When is it Time to Go for Therapy

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Mental health conditions have long been stigmatized in our society.  Individuals have been unfairly blamed for their symptoms, belittled and demeaned, and discriminated against.  Ignorant and uneducated people have wrongly assumed that symptoms of mental health could be controlled better if the person only tried.  Symptoms have been minimized and erroneously assumed to be insignificant or part of a fleeting phase.  Stigma has made people feel embarrassed, guilty, and remorseful for conditions that are wholly out of their control.  Unfortunately, this stigma has historically prevented people from seeking therapy when it was needed. In Mental health Awareness Week we try to change this.

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Despite stigma, it is important for people to seek therapy when it is needed.  Most mental health conditions can become worse over time if not addressed or treated.  When symptoms intensify, they can lead to negative outcomes in relationships, academics, or in the workplace.  People can be at risk for physical, medical, or other health challenges, including hospitalization or suicide. 

Professional mental health treatment can help a person who is being challenged by emotional, behavioral, and mental health symptoms.  Therapy can help a person to address symptoms, process thoughts, manage feelings, and change behaviors.  Therapy can help a person to feel validated and heard, while raising self-esteem and confidence.  Mental health treatment can help a person to become “unstuck” by allowing them to process past trauma, abuse, or neglect so that they can move forward.  Therapy can help educate a person about efficient coping strategies and anger and anxiety management techniques.            

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So how does one know when it is time to seek treatment?  The easiest way to answer this question is to assess whether something is causing distress and negatively impacting several areas of a person’s life.  Following are signs that indicate when treatment should be sought:

  • Isolation: Symptoms cause embarrassment and suffering, prompting a person to withdraw from social and personal relationships.  Individuals are spending more time alone and removing themselves from activities, friendships, and associations.
  • Ruminating: When an individual spends an excessive amount of time per day obsessing, ruminating, or trying to unsuccessfully cope with symptoms.
  •  Negatively Impacts Quality of Life:Condition has a detrimental impact on one’s quality of life. When a person’s thoughts, symptoms, and feelings impede their ability to function and enjoy life.
  • Impairment in Life Areas: Symptoms and behaviors have a negative effect on a person’s occupational, academic, and social life.  A person may be unable to maintain their responsibilities, do poorly on assigned tasks, or even lose their job or get kicked out of school.
  • Negative Mechanisms of Coping: When individuals begin to incorporate negative coping mechanisms, such as self-harming behaviors, substance abuse, or risky behaviors. A person may attempt to self-medicate using alcohol or drugs in order to numb their symptoms.  An individual may try to release painful emotions by cutting or burning themselves, or may start to engage in dangerous behaviors such as driving fast or gambling just to feel any emotion.
  • Occurrence of Suicidal Thoughts: When a person begins to have suicidal thoughts, treatment should be obtained immediately.  If suicidal thoughts progress and worsen without intervention, a person can be at increased risk for suicide.
  • Angry Outbursts/Mood Swings: If a person is having difficulty managing their moods, prompting frequent bouts of tearfulness, loneliness, or hopelessness, or if a person begins to develop uncontrollable angry and aggressive outbursts, intervention is needed. If angry feelings and negative moods do not pass on their own and become a daily occurrence, action should be taken.                                 `      

Our society has made great strides in de-stigmatizing mental health, but there are still remnants of stigma and discrimination that remain.  Despite this stigma, individuals need to seek treatment when necessary to reduce distress and to improve the quality of their lives. 

Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy  facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.