It's Time: 10 Ways to Know It's Time to Find a Therapist

A few months ago I wrote about how and why you should invest in your mental health. If you missed it, you can check it out here. But how do you know when it’s finally time to take that investment a step further and try therapy?

1. Realizing something needs to change but nothing is working.

Maybe you’ve been irritable with loved ones, but can’t stop. Or maybe you really want to reach out to someone but you’re afraid. Perhaps you’ve lost interest in the things you used to love, but no matter what you do you can’t get motivated. Having a therapist who you can share these goals and frustrations can relieve this feeling. A good therapist should help you sort through what you’d like to change, formulate goals, and help you reach them.

2. You can’t shake the feeling that something terrible might happen.

When’s the other shoe going to drop? We have all felt this… and it sucks! You just started a new relationship with a wonderful person, but you’re just waiting for them to become toxic for you. You got promoted, but you know they’re waiting for you to fail. These thoughts can eat you alive and stop you from living your life! Therapy can address these anxieties, give you practical tools to stop these thoughts, and replace them with more adaptive and motivating ideas.

3. You feel haunted by the past, and it’s really hard to feel better about it.

We’ve all fallen down, failed, or been hurt. Some more than others. Chances are you feel stuck by something in your past. Maybe it’s one memory, or maybe it’s several. It’s not strange to feel that something in your past is holding you back, but it certainly feels frustrating. There are various types of therapy, like EMDR that can help you get unstuck and leave your past in the past. Or as Pumba would say…

 
655b03d931be976c5d3415c943562950.png
 

4. Something doesn’t feel right, but you can’t pinpoint what it is.

Just feeling generally crummy and not knowing why can be so frustrating. That bad attitude just won’t go away, you crave being sad, you look through your old Facebook pictures every night and judge yourself. Why in the world do we do this? Well, that’s something a therapist can help you answer. Sometimes something is buried deep and it takes some help finding the source, and other times it can be a number of little things. Having a therapist to support you through this process can not only help you feel better, but help you identify patterns and problems in your life that you may have never seen before.

5. Your distancing yourself from your friends and family.

Are you avoiding the people that love you the most? We do this all the time when we feel sad, ashamed, anxious, or tired. Maintaining relationships is already hard, but maintaining them when you’re not operating at 100% is even more difficult. Seeing a therapist can help you get back in your normal social groove while addressing problems in your life that make you feel alone.

6. Your racing mind is keep you up at night.

“I’m going to go to bed by 10pm tonight so I can wake up early, make breakfast, and get to work early!”
*10:12pm, crawling into bed*
”Go me! I’m in bed when I said I’d be, now time for some shut eye.”
*12:37am, staring at the ceiling worrying about tomorrow*
”I’ll just look at my phone for a while, that will help keep my mind off of things.”
*1:16am, still awake looking at phone*
”Ok, I’m putting my phone away and trying again.”
*2:48am, staring at the ceiling worrying about why you’re worrying about not sleeping*

Enough said, right? Chances are you’re not sleeping because something is wrong with you. You might be experiencing anxiety, depression, or stress. Therapists can help you sort through all of that mental clutter to help you get a better night’s sleep!

7. You’ve been avoiding something, and it’s getting in the way of you living your life.

You know that one restaurant you avoid because it reminds you of a painful relationship? Or that person at work, even though you need to have an important conversation? Or maybe you struggle with a phobia and you can’t even flip through the TV channels because you’re afraid of what you’ll see. It is so tough to live your life avoiding things that are distressing. Therapy can help you face those fears and challenges, and reduce how distressed you feel in the face of them. A good therapist will get to know why this is so hard for you, and help you strategizes ways to get your normal life underway.

8. You don’t have the energy to help yourself anymore.

You’re just tired. It’s hard to get out of bed and it’s hard to take care of yourself. How are you going to pick up that self-help book? It doesn’t even seem possible to cook yourself a meal right now, let alone work on your mental health. You don’t have to do this alone. Finding a therapist might seem like a really tiring step - and it can be! If you’d like a free consultation and some help in finding a therapist near you, please reach out. You don’t have to do this alone, and there are people who can share the load with you.

9. You’re afraid your friends and family won’t understand what you’re going through.

It’s just too embarrassing or burdening, and you don’t feel comfortable sharing with people who may not give you the attention you need. Well, this is the job of a therapist! Every session, you get undivided attention dedicated to reaching your goals, getting over problems, and working towards being your best self. Maybe you have a couple friends who wouldn’t understand, but a good therapist will!

10. Your worry is getting so out of control, you feel it in your body.

Sweaty palms, racing heart, dizziness, difficulty breathing, heavy limbs… sound familiar? Some people carry stress, depression, and anxiety in their body more than others. Sometimes it feels like you’re fine until you get stomach problems, and then you’re sent into a panic. This is a terrible feeling, but there is hope for you! Therapy and types of treatment like EMDR can help reduce these body sensations and help you live the life you’ve always wanted.

You're Worth It: 4 Tips to Begin Investing in Your Mental Wellness

Let's face it... therapy can feel like a luxury. 

 therapy in seattle

Many movies and TV shows have classically painted therapy as a luxury - a treatment reserved for the upper-class who actually can find the time and money to attend therapy.

On the other hand, we also see therapy portrayed as something reserved for the severely mentally ill. So much of our media capitalizes on the 'asylum' aspects of mental health that portray people stuck behind bars and talking to the walls. 

While I hold no judgment against either type of portrayal of therapy (because there is certainly a place for both), I have to wonder if therapy in the middle can exist?

I have so many conversations about the cost of therapy, and if it is really necessary. The question I often come back with is if they have ever paid over $50 for a massage, a spa treatment, regular manicures/pedicures, beauty products, gym memberships, nutrition supplements, etc. Many spend a great deal of money on health and wellness! Yet, many find it difficult to spend money on mental health and wellness. I know, it can be a hard pill to swallow to imagine spending money for private practice therapy. After all, who knows if it will be worth your money?! You not only have to pay for a service before knowing the outcome, but trust someone with some of the deepest parts of yourself.

Of course I may be biased as a therapist, but investing in your mental wellness is something we can all be better at! Here are a few ways to get started investing your resources into your mental wellness:

  1. Spend your time on meditation, journaling, and other self-reflective activities. 

    This is an inexpensive way to begin investing in your mental wellness! YouTube and Google are filled with free resources for meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, journal templates, and much more! You can even find worksheets for anxiety, stress, depression, body image, and more.

    If you are a person deeply touched by nature, make time once a week or once a month to get outside and be still. Ditch your phone, and spend some quiet time in nature relaxing and reflecting. Let your mind wander.

    Begin by investing your time in these easily accessible tools.

  2. Spend your energy on removing things in your life that bring you negativity.

    It's no doubt that this is challenging and takes a lot of energy! Examine your life and reflect on the different things that bring you stress, resentment, bitterness, humiliation, shame... Are they things you can remove? If so, begin considering taking steps to remove these stressors.

    Perhaps it's being notified of news stories on your phone - turn them off and be intentional about the news you consume. Perhaps it's a person in your life - consider spending less time with them. Perhaps it's a constantly messy environment - spend five minutes a day over the next week devoted to cleaning. Of course, some things will be much harder to remove or maybe impossible. Start with the small things.

    Again, this takes energy! But you can invest this energy in yourself to begin removing barriers to happiness and relaxation.
     
  3. Spend your joy and happiness well.

    Perhaps joy and happiness are fleeting feelings for you. Maybe you don't experience them often... that is really hard. This may be one of the more difficult tips to cultivate, but with consistency it could pay off.

    Notice what is happening around you when you experience happiness. Are there things around you that you can recreate? Maybe being around certain people? Animals? Did you hear of great news? Do you feel amazing in certain clothes? Did going for a walk make you feel better than you did before? You have the opportunity to learn from yourself here. No matter how large or small, paying attention to these things can help you maximize happiness and maybe even recreate it. At the very least, focus on taking mental snapshots of the moment. Return to these snapshots on days that feel tough.

    Too often we pull ourselves out of moments of joy by returning to our phones, or stressors. We do this without even thinking! So take time to be intentional about your happiness. Savor the joy, savor the happiness. Enjoy it like you would your favorite meal. And don't forget to take that mental snapshot! 
     
  4. Spend your money on mental health. 

    This is a tough one to convince people of, but the result is worth it. Ask yourself, "Am I worth it? Do I deserve to spend this money on myself in the pursuit of happiness? Is it worth the cost to feel better than I do now?" 

    It is easy to justify spending money on a massage, or doctor's appointment. It is more difficult to feel worth that money when you consider spending it on therapy... and that is a great place to start with therapy! You can begin in engaging in a conversation about why it is difficult for you to feel okay spending money on your mental health.

    Of course it is not always within our means to attend therapy. Our health insurance system is broken when it comes to mental health, and it is difficult to find an affordable private pay therapist. So here are a few other ways you can spend your money on your mental wellness:
    -Purchase empowering literature. (I highly recommended some Brene Brown books as a place to start!)
    -Attend a group therapy session. It is much more affordable, and you get to meet others who may be going through similar things in your area.
    -Schedule free consultationsMany therapists offer free consultations. Of course this isn't investing your money, but it can help you get an idea of what you might gain from attending therapy.
    -Attend seminars or informational meetings. There are many mental health agencies that offer free or low cost gatherings to teach you about ways to incorporate mental wellness into your life. You can learn about anxiety, depression, or other problems you may be experiencing with practical action steps.

At the end of the day, ask yourself if you are worth it. Are you worth time, energy, joy, and money? Start small, and work your way up to spending resources on yourself. If we treated our minds as well as some of treat our bodies, we would be in very good shape! ;)

The Monster of Your Story: Grief, the Babadook, and Re-membering

Whenever I have a client well-versed in scary movies, I like to bring up the movie "The Babadook". Warning! Some spoilers are coming...

the-babadook-1200-1200-675-675-crop-000000.jpg

In the movie The Babadook, a grief-stricken single mother and her attention-seeking son are haunted by a boogieman like monster called the Babadook. He is frightening, unpredictable, and most certainly unwelcome.  He gains entry into the house when the young boy reads a book about him. After he enters, he terrorizes the mother and her son in very specific ways. Though the Babadook is very scary, there may be more to him than meets the eye.

A [very] brief synopsis

Whether you've seen the movie or not (it is definitely a scary one!), there is something to learn from this beast called the Babadook. In the story, the viewer comes to learn that the father passed away in a tragic accident just before the birth of their son. While there are many complicated nuances between the mother and son due to the timely death of his father (like the mother's resentment), the obvious monster is the Babadook.

The boy tries to welcome him in, only to find out that he is much more frightening than he could handle. The mother tries desperately to avoid it and attempts to completely erase it from their lives all together. But the Babadook grows seemingly stronger by this. The Babadook seems so powerful that it is turning the mother against the son! It appears that it has gained the control over her that it wanted. She continues to run from it, and it drives her mad. This progresses throughout the movie until she finally stands up (literally) to confront it with anger, frustration, confusion, and fury. The Babadook shrinks away and it looks like she has finally defeated this monster.

The following scenes show the near future, depicting the mother and her son who are happy and getting along (something that you do not see until this point). The colors are brighter, both mother and son look well rested, and there seems to be more love between them. But what happened to the Babadook? The final scene shows the mother descending into the basement where the Babadook is kept and contained. She feeds it some food, and then returns back upstairs. The end. What?! She kept it and let it stay in her house?!

The grief monster

I was so intrigued by this ending - it was so unexpected! Why would she want to keep this monster in her house?! The more I reflected on this movie, the more I began to draw connections between the Babadook and the monster of grief. The mother was stalked by a monster that she wanted nothing to do with. He appeared when she didn't invite him, he stayed when she demanded he leave, he grew stronger and scarier when she tried to avoid him. Did I mention that he sometimes appeared wearing her husbands old clothes? 

Having lost my father at a young age, I can attest to the fact that sometimes grief uses these tactics. It is unwanted, frightening, and unpredictable. It is far too scary to confront, so we shove it aside and avoid it. It seems to grow stronger the longer we go without confronting it. It grows, and grows, and sharpens its fangs until it cannot be held back any longer. Then it attacks, leaving us face to face with monster that feels far too big to battle on our own. If you've lost someone you love, I'm sure you can relate to this feeling that the more you try to put it out of your mind, the harder it hits when you can't escape it any longer. It feels like it has total control of your life.

Avoiding grief is a very normal and reasonable response, especially for those of us living in a Western culture like the United States. "Out of sight, out of mind," "Be strong," "Big boys don't cry"... These cute and catchy phrases all point to how many of us have been taught deal with grief and other painful emotions. We put on a happy face, ignore the pain, and keep on keepin' on. But does that eliminate the grief and pain that needs to be addressed? Not necessarily.

Feeding the monster

After the initial confusion, I grew to love the final scene of the movie when she feeds the Babadook that lives in the basement. Throughout the movie, the Babadook ran free and had the power to do whatever it wanted. By the end of the movie, it was not defeated but it was contained and it was visited. Much like grief, avoiding it can give it the power to wreak havoc in your life. I don't believe you can fully eliminate grief... and more importantly, would you really want to? Yes, it is scary and uncomfortable. But what if you can get yourself to a place where you are in control of your grief? A place where you can confront it, contain it, visit it, and feed it. As frightening as it is, it holds many of the feelings and memories you held for someone you lost. It may be worth hanging onto. The key here is learning to be in control of it.

Re-membering and grief

As with many things in life, there is no 'one size fits all' approach to feeding the monster of grief. This is an opportunity for you to be creative and personal. I know many people who have referred to the seven stages of grief, attempting to speed up the process to finally 'get over' it. Well, I hate to break it to you but grief is here to stay. It is up to us how we want to feed it. It is our mission to take it from an overbearing monster, to something we can visit in our own time.

I once heard from a colleague that his father had passed in old age. His mother ashamedly told him that she continues to set the table for him and carry a conversation on with him while she eats dinner. She explained that she was embarrassed that she did this, but it really helped her. It not only helped her remember her husband, but re-member her husband.

Remembering is a word you are familiar with - calling upon memories. Re-membering is an idea that we have the ability to continue those who have passed to remain an active member in our lives. While a person may no longer be with us we still carry their wisdom, experiences, opinions, etc. These can live on through the process of re-membering and allowing these people to still have influence in our lives.

Stop running, and re-member

If you have been running from the grief monster, it may be time to slow down and consider feeding it. You can call upon your own love for a person who has passed or your community to think of meaningful ways to re-member this person. How can you allow their wisdom to shape you today? What would this person have to say about you? How can you allow someone to still be a member of your life, even though they are no longer here? Only you can answer these questions, and you may find that through re-membering you can control your monster.

*Re-membering is well-developed idea in the field of Narrative therapy. If you'd like to learn more, you can start here: http://www.rememberingpractices.com/