For so much of our history, mental health treatment has been seen as something that is only necessary for people with severe mental illness. At the turn of the 18th century, insane asylums became a place where people who were determined to have “madness” or “insanity” were placed to be cared for and later on in the 19th century provided “treatment” to these individuals. Stigma abounded as no one wanted to be in these institutions. They were shut down completely in the United states in the late 1960s due to the involuntary nature of these individuals' confinement and the inhumane treatment within these institutions. Today, mental health treatment looks very different. Psychiatric hospitals utilize evidence based treatments for individuals who need it the most while mental health centers and private clinicians provide support and skills to a range of individuals from people going through drastic changes in their lives to individuals who have severe trauma. So is therapy right for you?
In our busy, already stressful lives, we tend to go through periods of adjustment that increase our stress levels and lead us to not feeling our best. Consider events such as moving to another state, having a baby, getting a divorce, losing a job, learning of a chronic illness as periods of stressful adjustment. In all of these instances we might feel an increase in our anxiety or symptoms of depression, difficulties sleeping or focusing, we might even experience lower levels of motivation that get in our way. While we can certainly “stick it out” and “deal with it” on our own, we can also consider therapy to assist us with these kinds of adjustments and transitions in our lives. Therapy can help you feel validated, support you in your stress, make clearer decisions through reality testing, and teach you self care strategies to help relieve your symptoms while you are getting adjusted.
Anxiety and Depression
While millions of people experience depression and anxiety in their lives, only about 60% of people with depression and 43% of people with anxiety ever seek treatment, and even then it might take as long as ten years of suffering with these problems before they seek out treatment. Can you imagine if individuals with diabetes or cancer waited that long to get treatment?!
If you experience racing thoughts when you are trying to go to bed; spiraling thoughts about to do lists or fears throughout your day that keep you from focusing on other things; or difficulty sitting down or doing something relaxing without feeling guilt or pressure to do something productive; you might be suffering from anxiety. If you haven’t sought out a therapist yet, you might want to consider it, because you don’t have to suffer with anxiety all of your life. A good therapist will work with you to be more aware of your spiraling negative thoughts and actively change them over time to no longer be disturbing to you. They can also teach you relaxation and Mindfulness skills to allow you to feel relaxed without the sense of guilt that you aren’t being “productive”. With effective therapy, individuals can get off of their anti-anxiety medications and live healthier and happier lives.
Do you often feel a lack of enjoyment when you are doing something or just don’t feel like doing anything to begin with? Are you experiencing sadness that just won’t go away and negative thoughts about yourself that keep you in bed or keep you from taking care of yourself the way you want to or used to do? You might be experiencing clinical depression if you said yes to any of these questions. Therapy can help you change your behaviors to increase “happy hormones” in your brain naturally. It can also work with those negative thoughts, and teach you other skills to decrease and manage depressive episodes. As with anxiety, with the right therapeutic approach, individuals with depression can often get off of their antidepressants in time also.
A Plethora of Trauma: attachment, invalidation, workplace, relational and etc.
Trauma used to be thought of as a significant event such as being involved in a war, domestic violence or being sexually assaulted. Today, trauma is recognized as a lot more complex than that. In fact, our modern culture seems to breed complex trauma because we have so much more to feel stressed about than our ancestors did. We have bills to pay, a job to keep, health insurance to acquire, college loans and mortgages, a variety of relationships to juggle. Our mind-body connections were not really built to manage all of this stress. Over time, we build up traumatic body and emotional memories that keep us in a state of threat rather than going about our lives as normal.
As babies, toddlers and children many experience attachment trauma from caretakers not meeting their needs appropriately. Even though we might not have “narrative” memories of these experiences in our early childhood, our bodies, emotions and actions hold these memories well into adulthood. If not treated, adults can experience interpersonal difficulties, anger or emotional outbursts, isolation, numbing, dissociation, depression and anxiety among other symptoms that make life difficult.
Chronic invalidation or abandonment during childhood and adolescence can also cause a type of trauma that turns us into adults who do not trust their own judgment, might have difficulty understanding or expressing their emotions and believe they are unlovable or cannot trust others to be there for them.
Many individuals experience what is known as workplace trauma. This type of trauma develops from long term work stress surrounding a boss who is harsh or even verbally and emotionally abusive to staff, sexual harassment at work or constant threats of being fired if not performing up to standards. This trauma makes it difficult to focus at work, individuals might experience significant physical symptoms such as an eye twitch, hemorrhoids, digestive issues, headaches, etc.
When we experience a romantic partner cheating on us, lying to us or abusing us in one form or another over periods of months or years we might experience relational trauma. Relational trauma tends to impact future romantic relationships but also, at times, other relationships in our lives. It can make us feel distrustful of others for no reason at all, snap at our loved ones for perceived slights, and damage relationships that might have been healthy otherwise.
Is Therapy Right for You?
If you are experiencing symptoms or great amounts of stress that lead you to change your behaviors in ways you don’t like, therapy is likely right for you. Most people can benefit from therapy in our busy and stressful lives. While therapy might be right for you though, it is still important to find the right therapist as not every therapist is right for every person. Some people prefer a soft approach while others benefit from someone who is more brutally honest. Some individuals might need a supportive or psychodynamic therapist while others do better in skills based therapy. Be sure to shop around to find the right fit for you and never be afraid to fire your therapist if you feel it isn’t the right fit. No matter what, don’t give up! Therapy can be hard work and can feel hard and triggering at times, but the benefits in the end will be worth it!