With an ever-increasing demand for mental health services, paradigms regarding therapy have been changing in a positive way. Today, going to therapy is a lot more common than usual, but some of us still hold prejudice towards those who regularly schedule sessions with their therapists. I remember when I was in the second year of my psychology studies; studies, I told my parents that I wanted to go to therapy. Their immediate reaction was one of concern.
They asked me if I was ok; ok, they wanted to know if something urgent was going on. The truth is, I simply wanted to get to know myself more. Most, if not all, therapists go to therapy themselves. We need to keep our own life stories and problems in check, so they don’t spill over to our patients. However, our teachers never demanded that we go to therapy. If it’s so important for us, why didn’t they demand it? How do we know when someone has to see a therapist? Are there any cases where going to therapy should be mandatory, and how should those cases be handled?
Let’s take it one step at a time. First, let’s think about people who have a diagnosed mental illness. A good analogy to understand this concept is going to the doctor. If you have asthma, heart disease, or a broken leg, you’ll definitely want to go to the doctor. But in order to keep a long and healthy lifestyle, periodic check-ups with your GP are also an integral part of staying healthy. For mental health practitioners, helping people through depression and learning how to cope with anxiety and working through trauma are our profession’s meat and potatoes. It’s a no brainer for people whose lives are impaired by these common struggles that they should go to therapy. But in reality, we all experience depression, anxiety, and trauma to some extent. If I feel generally anxious, but I can still function well, should I go to therapy?
The importance of will
Something you should know about psychotherapy is that the client’s will is an integral part of their path to betterment. A good therapist knows not to impose their will (consciously or subconsciously) into their client. The client’s willingness to better fuel their healing process, the therapist is there to accompany and guide them through the process with their knowledge and experience. This idea comes from Logotherapy, where the therapist is viewed as the catalyst between who the client is and who they can become. This complements the Logotherapeutic notion that we’re never truly “healed” and that a healthy person is a person that maintains a constant process of self-improvement. The exception to this is clients whose lives are impaired by a lack of willpower (as is the case with depression), where the therapist must focus on helping clients find and empower their will.
If someone doesn’t want to go to therapy, treatment will become extremely difficult, even nigh impossible. That’s why personality disorders are so hard to treat since one of the characteristics of these is that problematic behavior in people with personality disorders is egosyntonic (acceptable to themselves). If you go to therapy because the law or your family is making you go, treatment will be a lot harder and less effective, but not impossible.
If you’re wondering when you should go to see a therapist, having the willingness to be better is a good enough reason for many. But others might say, “I manage in life just fine without going to therapy, I don’t need to go to someone else to do what I can do on my own.”
While there’s some truth to this, and many of us can keep a satisfying mental wellness level, we need to remember that we all have blind spots. These blind spots are behavirous that neither us nor our friends and family notice. Going back to the doctor analogy, significant people in our lives can tell when we have a cold or the flu, but only trained professionals will be able to give more profound insights on our current health.
My University makes a very smart move by refraining from demanding their students go to therapy. It’s through years of study and exposition to psychology that most of us realize that going to therapy is as important as going to the gym. Keeping our brain muscles strong allows us to brave the vicissitudes of daily life with relative ease.
“I’m not feeling well, but I’m not sure whether or not I should bother going to therapy for this.”
Sometimes, we have mild concerns that make us wonder if it’s worth visiting a therapist for something so “small” or “fleeting.” If you want to figure out if it’s worth the hassle, I find it helpful to stop focusing on the aforementioned concerns for a while and try to zoom out. Think of all the things you could talk about with a therapist. Take a moment to reflect on all the reasons why you would want to go to therapy. Maybe you’d like to talk about your teenage years’ social awkwardness or the shocking parts of transitioning into adulthood. Therapy is not about focusing on a single aspect of your life. A good therapist understands that our life experience does not occur in a vacuum. Everything we live and go through relates to us and to our current experience of the world. So connecting and analyzing our life experience will help you know yourself and become better.
In conclusion, you don’t need to be sick or distressed to go to therapy. The best time to go to therapy is when you feel ready and willing to know yourself and work harder to be better. If you ask my opinion, the best time to go to therapy is right now. But as a therapist myself, I could be biased, so let me give you a more objective opinion on this. With the exception of severy pathology, going to therapy is a decision that every person has to make for themselves. You don’t have to be sick or distressed to go to therapy; one objective of therapy is to help you improve aspects of your life that you or your social circles alone won’t be able to notice. The isolated insight of a professional is invaluable and will surely help you increase awareness, mental health, and quality of life.