By Jessica Lau
I have problems but everyone has problems too. I feel stressed but maybe I can just
watch TV to feel better. So when is the right time to seek psychotherapy?
There is a belief that we only seek therapy when we are mentally ill. The truth is therapists very often do not treat “mental illnesses”. What they are really “treating” is a coping mechanism that was once adaptive in people’s life. Imagine a person being shouted at every day. He may become defensive to yell back and eventually develop anger management issues. He can also start making sure that he is perfect to prevent flaws that could potentially be shouted at and later on develop anxiety issues as he strives for perfection all the time. He may avoid being around people to prevent being shouted at and later on develop low self-esteem and depression. We can label these “anger issues, anxiety disorder and depression” as mental illnesses but these are simply coping mechanisms to deal with the shouting in the first place. Shame off anyone for seeking therapy. Therapy is for people who are ready to explore and heal coping mechanisms that no longer serve them. They are powerful explorers who are ready to embrace life to the fullest.
Here are 6 signs that psychotherapy is calling for you:
1. You have seen Doctors but your physical issues always come back
Headache, digestive issues, skin issues, insomnia, chronic fatigue are common physical health issues. If you find yourself constantly seeing doctors for health issues but they never truly go away, there can be a chance that the issues are psychosomatic illnesses. Your body is speaking to you about something your mind needs to know.
2. You feel stressed
This stress and discomfort is a subjective experience. You can feel stressed about something other people don’t feel stressed about, for example, going into transportation, saying hello to people etc.
3. The issue affects your functioning
Functioning includes Social, Emotional, Behavioural, and Cognitive aspects. For example, if you are experiencing insomnia, socially it can affect your relationship with your spouse who is sleeping next to you, emotionally you have ill-temper due to the lack of sleep, behaviourally insomnia makes you drink a lot more coffee and constantly check your alarm clock and cognitively it makes you think negatively.
4. Your brain knows what’s best for you but you cannot follow through
You are well aware that this is not the job for you, that exercising and spending time with loved ones is the right thing to do. However, you just cannot do what’s best for you and you feel stuck in the loop.
5. You observe a pattern of who you are in family, workplace, friendship, and romantic life
You find a consistency of “who you are” in your life. For example, you are a giving mother who takes care of everything in the family, a devoting colleague at work, sacrificing partner in your love life, and a caring friend. In all aspects, you are pouring yourself and it feels like there is no shelter in the storm when you are stressed. The same applies to the feeling of isolation, failure, and loneliness, etc in all aspects of life.
6. Self-help books, Horoscope, and Fortune-tellers have reached their limit
You call it fate. You try to wear crystals. You have read many self-help books and autobiographies. However, you are still so curious about yourself. You still feel hungry for more knowledge about who you are and how life is unfolding for you. Therapy is a journey of self-exploration that may be an answer to this curiosity.
We all have basic needs when we are children:
|Needs||Unmet Needs look like|
|Safety||Threats, harsh punishment|
|Nurture, care, love||Negligence, abuse|
|Freedom to express emotions and needs and validation||invalidation, criticism|
|Spontaneity, play||Straight structure, control, over-protection, harsh rules|
|Realistic limits to learn self-control||Spoiling, lacking boundaries and limits|
However, our caregivers are human too and as much as many of them have tried their best, there were needs that were unmet. We then strive to meet our own needs, for example, a person who never got validation from his parents will strive to get validation from his work achievement. He can end up feeling very stressed out and anxious about his career. A person who never felt love and care from his parents ended up getting that from the feeling of warmth post taking a kind of substance. Rather than labeling them as anxiety disorder or drug addiction (the pathological lens), we humans were just coping with unmet needs. The person is not the issue,
rather, the coping is causing issues to the person.
The safe and trusting relationship between the therapist and the client heals old wounds in early childhood relationships that could be unconscious to us. Therapy isn’t for “the weak and the ill”. Therapy is for people who have the bravery to look at generations of pain and say: this stops with me.
If you read till here, perhaps there is a “self” who is waiting for you to reach him/her.