Why Therapy: Some Final Notes

View from the ferry en route to San Juan Island, WA. 

View from the ferry en route to San Juan Island, WA. 

Believe it or not, we have finally come to the end (at least for now) of my series on therapy. I've been so overwhelmed at the positive response to these posts and can't thank y'all enough for making it possible to be so honest about my experience. To those of you who think I'm brave for sharing what I did in the last two posts: I'm really not. I'm simply a broken human being in need of healing, just like everyone else on this planet. I would not be able to share my story in such a public forum if I were not so confident that I am not alone in my need for peace, healing, and freedom. Thanks be to God, I have experienced so much healing and freedom through his grace, mediated through therapy (and the Sacraments, his Word, my friends and family, and countless other avenues), and I can't help but want to share it (I am an extrovert, after all). 

I have a few final thoughts on therapy, which I've divided up into

1. Common excuses I've heard from friends and family who need to go to therapy but either flat out refuse to go or drag their heels for quite a while before going, and

2. Miscellaneous frequently asked questions about therapy.

Here goes. 

Excuse #1: Therapy is such an extreme thing to do. I don't have an eating disorder, have never been abused, and am not clinically depressed, so I don't need it. 

First of all, let me just say: therapy is not only for those who have been abused or who have diagnosable mental illnesses. This is one of the most common misconceptions about therapy and it keeps so many people who need it from going. 

If you've experienced any kind of emotional upheaval and want help processing it, go to therapy. This includes, but is not limited to: divorce (yours or your parents'), the death of a loved one, infertility, a miscarriage, an abortion, finding out you have an STD, adopting a child, marital difficulties, losing a job, starting a new job, moving to a new city, a bad breakup, a broken engagement, being diagnosed with a chronic or terminal illness, etc, etc.  

If your relationships and daily life are being negatively influenced by dysfunction in your family of origin: go to therapy

If you find yourself anxious, angry, sad, scatter-brained, etc more often than not and can't figure out why: go to therapy

If you have a difficult time (i.e. are miserable and/or anxious and/or fighting to maintain your sense of self) on family vacations, family reunions, family meals,  or anything related to your family: go to therapy

Going to therapy is not extreme, just like going to the hospital after you break a bone is not extreme, or going to see an internist when you have an unidentified chronic pain in your body is not extreme, or going to a sleep specialist because you think you may have sleep apnea is not extreme. The only reason why so many people think that therapy is "extreme" or "not for them" is because of the stigma associated with it, which I discussed in my very first post in this series. 

If you think you might maybe may need therapy, then just GO! It won't kill you and if the therapist tells you you're fine and just to "give it time" and all will be well, GREAT! If you really do need it, then you are on the path to healing and will be the better for it. Win, win.

Excuse #2: I'd love to go to therapy but I can't afford it. 

Before you give up, check to see if there are any therapists in your area that take your insurance. I was pleasantly surprised to find that a good portion of my last round of sessions were covered by insurance. 

The other option is to seek out a therapist who charges different amounts depending on a client's income level. Usually you can work something out, especially if the therapist is a Christian. 

Lastly, while I'm sure there are some of you who legitimately cannot afford therapy for whatever reason, (and if you're in that boat, I encourage you to pray that God opens up an opportunity for you to go--all things are possible with Him after all!), I would challenge those of you who may be using money as an excuse not to go to think about it this way: what is more important, your daily Starbucks run or your mental health and well-being? Can you go without buying new clothes or eat out less often for a few months in order to get your emotional house in order? Trust me, a clothing/entertainment fast is a SMALL price to pay for peace in your heart and mind. 

Excuse #3: I don't have time for therapy.

If you don't have an hour a week or every other week to devote to your health, then you might want to examine your priorities. The fact is that we make time for the things that are important to us. Your mental health is more important than your mani/pedi or that hour you spent on Facebook last night. No one else is going to take care of your psychological and emotional issues for you, so what are you waiting for?

Excuse #4: I have no idea how to find a good therapist in my area.

If you live in the DC or Austin area, send me an email and I can help you out. If you live elsewhere and a Google search is unhelpful, ask your pastor if he knows anyone (I'm sure he does). If you're Catholic, you could also call the diocesan office to see if they can recommend any Catholic psychologists or counselors. Above all, pray, pray, pray and don't stop looking till you find someone!

Excuse #5: I already have a spiritual director, so therapy would be superfluous for me. 

If I had a nickel for every time I heard this one, I'd have a lot of nickels. My hope is that more spiritual directors will have the wisdom to send their directees to therapy when they so obviously need it, but sometimes I think even the most well-intentioned spiritual directors are wary of therapy, which is a shame. 

Here's the thing: a therapist is someone who is trained to get to the bottom of psychological and emotional problems, and to give you the tools to manage them. A spiritual director is trained to help you in your prayer life, struggles with sin, and overall relationship with Christ. A good therapist and a good spiritual director will overlap in terms of the issues they address in your sessions with them, but they are not interchangeable. 

In any case, you need both a spiritual director and a therapist, in order to avoid spiritualizing psychological issues and/or dismissing spiritual problems as psychological issues beyond your control. Both attitudes are dangerous. 

FAQ's about therapy: 

Q: I've been to therapy a few times, but I don't feel like it really helped. I didn't like the therapist I saw and/or had a bad experience. I still feel like there's a lot that's unresolved in my heart and mind. What should I do?

A: As someone who's had quite a few lackluster experiences in therapy, I can't stress the importance of not letting that keep you from looking till you find someone who really helps you. It is so worth the work. And you WILL find him or her--pray, hope, and don't worry! 

Q: My husband/boyfriend/fiance/brother/guy friend/uncle/male cousin REALLY needs therapy, but refuses to go. What should I do? 

A: If any of my readers has an answer to this one, I'm all ears. This is a perennial question for me, as I have quite a few men in my life who need therapy. Unfortunately, the therapy stigma seems to be about 1,000 times stronger in the male population than in the female population, which makes it that much more difficult to get a guy to go. Also, many men hate being told what to do, especially by women (at least in my experience). To top it ALL off, the kind of humility required for a man to say, "I need help. I can't deal with my issues on my own," or to even acknowledge that he has issues, is extremely rare to find in anyone, male or female (especially in America, the land of the DIY and "self-made man"). So, the only thing I know to do is pray, pray, pray. Pray that his heart and mind will be opened to his need for help, and that he will have the humility to seek it out. 

Q: There's a woman in my life who needs therapy, but I'm not quite sure how to broach the subject with her...any advice? 

A: If you've been to therapy, share your experience with her in a non-threatening, non-manipulative way. Just tell her how great it's been for you and leave it at that. 

If you haven't been to therapy, wait for the opportune moment when she's complaining to you about how depressed she is about X for the thousandth time, and simply say something like, "I'm so sorry you're still struggling with X. Have you ever considered going to therapy?" If she balks, then you could point her to this series and ask her to read it; she'll probably feel freer to choose for herself than if you try to convince her right then and there. You could also say, "I have other friends who swear by it, so I thought I'd just suggest it...regardless, I'm praying for you and love you." 

One of my dearest friends in the world was inspired to go to therapy simply because I shared my experience (I don't even remember how it came up to be honest) and she was so shocked that I had gone to therapy and was amazed at how much it helped me that she decided to go. 

Q: I went to regular therapy for a couple of years and thought I was done...but now I'm thinking that I need to go back. Does that mean that the last round of therapy was a waste? 

A: Not at all! We human beings are complex and mysterious, and so naturally we will not be able to plumb the depths of our hearts, minds, and souls all at once. What you uncover in therapy in your teens or early twenties will be often be VERY different from what you uncover should you go back a few years later, or a decade later, or two decades later, etc. After my last round of therapy, it was clear that I didn't need to go back regularly for the time being, but there have been a few times in the past couple of years when a major life event brought something new to the surface. On those occasions, I didn't hesitate to call Dr. T and schedule a phone session. And if at any point in my future it becomes clear that I need to go back to regular therapy for whatever reason, I will go! 

The bottom line is this: if you're thinking about going to therapy, but aren't sure if you need it, GO.

If you're thinking about going to therapy, but are embarrassed or afraid: GO. 

If you think you need therapy but really, really don't want to go: PRAY for the openness and courage to go. 

And remember: you were created to live, not simply to survive. Embrace the abundant life that Christ promised you when you became his own in Baptism. 

As always, please feel free to email me at theevangelistaa@gmail.com if you have any further questions, concerns, or just want some encouragement!