How do you know when it’s time to start or return to therapy?
In a first session, I often will ask a client how they knew it was time to come in. Sometimes people are coming in at the encouragement of a friend or family member; sometimes they know they need an outside perspective to explore an issue; sometimes it is clear that anxiety, depression or other symptoms are getting in the way of day-to-day life.
For therapists, it is easy to know when we need to go to therapy. When our own stuff starts coming up for us in the midst of counseling others, or if it’s at all getting in the way of facilitating psychotherapy, we know we need to talk to colleagues or get our own therapy. It’s like how doctors need to be healthy in order to treat their patients; counselors need to be emotionally healthy in order to treat our clients.
For everyone else, it can be harder to answer this question. Generally, I encourage someone to come to counseling when they have issues that are getting in the way of living their life the way they want to. (This could be due to any number of things: a stress response that is out of proportion to the stressor; difficulty sleeping; low mood; overwhelming thoughts; relationship difficulties; adjusting to a traumatic medical diagnosis or event).
When you feel you need a safe person to talk to, to process recent events or explore a part of your identity, it’s a good time to come to therapy. When you need to voice the loss you’ve experienced or the secrets that weigh on you, it’s a good time to come to therapy. When you feel ready to build on the strengths you’ve got and develop additional coping skills to face the challenges or burdens of your life, it’s a good time to come to therapy.
I always tell my clients that therapy is about balancing challenge and support. So, when you feel you need extra support in your life and you are ready to be challenged to grow – that is the time to come to therapy!