Most of us have experienced an occasional bad day, when life throws us a curve ball for no apparent reason. It’s one thing if you’ve experienced a career setback, an argument with your spouse or significant other, or even a death in the family. In these instances, you can identify the cause of the problem. You’ve endured enough life experience to know “this too shall pass.”
But if that occasional bad day stretches into weeks or months and you can’t seem to figure out the problem, it’s time to seek professional help. When you can’t get out of your own way, or your mood disorder is beginning to affect your ability to function, stop trying to go it alone.
Even in our supposedly tell-all age, Americans have a difficult time asking for help. We’re a proud bootstrap society. If a psychological problem bedevils us, we either tell ourselves it’s our fault, or it’s something we can at least fix on our own. But when you have a persistent problem, there’s nothing wrong with seeking a trained, objective point of view. This is especially true if you’re on the cusp of a life change: marriage, divorce, retirement, or relocation.
Americans have a difficult time asking for help. We’re a proud bootstrap society. We tell ourselves it’s our fault, or we can fix on our own.
Psychotherapy, or its predecessor “psychoanalysis,” got its start in the 19th Century with Sigmund Freud, who observed that a patient could be coaxed to a “cure” if she talked freely — and uninterrupted — in session after session about whatever entered her mind. Hence, the now-famous nickname for the process: “the talking cure.” At that time, psychoanalysis seemed revolutionary because it identified a part of the mind — the “unconscious” — that seemed to hide itself from its very owner.
These days, psychotherapy has been supplemented by drug therapy and hammered hard by health insurance companies, so that the leisure and indulgence Freud’s initial patients encountered in their treatment are just about gone. Still, the modern abbreviated version of the treatment is something you should consider when things fall apart. Here are four ways a trained therapist can help you:
Show you a way out. Thinking of divorcing your spouse? Tempted to tell your boss to go pound sand? Getting ready to plunk down the tuition for your 30-year-old’s sixth year of college? A disciplined listener with an insightful approach can point out the true consequences of proceeding or refraining from such actions, or can point you to a third option you never even considered.
Make your sadness more bearable. We can all become locked away in our own suffering, and fail to realize that anyone else has troubles. Once a therapist helps you to re-connect to your world through your troubles, he or she can release you from immense isolation and help make your sadness bearable.
Help you set goals. Frequently a therapist can act like a coach, someone that can hold you accountable for your own plans. Leading questions like “when do you plan to accomplish that?” or statements like “you’ve talked about doing that for some time now” may be just what you need to jump start the next stage of your stalled life.
Help you stop repeating destructive & abusive behavior. If you drink excessively, gamble uncontrollably, or scream at your spouse, the road in front of you is not a promising one. A good therapist with a firm yet understanding approach can help you stop this behavior. He or she can show you how it represents your attempt to achieve something you can’t seem to get in a gentler way (love? recognition? respect?).
Yes, psychotherapy is not what it used to be; and, yes, drug therapy can be more effective for certain kinds of mental disorders. But to obtain enlightened and lasting treatment for what’s troubling you, psychotherapy just might fill the bill.