When to Seek Professional Help
A counselor I know once described therapy like this:
There are the things about ourselves that we know we know. How much sleep we need to be able to function in the morning or what foods will make us sick. There are also things about ourselves we know we don’t know. For example, when we will die or our exact blood pressure at any given moment. But then there are the things about ourselves that we don’t know we don’t know. Why we feel sad or anxious when we can’t see a clear cause. What pieces of our history are currently impacting how we function in the present.
If therapy is a way to better understand who we are and why we feel what we feel, there is never a wrong time to seek it. Seeing a therapist can be done proactively when stressful events are on the horizon and/or reactively in times of mental struggle. We can seek therapy as a port in a storm, or even simply as a way to touch base with our emotions to keep us running on track.
Most importantly, therapy functions as a time set aside solely to focus on ourselves. It is a time to hear things in a different way and express things it can be hard to admit anywhere else. Romans 12:2 notes that we should not “be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God.”
While therapy is never a bad idea, there are specific instances in life when it can be particularly helpful:
If you are struggling to move on from the impact of past or recent traumatic events.
Most of us can handle what life throws at us the majority of the time, but when things happen that are far removed from the ordinary, it makes sense that our normal coping methods may not cut the mustard. Instead of internalizing lingering trauma, it helps to seek professional help with working through it. In Proverbs 1:33, God says that “whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” Likewise, processing your own feelings about tragedy will help you find the security and peace you need to hear God speak.
If you are having difficulty regulating your emotions.
The first time I sought counseling was after my husband and I adopted a puppy. For some reason, shortly after the adoption, I started having nearly daily bouts of crying – big messy sob fests that had no apparent trigger or cause. House-training a puppy while living on the third floor of an apartment building was nothing if not stressful, but my life was otherwise full and happy. I knew that this kind of emotional reaction was out of the norm for me, and I hoped therapy would help me understand why.
After a few sessions with a wonderful therapist, we uncovered that the maternal instincts I tapped into while adapting to life with our new puppy had also brought up some painful feelings I was still carrying regarding my relationship with my mentally ill mother. We were able to work through these emotions during our sessions and I was so grateful to have found peace with these emotions by the time I became a mother myself several years later. The time I invested in therapy allowed me to be my best self for my own children.
While we all feel strong emotions at some point in our lives, it is important to know when emotions are too intense for you to manage completely on your own.
If you are coping with your emotions in ways that are unhealthy*.
Self-harm and substance abuse are two ways that people manage emotions that they don’t feel equipped to process. We can also turn to unhealthy behavior patterns to avoid the emotions that are triggering us: this can be as seemingly benign as tuning into screen time or immersing ourselves in any activity that distracts us from real life. It is important to understand that these behaviors are rarely without an emotional root cause. When we seek to avoid our emotions instead of properly processing them, we are setting ourselves up for unhealthy patterns that can continue to hurt us mentally and physically.
When we discover and treat the emotions that we are unable to cope with alone we become more powerful than how these emotions make us feel. The Bible tells us that no temptation has overtaken us that is uncommon to man – but God is faithful. With temptation He also provides a way of escape, that we may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:3). Therapy helps us confront and treat the root cause of many issues in a safe place.
*Since this is such a big topic, we’ve included some additional resources at the bottom of this article.
If you feel disconnected from previously enjoyed people and activities.
Beware the dangers of self-isolation. While a common response to feeling mentally unwell is to remove yourself from people and activities that you enjoy, this can also be a strong indictor that you need input from an unbiased professional third party. Our brains can do tricky things, telling us that we and others and better off when we stay away, but nothing is farther from the truth. Therapy can serve as an honest second opinion to help us see what it is we truly need in times of struggle.
If you decide that now is the time to seek professional help, make sure you take the time to research a therapist who is right for you. You can start by looking at the mental health care options listed under your health insurance provider. Websites like Better Help work to match you with online therapist who meets your needs in your area and Psychology Today give detailed user reviews of therapists. Faith can be an important factor in determining which therapist is right for you, and websites like Faithful Counseling provide the services mentioned above with the addition of including licensed counselors who are spiritually informed. When meeting with a potential therapist, you should feel comfortable enough to talk about the hard topics (even if it doesn’t happen on the first meeting). If you don’t feel that the therapist you are seeing is the best match for your needs after a few sessions, trust your instincts and keep looking. It is better to spend time looking for the right therapist than investing time and money into one who is not the best fit for you.
Ultimately, therapy is a resource that can be used to bless us. In learning what we don’t know we don’t know through professional mental help, we can renew our minds and strengthen ourselves mentally and emotionally.
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