The road to therapy
How to identify the need for a psychotherapist and find one? Read on…
Popular culture has started to normalise the concept of ‘being in therapy’ in India. Be it Alia Bhatt who seeks out the meaning of her feelings in ‘Dear Zindagi’ or the couple’s counselling in ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’, or even wildly popular social media meme accounts — more and more people are openly speaking about psychotherapy. A few years ago, an immense amount of stigma discouraged people from seeking out help for their mental illnesses.
Psychotherapy is a method to treat a variety of mental illnesses and emotional difficulties. Psychotherapy may be delivered in person one on one, with couples, or in groups, over the phone, or via the internet.
When should you consider finding a therapist?
- Difficulty regulating emotions: Feeling sad, anxious or angry at various points in your life is natural and normal. However, when any one or more of these emotions remains persistent over a longer period, causing impulsive behaviour or fear which affects your ability to function normally through your daily routine, it is time to seek help.
- A decline in performance at work or school: Mental health issues can impair attention, concentration, memory, and energy and can result in an apathy which saps the enjoyment of work. It could be burnout or depression. A therapist may help identify and treat the issue.
- Changes or disruptions in sleep or appetite: Mental health issues can have a profound impact on our sleep and appetite. An anxious individual in a manic state may have insomnia, while someone who is depressed might sleep all the time. Similarly, when overwhelmed by stress, some people overeat, while others find they can barely eat. So, if you notice that you’ve been eating or sleeping either less or more than usual for a long period, it might be time to seek help.
- Difficulty in building and maintaining relationships: Mental health deeply impacts our relationships — it might cause a person to pull back from those who are close to them or it may cause them to heavily lean on another person for emotional support. If you often find yourself in conflict with others or have trouble communicating your feelings to others, speaking to a professional might help.
- Trauma: Those who have a history of physical or sexual abuse or some other trauma, may never fully recover from the effects of the event. In such situations, seeking professional help is advisable.
- Lack of enjoyment: People struggling with psychological or emotional issues often feel disconnected or alienated from life. Consequently, they start losing interest in things they once enjoyed immensely.
- Grief: Whether it’s a divorce, a breakup or the death of a loved one, overcoming the grief of any kind can be a long and painful process. Therapy or grief counselling may expedite this recovery.
- Frequent illness: Stress, anxiety, and depression directly affect one’s central nervous system, which in turn may impact endocrine, immune, cardiovascular, and cerebrovascular health. This can cause psychosomatic diseases like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), migraine, psoriasis etc. If you suffer from frequent headaches, fatigue, muscle aches and pains, palpitations, recurrent infections, chronic inflammation etc. you could benefit from psychotherapy.
- Seeking improvement: A skilled therapist can help you understand your strengths and weaknesses and help you identify what can be done differently.
- Addiction: Individuals tend to turn to addiction to cope with increased stress — it can be the use of alcohol, overindulgence in sex or pornography or intoxication of any kind. These things temporarily alleviate unwanted feelings like hopelessness, anxiety, irritability and negative thoughts, thus making us feel dependent on them in the long term. Psychotherapy is useful to cure both the addiction and the mental health issue at the root of it.
Before we go further, we need to understand the difference between a psychotherapist and a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists treat psychological disorders with medicine, while psychotherapists use talk therapy to understand the nature of your mind. When a patient suffers from an illness that they may not have any insight into, for eg, schizophrenia, psychiatric treatment is more helpful. However, when a person is aware of their problem, psychotherapy can be sufficient or be a starting point for the healing process. Here are some ways to find a good psychotherapist.
- Ask around: If you know someone who is in therapy, try to talk to them for a recommendation. Your family physician may also be able to recommend a therapist.
- Look online: Search for top psychologists in your area. Also, consider finding mental health resources on websites or Instagram. Many social media accounts have amplified and generated lists of psychotherapists who offer sessions online since the pandemic.
- Do a quick interview: Don’t be afraid to call the therapist for a brief conversation about hours, fees, location and why you’re considering therapy. This conversation will give you a sense of how you feel while speaking to the therapist.
- If you can, speak to multiple therapists: A therapist-client match is crucial in psychotherapy. You have to feel comfortable while speaking to them. Trying out a few therapists might help you understand which one works best for you.
Once you’ve started therapy, it is essential to gauge progress. What does progress in psychotherapy look like? Here are a few pointers:
- If you want your therapy to be effective, don’t look for comfort. Look for change. Changes in behaviour or reactions are a sign of progress.
- The client-therapist relationship needs to become a safe space for the patient to share their secrets without judgement. If you feel this trust or, are starting to feel it, that is progress.
- Therapy is not an ongoing process. It helps to have plans and goals. Goals can vary from ‘I want to like myself better’ to ‘I want to communicate without losing my temper. Do you find that you’ve developed a skill to deal with an emotion you earlier struggled with? Do you feel closer to your goal? That’s progress!
- When you start feeling better, it is an obvious sign that therapy is working. This means fewer panic or anxiety attacks. They may not vanish overnight and it is normal to have setbacks. There should be noticeable reductions in the issues you’re trying to resolve through therapy. In most cases, reduction in anxiety, and depression is possible in three or four months. However, in some of the more intense cases, it can take years.
Though it seems daunting, psychotherapy with the right therapist can relieve emotional discomfort. It is important to acknowledge your feelings and seek help without hesitation. It is as natural as seeking the help of a lawyer or a chartered accountant.
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The author is a consulting psychotherapist.