Dr. 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 people who have never been in therapy before. As a psychologist, I can say that I don't remember ever working with a person or a couple that couldn't benefit from therapy. 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 a process of working with someone. Many people had their trust violated by someone who was meant to protect them during their earliest and most vulnerable life stages, this can make it harder to trust a therapist just as you may most benefit from a healing and corrective therapeutic relationship.
Couples often hesitate to start therapy, and often 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 to you, as it often does, you can start small: Most therapists start with a brief phone consultation and will begin by asking you a few questions to get a general idea of what you are struggling with and for how long. Therapists are trained to evaluate whether they are equipped to help you or whether you would be best referred to a colleague or other resource. From there, you may decide to meet virtually, or in person, for a more in-depth therapeutic assessment where you will delve further into what motivate you to consider therapy. It can be important to recognize that therapy may not be easy at times, but except for a few rare instances, is a voluntary process that you are free 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 important parts of your life, it is a good time to seek help. If you are having thoughts about hurting yourself or another person it is a critical time to reach out. to a Crisis or Distress line, 911 or to get 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, 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 in their lives. A common refrain is, "I'd rather just talk to my friends or family about this". It is perfectly health 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. Therapy is not meant to be a replacement for interdependent close relationships but to enhance them. You may feel, that talking to people close to your either isn't working, you may find yourself holding back parts of your
self that you want to talk about or you may feel that you are needing to talk things through with someone who has expertise on human experiences, emotions with a less biased view than people who have known you a very long time or who may be hesitant to give you direct feedback when needed. You may need to think out loud and hear yourself in someone else's presence.
These are all things that could benefit you to know as you consider whether talking to a therapist is right for you right now.