When is the right time to start therapy?
Updated: Dec 8, 2021
The decision to start therapy usually weighs on people's minds for extended periods of time before they decide to take the leap into starting or continuing their therapeutic journey. Some people have never been to therapy and are unsure of what to expect or are skeptical of the benefits. Others have gone in the past and chose to or had to stop and are unsure if they want to start again. Therapy is a commitment, this most people know. It is a deep, meaningful experience and relationship with their clinician. However, it is oftentimes scary due to the vulnerability of the process. Therapy can allow people to reach deep and sometimes painful emotions within themselves. It is a substantial emotional and possibly financial investment. I understand this is not a major selling point to help someone decide to start therapy. However, I wanted to validate the barriers that most people face when making this decision. "Am I ready for this?" "Can I handle this?" "Will this actually help me or just be a waste of time and money?"
The answer lies in the following considerations. When is it the right time to start therapy?
Anytime is the right time
My basic answer to this question is, anytime is the right time. However, that is only true for those who are already open to the process of therapy and are ready to start their work. Here are some other important indicators that you may be ready to start working with a therapist:
You find your mind wandering from your task at hand to your stressor(s)
Of course, all of our minds wander from time to time and this does not mean that we are in crisis. However, you may notice that you are more distracted than normal and are having trouble remembering to do things or notice that your attention to detail has declined due to this distraction. Perhaps this issue is more bothersome or pressing than you may initially realize. Therapy provides a container for the issue and can allow you to focus better throughout the week. If the issue arises at an inopportune time, you can redirect the thought by acknowledging that while it is important, it will be more helpful to think about this in therapy, rather than during other points of your week when you have other things to think about and do.
You are in the process of making a big decision
Are you getting married? Are you considering divorce? Changing careers? Deciding to have a child or start dating again? Are you considering where your elderly parent should live? Life is full of huge decisions and often there is no right or wrong answer to these challenging questions. Loved ones may have opinions that can be helpful. However, the decision is yours and what is best for them may not be best for you. Using a therapist as a non-biased sounding-board can help you reach the answers you have been looking for. Your therapist will not be invested in the actual outcome. Their primary agenda is supporting you through making the decision to help you find the solution that you will be most happy with.
You have noticed shifts in your mood, energy level, sleep, motivation, and/or eating patterns and you are not sure why.
Depression, Anxiety, and other disorders can creep into your life without you realizing that they are there until you notice these changes. Sometimes we may know what is keeping us up at night or why our mood is lower than normal, but sometimes it feels like it has just happened for no identifiable reason. Talking with a therapist will help improve your understanding of what is going on and how to help restore yourself to your normal or an improved level of functioning. Also, your therapist can help you monitor if things are getting better or worse and explore with you if you may want to seek out a psychiatrist for medical intervention, as well.
You talk to your friends and family about your issues and don't seem to get any resolution.
As mentioned above, your loved ones have opinions that reflect what is best for them. Certainly, they love you and what is best for them is often your happiness. However, appeasing you or suggesting you do the thing that will produce immediate happiness, not long term happiness, maybe more often what they suggest. Loved ones also tend to go along with your emotions. If you are angry, then they are angry; if you are sad, then they are sad and this could bias their support. They want you happy and will do or say whatever will help you feel better in the immediate moment. For example, if you turn to a friend after you find out your partner has been unfaithful, her response may be, "What a jerk! Leave him!" You are hurt and she doesn't want you to be hurting any longer. But, what if you are not ready to leave; what if you want to process this further and may even want to work things out? Your friend may struggle to see you sit in the discomfort of this decision, whereas a therapist can tolerate the discomfort and can help you through the decision without having a personal investment in the outcome.
You have something you need to process through but are not able to talk to your family or friends about it.
Again, using the above example, knowing that a friend would tell you to leave your partner may not be what you need, want, or are ready to hear. This may cause you to hold things inside and not share them, in fear that once they are out you would have to be ready to make the change or else compromise your relationships or other's happiness. Also, you may worry about your issues spreading like wild-fire through your family or friend's gossip circles and this may prevent you from discussing your problems with your loved ones. Your friends are not bound to confidentiality; your therapist, however, is. Knowing that you can talk through even the most shameful issues without the worry of it spreading to others or impacting your relationships keeps the sense of safety around your work. Further, if you do have issues related to your loved ones (who doesn't?!) your therapist can help you to figure out whether or not to confront them and how to handle it when you do.
You know what you need to do and are unable to make a change
Many people operate in a holding pattern for sometimes years, participating in the same maladaptive behavior patterns or staying in the same situations that are knowingly harmful to them or others but are unable to make a change. They may even know they need to stop drinking, stop bingeing, stop cheating, control their expressions of anger, get a job, etc; but are just unable to make the long-term change they need to make. Friends and loved ones tend to focus on the behavior, whereas a therapist will focus on the barriers. Why is this change so difficult? What are the steps, starting with the first step that will get you to your goal? Your therapist will also be able to tolerate the process of change with you. Change happens when change is ready. They can help you push forward without pushing you harder than you are able to tolerate going.
To quote Bill Clinton, "The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change." I believe that this is true especially when it comes to therapy. Yes, therapy is a substantial emotional and sometimes financial investment, but it is doubtful that it is more costly than continuing to do the same thing that is not working. If parts of this blog hit home and you would like to give therapy a try please contact your local providers to see if they are accepting new clients. Dr. Kelli Malkasian, PsyD, CEDS is taking new clients for those in the Fort Lauderdale area. I hope you enjoyed this post. Please look for my next blog coming soon, selecting the right therapist for you, to help you take the next step in choosing your clinician.
Kelli Malkasian, PsyD, CEDS
Psychologist, Certified Eating Disorder Specialist