If you have been contemplating seeking out therapy, you may feel like you don’t have a “big enough” reason to substantiate getting help. You may even feel silly, selfish, or ungrateful, especially if you grew up in an environment where you were regularly reminded that others had it “much worse” than you or friends and family dismiss your desire to go to therapy.
Unfortunately, delaying therapy is something that Jon Smith, director of clinical services at Texas Health Springwood Behavioral Health Hospital HEB, still sees far too often.
“People can have so many reasons as to why they’ve delayed seeking help. Sometimes it comes down to the symptoms you’re suffering from, such as depression or anxiety keeping you from having the motivation or taking the leap of faith to get help,” Smith says. “We also hear that some people in need of counseling don’t feel they have the time…the very stress they are trying to manage develops into a self-fulfilling prophecy which creates a barrier to getting help. Then there are the victims of our culture’s view that seeking therapy means having a lack of fortitude. These people will avoid seeking help because they worry others will see it as a weakness.”
While Smith notes that many people do seek out therapy when something “big” happens in their lives that they’re having trouble navigating, or after a mental health crisis, it’s also OK to start therapy just because you think you need a little extra help, even if you’re not entirely sure why or what that help might look like.
In fact, Smith says it’s better to look at mental health care in a preventive way, much like you would for your yearly checkup. Just as yearly checkups can help catch issues while they’re still small and manageable, behavioral health can work the same way.
“Many people see therapy in a very reactive sense, thinking it’s only for when there is a crisis. But a better way to look at it is in a proactive sense, responding to your growing concerns when it is less intense and perhaps could lead to better outcomes for your mental health,” he explains. “If we can catch something early, you may be able to avoid a more serious intensification of symptoms and feel the relief you deserve. This can be especially useful if you’re struggling with a chronic or repetitive mental health history.”
For example, regular visits to a therapist for counseling, or even just check-ins with your psychiatrist can help to identify worsening symptoms and ensure that adequate medications are assessed and prescribed for the healthy maintenance of ongoing mental health issues.
Be Better Prepared to Weather the Storm
Another perk to seeking treatment early, or when you’re not in the midst of a crisis, is the fact that you’ll be better equipped to handle stressful situations or a flareup in symptoms later on down the road as your therapist will have worked with you on coping mechanisms or how to mitigate symptoms ahead of time.
Imagine it as a 5k marathon. If you decided tomorrow to run in a 5k with no prior training, you’re probably going to have a tough time. Making it to the finish line is still a very real possibility but it’s going to take you longer than you might have hoped, and you’re going to be exhausted. There are going to be a lot of times between the starting line and the finish line where you’re going to want to quit or take a break, and you may ask yourself why you even wanted to run this marathon in the first place or wonder if it’s worth it.
However, if you set a goal for yourself to run a 5k in the near future, you can give yourself plenty of time to train. You can break down that 5k into manageable chunks, and before you know it, you’re running further and longer without as many breaks. You’re conditioning; preparing your body for that big race. Come race day, it still may be tough; there may be times you want to take a break or quit, but you’re prepared for what’s ahead because you’ve put in the work leading up to this moment.
In either scenario, when you cross that finish line, you have something to be incredibly proud of, but in the latter scenario, you were better prepared for the race and any challenges it threw at you.
“Even if you come to therapy in the middle of a crisis, we’re going to help you fight that battle, but once we get over that hump, the job isn’t done. You don’t just call it a day and leave therapy. No, you stay and we work on how to prevent a crisis like that again, and how to be better prepared for any stressful events that come up down the road,” Smith adds.
What Therapy Can Look Like
Smith notes that many people are hesitant to start up therapy simply because they don’t know what to expect.
You may worry you’re going to be locked away or given a bunch of medications against your will. You may also think your therapist is some all-knowing guru who has all the answers. None of that is true.
“The difficulty with this is that it sets the wrong tone by suggesting that the client is an empty vessel that needs filling,” Smith says. “When in reality, I have found just the opposite to be true. I view the people that I treat as the professionals who have a wealth of experience and knowledge. They just simply require a bit of guidance in order to gain access to their own strength and power that lies within them.”
Demystifying therapy can be helpful if you’re reluctant to seek help. In therapy, a licensed professional will listen to your thoughts, offer support without judgment, and help you explore ways to start feeling better, and there are other treatment options that don’t require the use of medication that your therapist can explore with you.
Smith adds that a therapist’s general role is to create a safe environment for the client, allowing for the exchange of accurate information and learning, with the end result being the client feeling empowered that they can respond in a healthy way to the problems they face.
“We are not advice givers because we don’t know everything. Therapy is a partnership where each participant has important information and experiences that, when shared in a safe setting, should focus on how to build self-efficacy, or the sense that you can improve your own circumstances. From there we develop support systems and coping strategies, and know when support from others, like a therapist, can be beneficial.”
Getting Access to Care
Access to care and cost have long been big deterrents when it comes to seeking mental health treatment. Insurance can provide a bit of a financial buffer but if you don’t have insurance or your plan doesn’t cover therapy, you may find yourself frustrated.
“The good news is that there are many therapists out there who are willing to offer sliding fee scales to meet your budget and even possibly short-term pro bono (free of charge) work,” Smith explains. “Texas Health works hard to help the community reach their mental health needs. Texas Health hospitals and Behavioral Health centers all provide free assessments to anyone looking for guidance on where and what help to get. Additionally, some Texas Health Behavioral Health centers offer some of those assessments virtually via telehealth services.”
The beauty of treatment is the abundance of options, especially now as the pandemic has normalized telehealth services that make getting behavioral health treatment even more accessible to more people.
Remember, it’s never too early to get help and there’s no reason too big or too small, even if that help just looks like carving out an hour of your time once a week to talk about your feelings with someone that can help you increase your coping skills and work through those emotions.
“Every person matters and everyone deserves to get the help they need when struggling with mental health problems, “Smith adds. “We all have the potential to think our issues are not as important or pressing as others' issues. I urge everyone to challenge that notion. Take it from a therapist with over 20 years in the field of mental health — there is no problem too small. Reach out, take a chance and invest in your best self. You are worth it!”
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”