Many people have a preconceived notion about who goes to therapy. The most common belief about therapy is that it is for crazy people who are diagnosed with a horrific, scary mental health disorder.
People who go to therapy are not crazy. While there are some individuals who struggle with severe mental health disorders, the three most common reasons people go therapy are depression, anxiety, and relationship issues.
But there can be other reasons to see a therapist that can improve with help and have a positive impact on your life.
If you think I am just trying to sell therapy services, I am. Well, kind of. I really encourage therapy because I see first-hand how much it can help. I also see older clients who regret waiting until later in life to address issues that would have led to a happier life had they been addressed earlier.
Here are some reasons to go to therapy other than, or in addition to, the three most common reasons.
- Difficulty with friendships. Some people struggle with making or keeping friends and feel lonely and isolated. Feeling lonely can be extremely painful and can negatively impact physical health.
There may be behaviors or issues that you are not aware of that cause people to pull away from you such as the need to be right, selfish behaviors, smothering behaviors, or boundary violations. A therapist can assist with bringing these dynamics to light and assist with making positive changes that can improve relationships.
- Lacking a sense of identity. A little guidance can assist greatly with discovering your identity. Many younger people struggle with knowing who they are and where their place is in this world, although identity issues can occur at any age.
The time after a divorce can be difficult as well, as there is a shift in perceived identity from a married person to a single person. Friendships and activities, among other aspects of your life, can change dramatically after a divorce.
Another difficult time period for people is when children grow up and leave the nest, especially for stay-at-home mothers.
- Lacking a sense of purpose. “Why am I here?” is an existential question many people wrestle with at some point in their lives. It is actually a great question to ponder because it means that many of your basic needs have been met and you have the luxury of questioning your life at an existential level.
Consider the quote, “If you don’t have food, you have one problem. If you have food, you have many problems.” In other words, if you are trying to figure out where your next meal is coming from, that is your one and only focus and you don’t have the luxury of existential thinking.
Exploring your life experiences and your innate gifts can help you discover your true purpose.
- Post-divorce life. As previously mentioned, the time period after a divorce can be very disruptive on many fronts. A very important aspect of divorce to explore is the dynamics of why a marriage ended. This can be a painful exercise but it is an important one. The common denominator in your relationships is YOU.
Without inspection of your role in the relationship, understanding why you chose your partner, and other issues, you will most assuredly repeat your previous relationship patterns. Taking time to heal and becoming aware of any unhealthy relationship patterns is crucial for the success of future relationships.
- Pre-relationship exploration. Preparing yourself to enter a relationship is a gift to your future partner, as well as to yourself. As in the post-divorce situation, taking time in between relationships to understand yourself, learn what your specific needs are in a relationship, and healthy communication skills can improve your chances for a solid relationship. Gaining confidence, improving your self-esteem, and improving your identity and purpose will help ensure that you choose a partner who is a good match for you.
- Attachment. A major issue in relationships that may not be an apparent reason for the problems that surface is attachment style. The manner in which we attach to our partners has a profound effect on the functioning of the relationship.
An unhealthy attachment style is often a deep-rooted issue that needs to be healed. For more information on the concept of attachment, read the Attachment chapter in my book, 30 Day Mental Health Boot Camp.
- Goals and motivation. It may seem like a simple concept and unnecessary to take to a therapist’s office but there may actually be other psychological issues with a lack of motivation or goal-setting/achievement. There are also strategies to improve motivation that can be learned in therapy. Being accountable to another person in a non-judgmental way can improve motivation.
- Parenting. This category is, without a doubt, the most touchy subject but such an important one. People become VERY defensive at the slightest parenting suggestion, which makes changes in parenting techniques extremely difficult.
Unfortunately, some minor tweaking with some fairly simple techniques can have a tremendously positive impact on your children and your family. Unhealthy family dynamics and patterns get passed down generation after generation until someone makes a decision to be different. For some basic positive parenting skills, check out the chapter on Parenting in my book, 30 Day Mental Health Boot Camp.
- Death/grief. Grief counseling is a specialized area of therapy, as it requires a very different skill set to assist individuals with grief. Grief counseling, especially in a group format, can be very effective at easing the pain of grief.
Make sure you find a therapist who specializes in grief counseling, as it truly requires a therapist who is exceedingly compassionate and empathetic.
- Major life change. Major life events can be overwhelming and stressful. Talking to a therapist can provide perspective and stave off depression or anxiety from developing.
Bankruptcy can be scary and beliefs of incompetence and inadequacy can be created. Many people, especially men, struggle with loss of usefulness and purpose subsequent to retirement. Men are socialized to tie their identity and worth to what they do and how much money they make. Workaholics, high wage earners, and individuals who find purpose through their work often have difficulty transitioning into retirement.
Having a good, therapeutic relationship in place, much like having a primary care physician who knows you, can be helpful with smoothing out the rollercoasters of life. Think of your therapist like your primary care physician, only for your mental health. When you have an issue, or even need a “well-visit,” your therapist can be an important component of your overall well-being.
Kristin Stonesifer, LCSW