Finding Support for Emotional Issues

Everyone has ups and downs, or feels anger and deep sadness at times. But how do you know when your emotions are of the everyday sort that are likely to get better with time? Or, when it's time to seek help?

The best clue that it's time to see a therapist is a sense that the way you're thinking, feeling, or behaving is interfering with your normal life and has for some time. You don't need a clear understanding of what's bothering you before you seek therapy. It's enough to say you're feeling overwhelmed, immobilized, or out of your depth. It can be tough to find the words to name what you are feeling. A therapist can help.

Psychological clues

Psychotherapy is based on the idea that we're only aware of a small part of what's going on in our minds. The part of us driving the way we think, feel, and behave is the "unconscious."

If you've ever had a disturbing dream that brought to mind something you hadn't been thinking before, then you've seen the unconscious at work.

Most often when we have trouble coping with life, it's mainly ourselves getting in the way. A pesky part of ourselves works against change to keep our emotional status quos.

Therapy basics

Psychotherapy is designed to help people solve emotional, behavioral, or relationship problems. The goal might be to stop or reduce symptoms (such as a phobia or feelings of sadness or anxiety). Another goal may be to improve how you function in relationships or work.

Most therapists do "talk therapy." They understand and help through talking and building a relationship with the person.

To be successful, the therapeutic relationship must have the following parts:

  • The frame. Therapy works in much the same way as good parenting. It involves building a healthy relationship. And it must have a thoughtful and consistent structure to be effective. The frame includes a comfortable, private setting, a regular meeting time, and an agreed-upon fee.

  • The approach. Your therapist should be well trained in an approach or combination of approaches that he or she can explain to you.

  • Nonjudgmental listening. Therapists are just people, and they have their own reactions and opinions. But, to help you, they should keep these to themselves. You have to make your own choices and decisions. Your therapist should not second-guess you or tell you what to do. The exception is if you're doing something self-destructive, such as drunk driving. In that case, it would be negligent of your therapist to stay neutral.

  • Trust. For your treatment to succeed, you have to believe your therapist has your best interests in mind and is acting in good faith.

  • Caring. Even though therapy is a business relationship, it's a real and caring one. A good therapist is nonjudgmental, but not detached.

  • Empathy. No one but you can really know what it's like to be you. But a good therapist, in addition to being warm and caring, should make every effort to understand what it means to walk in your shoes. The capacity to enter into your experience, to understand you on a gut level, is critical.

  • A good fit. Therapy is most successful when you select a therapist whose personality and way of working are a good match with your own. In other words, find someone you feel comfortable with.

Therapy is really just you and a well-trained person who cares about you talking and working together to understand you better. And in the end, feeling that you're profoundly understood will help you get a handle on your problems. No matter who you are, where you live, or the nature of your emotional struggles, there's professional, affordable help available.