There is a common misconception that the only people who need therapy are those who have already reached a point where they have been recommended treatment by a healthcare professional. This probably links to wider problematic views about mental health that many people hold. The results of this type of thinking can have serious negative impacts, because someone might feel embarrassed about asking for help, or feel that their health problems are somehow less serious than other people’s.
There is no need to struggle with problems that you cannot deal with or that are routinely making you unhappy. The reality is that therapy is an avenue open to people with any problem and of any background. If you have already been ill enough to require psychiatric care then you may be familiar with different types of therapeutic treatment, but if you have never had a course of therapy before you may still find it valuable. The British Association for Counsellors and Therapists recommends therapy for a number of common problems, including career moves, anger issues, and loneliness, all of which many people have problems without requiring professional treatment.
Why go to a therapist?
Therapists are there to try and help you understand how your own thought processes work. A therapist will usually invite you to talk about something that is bothering you and then ask you questions about it. They are aiming to find a continuity in your approach to dealing with issues you might have. Once these have been identified a therapist can suggest coping strategies and techniques to help you respond to difficulty in a way that you feel better about.
This kind of impartial guidance and counsel is difficult to get outside of a therapy session. While your friends and family may be willing to listen to you there will probably be things that you are not happy sharing with them. They are also not likely to be trained to give you the help you need to see things in a different light. Not all therapists will be able to do this for you, and it is important that you find a therapist that you feel comfortable with and whose methods you find appropriate.
Should you try therapy when you are not ill?
What does it mean to be ‘not ill’? If we think of a leg and ask ‘is it broken?’ this is a fairly easy question to ask. However, the mind is not like a leg. There are not easy criteria that we can measure ourselves against to judge what is ‘typical’, and while we may assess ourselves against other people’s general behaviour and actions, this is not necessarily an indication of health. While both Psytherapy and the NHS has self-assessments and that can give you an indication as to whether you need professional help this doesn’t mean that people who are not clinically unwell cannot benefit from therapy.
The philosophy of sickness
The philosopher of science George Canguilhem wrote in The Pathological and the Normal that ‘to be sick is to be harmful or undesirable or socially devalued, etc.’ while being healthy is the opposite.(p.121) In other words, the idea of ‘healthy’ is shaped by assumptions about the kind of society that we live in, while sickness is an inability to do those things. If you are having problems at work that are making you unhappy and preventing you fulfilling your potential this is something that therapy can help you a remedy, but by no means do you have to be sick to need this kind of help.
If you do not feel ill then you might be reluctant to go to therapy because you feel that it will lead to you being classified as unwell, following the logic that only unwell people go to therapy, therefore if you go to therapy you must be uwell.
Of course, when broken down this becomes as irrational a belief as the idea that only people with tooth decay go to the dentist. There’s a good reason that you take your car for an MOT but if we thought the same way about car engines as we do about the mind then a lot more people would end up breaking down on the motorway. Good mental health requires training, and one of the benefits of therapy is that it equips you with the tools to deal with problems in your life as effectively as possible, rather than relying on bad habits and self-defence mechanisms.
The reality is that therapy is not only for people who are disturbed or clinically depressed. It is perfectly normal to feel anxious, depressed, and confused about life and relationships with other people, and this doesn’t make you clinically unwell. We can all benefit from understanding how to prevent self-doubt or recognise that feeling lost is ok. In fact therapists are themselves required to undergo continuous therapy themselves
Therapy is not a luxury
Many people are put off from therapy because they think that it is a luxury. Private therapy can cost quite a lot of money, but in terms of value for money it can pay dividends. Finding the time to explore yourself and find the time to make improvements is something that we should all do more often. Talking therapies can cover a variety of different techniques, such as CBT and psychotherapy.
Of course there are some cases where therapy is an essential part of treatment, such as if your mental state is damaging you or those around you, but this links back to the overarching concern that therapy is only something for people who are already ill. We generally think that we can fix most things in life ourselves, and might expect to be able to deal with whatever happens accordingly.
An important part of the therapeutic process is recognising that there are limits to what we can control in our everyday life, and that there are methods to manage this. A therapist can help you look at a problem with greater perspective, and in a more impartial way than friends and family. You might feel it is much easier to talk to someone unconnected from the problem, and who is not prejudiced by their own feelings about a situation. This will, however, come at a cost, just like any mediation process.
If you have ever done any gardening then you’ll know that it is much easier to monitor and manage a garden than leave it to become overgrown until you have to spend lots of effort getting back in order. Of course, you will occasionally have to devote a large stretch of time to maintenance, but when you can try to keep ‘little and often’ as your mantra you will find gardening much more manageable.
Mental health is exactly the same. You have to practice doing it, and familiarise yourself with the techniques of good healthcare. If you do not prepare yourself correctly then you might find yourself in a situation that you cannot handle alone, but without the framework to process the problem correctly. As a society we are not very good at equipping people with the tools that they need to look after themselves, and therapists are highly trained specialists who can guide you towards a better state of wellness.
Be prepared to try different options
In just the same way that you might only feel comfortable going to a certain gym, you will only gel with certain therapists. Not all therapists the same. Each therapist will have a unique approach and personality, so if you are unhappy with a therapist it is important to remember that you do not have a commitment to a therapist. You will be only manage the honesty and vulnerability that therapy requires in a space that you feel safe in. There will be certain environmental factors that are likely to set you at ease, and different methods like psychoanalysis and CBT will also appeal to a greater or lesser degree to different people. You should consider what you are responsive to as an individual.
Sometimes the reason that people end up needing therapy is because they refuse to accept that they have a problem which is out of their control, or which they cannot deal with alone, and the pressure of this builds up to a crisis point. However the nature of life is that we often have to deal with situations that are difficult, or that we cannot fully manage ourselves without advice and support from someone else.
Therapy is something that many people can benefit from, whether you consider yourself sick or not. Psytherapy offers CBT and psychoanalysis for people with any kind of problem, and we are based right in the centre of London, in Pimlico. If you are interested in discussing issues you have in greater depth, why not contact us here. Alternatively if you have tried therapy and found it useful why not comment below. Was it helpful? Did it help you resolve problems in your life in a more healthy way? Let us know.