I just don’t know how stop and im afraid of the “suicidal thoughts” I’ll have to deal with if I stop. Because right now I can just pretend they don’t exist. So my question is Does their reach a point when it is too late for therapy ? Because I feel like im not strong enough to deal with everything on my own.

A. It is never too late to get therapy or to be helped. If you are open to help there is a great chance that with the right therapist you can overcome your problems.

You said that you feel that you “should” be able to handle your problems because you are an adult. People mistakenly have beliefs about what “should” and “should not” happen to them or where they “should” or “should not” be in life. It is not uncommon for people to say “I am thirty-three, I “should” be married or “I am twenty five and I “shouldn’t be” living in my parents’ house, and that is just a few of the many “should” or “should not’s” that people believe in. But where do these beliefs come from?

People consciously or unconsciously have beliefs about themselves and how they “should” be or “should not” be and about the world in general. Relatedly, Charles Cooley’s (1902) looking glass self theory posits that people come to know themselves (i.e. develop their self-concept) based on what they believe others think of them, without knowing what others truly believe about them. With this theory, there is no objective verification; people do not ask other people what they think of them; they imagine what other people think about them and then have an emotional reaction to it such as “pride or mortification.”

There seems to be a similar thought process that occurs with how people perceive where or how they “should” or “should not” be in the world.

People make judgments about the world and others and compare themselves against those beliefs. Individuals then make a judgment about themselves in comparison to how they perceived others to be and that judgment has a feeling attached to it such as happiness, anger or being upset for not being where one perceives they “should” or “should not” be.

For instance, if a person is in their third year of college and has friends that same age who have graduated, they might believe that they are not where they “should” be at their age and that makes them depressed.

Here is another example. A person believes that they “should” be married by the age of thirty-three. They believe this because mostly everyone they know who is thirty-three is married. And because they are not married by the age of thirty-three they proclaim that something is wrong with them and feel depressed because they are not engaging in the behavior they “should” be.

Often these beliefs about where one “should” or “should not” be are unrealistic, incorrect and are not based on objective verification.

With regard to your specific question, many people need assistance solving their problems and its okay to need help. Try not to gauge yourself and your status in life against others. It’s more realistic and fair to assess what is right for you by analyzing your unique life circumstance. In your situation, you have difficulty stopping your self-harming behavior. You have tried for years to stop and you have not been successful. Maybe you have difficulty because no one ever taught you effective methods to handling stress or difficult life circumstances and because of this you turned to self-harm. Needing to learn a new set of ways to handle stress is not a sign that you are “too weak” to handle your own problems. It is just a sign that you need assistance from a mental health professional that has been specially trained to deal with the issue of self-harm. You probably never received special training in the area of stopping self-harm and therefore, it’s wise to seek out assistance from someone who has.

I would suggest that you seek help and listen to your parents. They seem to be giving you very good advice. I hope this helps you decide to take their advice and to begin therapy because it is never too late to get help and at this point in time, it seems like the right thing to do.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 17 Nov 2008

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2008). Is it Ever Too Late for Therapy?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 17, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/11/17/is-it-ever-too-late-for-therapy/