Like anything worthwhile, psychotherapy takes time and effort. And often just getting through the door can be tough.
How do you find a therapist? Where’s the best place to look? Isn’t it pricey? Do you even need to go?
You probably have a slew of questions with a side of skepticism and self-doubt. In fact, many hurdles can prevent people from seeking professional treatment.
Below, you’ll find specific obstacles that might stand in your way — and the solutions to overcome them.
“People don’t hesitate telling acquaintances about a trip to their dentist or physician, but most stay quiet about their therapy appointment,” said Ryan Howes, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and professor in Pasadena, Calif. That’s because even though progress has been made, he said, there’s still stigma attached to seeking therapy.
“Many people feel embarrassed or ashamed of their symptoms because our society places illogical taboos on mental health issues over physical conditions,” said clinical psychologist Nikki Massey-Hastings, PsyD.
To dispel stigma, Deborah Serani, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist who’s struggled with depression, takes a two-step approach by educating others about mental illness and leading by example.
Specifically, she teaches what mental illness is and isn’t. “Mental illness is a combination of neurobiology and psychological influences, not a weakness in character,” said Serani, author of Living with Depression. She also shows “how with proper diagnosis and treatment that I live with depression successfully and have a meaningful life.”
Howes underscored that choosing to tackle issues head-on is the opposite of weak or “crazy.” It’s courageous, he said.
Many people aren’t sure what warrants a therapy session. But in reality most people wait until their symptoms are unbearable, Massey-Hastings said. For instance, many couples don’t see a therapist until their issues are deeply entrenched, she said. (Specifically, that’s usually when partners attack each other or withdraw from the relationship.)
“It is advisable to seek help when you first feel like you are ‘not yourself’ [or] have noticed mild to moderate symptoms that are interfering with your life [such as] difficulty sleeping, irritability [or] increased dissatisfaction with your relationship,” she said.
A therapist will assess your symptoms and determine severity, she said. They’ll verify if you have a clinical diagnosis and, if needed, conduct formal psychological testing “to quantify and parse apart symptoms that are shared among disorders,” she said. For instance, having difficulty concentrating can be a symptom of several anxiety disorders, ADHD, depression or relationship problems, she said.
Then the therapist will talk to you about treatment options, she said. In other words, they’ll provide you with a map to work through your issues, she added.
Again, many are unsure how or where to start. As Howes said, “Therapy may seem like a strange, foreign land to someone who’s never been.”
When starting your search, Massey-Hastings suggested using Google keywords such as “find a therapist” and your zip code. You also can search Psych Central by location, and ask friends and family for recommendations.
Another option, she said, is to discuss your symptoms and next steps with your primary care physician. “Your physician may have a group practice or therapist he [or] she frequently works with and highly recommends,” she said.
Time & Energy
The last thing you probably want to do after leaving work is rehash your problems. “Many of us are so tired from working hard and dealing with emotional stressors, there’s no energy left to talk through problems,” Howes said.
While this — like all the obstacles — is legitimate, with some effort, you can fine-tune your schedule, he said. “It’s possible that therapy can actually be a source of energy, not a drain.”
Therapy can be costly. But you can find affordable treatment. For instance, many therapists offer services based on a sliding scale. Community mental health centers offer therapy at little or no cost, Howes said.
Consider the potential price of neglecting your problems and well-being, Howes said. He raised these critical questions: “How much does a lost job cost? A damaged relationship? A divorce? What price would you place on job satisfaction, achieving your potential, resolving past hurt and learning to accept yourself?”
Well-meaning loved ones are another deterrent. “People suffering with symptoms may be told by well-meaning friends and family that they will get through it, that it’s just a phase, or they may provide well-meaning but deficient solutions,” according to Massey-Hastings. For instance, if you’re depressed, they might suggest exercising more, she said.
If you’d like to disclose your feelings to loved ones, pick the people you trust most and can truly talk to about these sensitive issues, she said. Also, figure out ahead of time how you’d like them to support you, she said.
“Schedule a private time with one or two of those people and try to share with them what you’ve been experiencing.” And communicate directly how they can help, she said.
“If you feel uncomfortable discussing your difficulties with family and friends, a therapist can help you figure out your boundaries around what information to share, how to communicate what you’d like to be known, and how to ask for support,” Massey-Hastings said.
Again, therapy is anything but easy. As Howes said, “When you consider the fact that therapy invites a distressed person to reveal, discuss, and wrestle with the most difficult issues in their life, the better question might be ‘why in the world would anyone choose therapy?’”
And there are many answers. But all of them have one key thing in common: Therapy can help you ease your pain and create a healthier and more fulfilling life.
Man with magnifying glass photo available from Shutterstock