Ask the Therapist: Do I need therapy?
Updated: Aug 6, 2022
"Cheryl, do you know that it took me a long time to finally decide to make an appointment with you. I don't think I have mental problem, I am just stressed. Do you think I really need therapy? I am not that serious right. I just need to be stronger and care less to get used to it."
This is a common question and response that I receive from the public, friends as well as my own clients. The stigma surrounding mental, relational and behavioural issues does not only stop us from seeking therapy, it also takes away the opportunities for us to grow and nurture our attitudes, skills and knowledge when facing various challenges and setbacks in different phases of life. However, other than the negative stigma imposing from the external world, what I notice that is often more damaging is the self stigma, the critical and unrealistic judgement that we might have towards ourselves.
Our inner hurtful critics can sound like this.
"I am abnormal if I seek therapy" "Why am I so weak? Why can't I solve these problems by myself?" "I just need to be emotionally strong enough to not feel sad." "I am angry because I am overly sensitive over small matters, My partner is right, I should not care too much then everything will be fine." "Our parents get married and live a happy life without couple therapy. I am a failure if I need therapy to solve my marital conflicts." "Why can't I be smart enough or learn faster, then I will not feel stressed or burnout at work." ....................... many many more. ANYONE CAN SEEK THERAPY
As part of the development process, we go through different phases in life. Starting from being an infant, toddler, children, adolescent, young adult, middle age adult, elderly till death, every phase has its significant milestone to be overcome. Just like how an infant starts learning how to crawl, sit, stand, walk....try new liquid and solid food...they laugh and they cry.
In each phase we face confusion, obstacles and setbacks. We might feel afraid and anxious towards the unknown future, guilty, shame, disappointed, sad or angry towards rejection and failure in the present and past. Each emotional experience that we face in our life phases can vary from one another. No one can have the same exact inner experience as we do (how I feel sad is different from how you feel sad...). Growing up, no one in our life formally teaches us how we should deal with emotions and relationships ( at least that was the case not just for me, my parents and many of my clients from all walks of life).
EMOTION NEGLECT IS THE KILLER
Children and teens are often expected to be emotionally more "matured" than their age when they could hardly express and understand what they feel inside. Young adults are often expected to be emotionally "matured" by knowing what they want and how to achieve success when they face confusion, disappointment and failures in their life, ranging from studies, career and intimate relationships. Married couples are often expected to be emotionally "matured" by knowing how to be a good spouse, son/daughter in-law, and daddy and mommy when they face marital conflicts and extra marital affairs, post-natal depression, parenting struggles and mid-life crisis. Elderly are often expected to be emotionally "matured" by being self sufficient when they face fear of death, grief and loss, emptiness from empty nest and retirement. Sadly, observing much narration I hear from my clients, emotional experiences have largely been neglected in many aspects of our lives. Unpleasant emotions (sadness, anger, disappointment, fear, etc) seem to be a big NO NO to be felt, expressed and discussed. I see many clients put these critical and unrealistic expectation on themselves as they go through different phases of life. It seems to me that being emotionally "matured" enough means not to feel, express and discuss about their "unpleasant" emotions and vulnerabilities. But is that helpful? is that healthy?
I often question - aren't these part of human nature that need to be seen, heard and understood with love and care?
WE DO NOT NEED TO BE SERIOUS ENOUGH TO SEEK THERAPY
Mental and relational health is a spectrum. It is not a binary. Everyone has mental and relational health and they can move along the spectrum at different point of time.
Below is a question that we may ask ourselves when we are not sure if we would like to seek therapy.
"Do you want to feel differently when you face (a specific scenario) again? If yes, how would you like to feel or be instead?" Oftentimes the answers that I receive from my clients are as below.
" Yes, I want to feel calmer and more at peace."
"Yes, I want to feel happy and content."
" Yes, I want to be more forgiving and accepting." "Yes, I want to be more in control, more motivated and efficient at work/studies." "Yes, I want to be more relatable and connected with self and others".... many many more. If your answer is yes too, then you can try out therapy. Therapy can help you to achieve these internal (healthier and more long lasting) changes that you want to see in yourself. Aren't these answers to your question?
Personal Message from Cheryl : "How is stepping into the therapy room, facing and dealing with the struggles that have been bothering or hurting us an act of weakness? Dear all, seeking therapy is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of resilience and courage. Our mental and relational health deserves our deepest care. And there is nothing wrong with doing so.
Growing up in each phase of life needs guidance and emotional presence and support but not everyone of us (in fact, many don't) has that lighthouse figure that shelters and shows us the way. Sometimes therapy can be that lighthouse for us when we are in our darkness."