As a therapist, a common question I get asked is: “When is the best time to get help?”
It may not have even occurred to you to get some professional advice, even if you’ve Googled your problem. It’s common to believe that you should be able to fix it yourself and that seeking help is a sign of weakness.
Every day, I see clients who have tolerated a problem for way too long. Whether the problem is a marital- or work-related issue, it’s possible that the person has had it for years or even decades. I hear myriad tales of all kinds of abuse: verbal, emotional, sexual and even physical. My clients ask me “is it my fault?” as they blame themselves and feel guilty for their supposed sins.
I tell them that the only mistake they’ve made is in tolerating it for way too long.
I tell them they have the relationships they allow. Their only failure is not having said “no” long ago to unacceptable behavior. They do not have a realistic boundary in place to keep themselves psychologically safe when troubles arise.
So when is the right time to seek help? Ideally, when the problem is young. When it first appears, there might be a vague sense of something not being quite right, but you’re not sure what it is. Given a little time, the situation gets clearer. It’s at that point you need to start formulating an action plan.
For example, if you observe that the guy you’ve just started dating has lost his temper a few times, then giving him the “benefit of the doubt” isn’t going to protect you. Nor is having sex with him sooner than you really want. Nor is planning to have his babies.
Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. As such, you need to be alert to only a minimal number of early warning signals before taking action. Please do pay attention to these and use professional help to understand how to read them and make a decision that’s in your own best interests.
Unfortunately, most of my clients only come to see me when they are motivated, which means that the problem has escalated to an unmanageable level and is having a distressing impact on their lives. At this point, the problem is exerting a huge cost. Financially, a divorce can range from a minimum of $10,000 into the $100,000s once you factor in asset splitting. Similarly, the cost of a job loss could be anything from $60,000 to $250,000 per year.
That’s not where it ends, though. The toll on your health, stress, sleepless nights, reduced work performance, loss of quality of life, addictions to “help you cope” — all of these have an emotional as well as a financial cost. If a cost analysis expert were to place a final dollar value on all of this, what would it be? Is it really worth it, just for the sake of maintaining your image as a self-reliant, independent individual?
My clients rarely, if ever, take a cold, hard look at their problems to ascertain the real cost of their “go-it-alone” approach. In reality, professional help actually provides outstanding value – usually good advice will cost substantially less than three percent of the cost of the problem!
For example, let’s take a couple who have labored for the last five years in a strained, unhappy relationship. They tried to make it work by talking and arguing round in circles, but it didn’t help. Finally the only option became divorce, even though they both tried hard to avoid it.
Combined, their assets total $300,000. He earns $120,000 per year, but the stress of his relationship has been so intense that he turned to drink and his work performance deteriorated to the point of getting fired. Now he’s lost his job, had to pay for a lawyer ($15,000) for the divorce, child support ($20,000) and medical costs of stress-related ailments ($5,000), as well as setting himself up in rental accommodations with a bond and all new household goods ($10,000).
He has just lost over $320,000 in 12 months and she’s lost the security of a house and her dependent income.
The cost of six months of therapy? Only $5,000 and that’s even before any rebates! An emotional problem that could have been resolved with a little therapy at the “seventh” hour, instead of the eleventh, would have cost him less than 1.6 percent of what he eventually paid when it was too late.
So even if you manage to solve your problem and claw yourself back from the edge at the last second with the help of a good psychologist, remember that every problem has a lifespan. From now on, make sure to catch problems early enough to benefit from the massive emotional and financial savings. After all, you will have just received a very expensive life lesson!