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  • Writer's pictureDr. Maura Ferguson

Is it a good time to start therapy? Is therapy right for me?

Many people ask themselves these and other questions as they contemplate beginning therapy, particularly those who have never been in treatment. As a psychologist, I don't remember ever working with a person or a couple who sought therapy and couldn't benefit. Therapy may not be for everyone, but usually, when someone is considering it, there is a good reason for doing so. Overall, people tend to be more hesitant than impulsive about starting therapy and often wait years or decades to start working with someone. Many people had their trust violated by someone meant to protect them during their earliest and most vulnerable life stages; this can make it harder to trust a therapist, just as you most need a corrective therapeutic relationship.

Couples often hesitate to start therapy and usually begin the process when the problems in their relationship have already become deeply entrenched. Increasingly, as stigmas around mental health are slowly waning, people are more willing to tackle their mental health struggles earlier in their lives and relationships.

If the process feels overwhelming, as it often is, you can start small. Most therapists start with a brief phone consultation and begin by asking you a few questions to get a general idea of what you are struggling with. Therapists know how to evaluate whether they can help you or whether referring you to a colleague or other resource would be best. From there, you may meet virtually or in person for a more in-depth therapeutic assessment, where you will delve further into what motivates you to consider therapy. It can be important to recognize that therapy may not be easy at times but is a voluntary process that allows you to start and stop when you see fit. Knowing this can be critical to increasing your sense of safety as you begin psychotherapy.

For many, the benchmark can be that if your emotions feel overwhelming and get in the way of your ability to function in critical parts of your life, it is an excellent time to seek help. It is vital to reach out if you are thinking about hurting yourself or another person. By reaching out, I mean specifically to a Distress line, 911, or to go to an emergency room. What does it mean to have your emotions, thoughts, and behaviours get in the way of your ability to function? Are you feeling unmotivated, or are you avoiding work, school, friendships, and intimate relationships? Are you feeling isolated but are not sure why? Do your relationships feel unsatisfactory in a way that feels repetitive? Do you notice yourself shutting down and avoiding painful feelings in ways that aren't sustainable? Do you feel stuck?

Many people feel ambivalent about talking to a stranger about difficulties. A common refrain is, "I'd rather just talk to my friends or family about this." It is perfectly healthy and legitimate to talk to loved ones about what is going on in our lives, and it may be all that we want and need. It isn't the intention of therapy to replace other close relationships but to enhance them. You may feel that talking to people close to you either isn't working, you may find yourself holding back, or you may feel that you need to talk things through with someone who has expertise on human experiences and emotions with a less biased view than people who have known you a very long time. You may need to think out loud and hear yourself in someone else's presence.

These things could benefit you as you consider whether talking to a therapist is right for you.

How to choose a therapist by Jonathan Shedler (article):


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