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“Should I go to therapy?”
It’s a question I get asked frequently. Often, it’s said in jest – after someone has complained to me about being stressed, tired, or frustrated with someone close to them.
But, I think that it’s a question that many people think about but don’t really know how to answer.
So, let me offer what I think are things to consider when you are wondering if you should go to therapy.
Are things you are doing to change not working? Everyone has bad days, times when they are overworked, angry at a partner, or anxious. Much of the time these are temporary. We find ways to take a break, resolve conflict, or re-center ourselves. But sometimes these strategies don’t work. If you find yourself, taking breaks, working on conflict, or trying to relax and it’s not working, it might be time to go therapy.
Do you find yourself being overly critical? Of yourself? Of your partner? Of your kids? Intense, unrelenting criticism is often a sign that trying to change ourselves isn’t working, so we figure that others should change instead. If you are being hyper critical of those you love or of yourself, it may be time to find a therapist.
Has there been a dramatic changes in your life? Have you experienced the loss of a relationship, job, or something else that is important? Do you find that your mood is very different then what is normal? We have an incredible ability to adapt to changes in life circumstances. But sometimes the changes we are asked to make are too big. Not being able to respond to these big changes isn’t a sign of weakness but a sign that we need help doing it. If you find yourself experiencing big changes and you notice that your mood, appetite, or sleep patterns have changed dramatically, it’s time to schedule a therapy session.
In my experience, many people wait way too long to start therapy. They get stuck doing the same things to try to make change. Or their criticisms have turn into contempt – they view themselves or their loved ones with disdain and disgust. Or they try to be strong for too long in the face of incredible pressure. In these cases, therapy still is helpful, but it may take longer.
If you think you should go to therapy, the hard question then becomes, how do I find a therapist?
If you’ve tried to find a therapist in Eastern Iowa, you’ve probably run into a few problems. You may have a tough time finding a therapist who takes your insurance. You may have thought of paying out of pocket and found that therapy can be very expensive. Or you may have reached out to a therapist and never heard back. Not only are these things frustrating, but they also can deter people from getting the help they need.
So, let me offer some suggestions.
If you are uninsured and find paying out of pocket for therapy is too expensive, look to your local colleges and universities. Many colleges and universities have training programs for counselors and therapists. As part of this training, therapy is often provided free or at a reduced rate. Many people worry that working with beginning therapists means that they won’t get good care. But research, and my experience as someone who trains therapists, doesn’t bear this out.
Also, it’s OK to be on multiple waiting lists. No therapist will be upset if they reach out to you after you’ve been on their waitlist and you’ve already found a therapist to work with.
Finally, the barriers that many people encounter when trying to find a therapist aren’t individual but systemic. Access or lack of access is tied to the policies and resources allocated for mental health. If you want to improve access to care, not only for yourself, but for your community, it’s important to be an advocate for better policy and more resources for mental health.
Jacob Priest is a licensed marriage and family therapist and University of Iowa professor. He co-hosts the Attached Podcast. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org