Seeking help from a clinical psychologist
Updated: Sep 20, 2018
People choose to see a psychologist for a variety of different reasons. They might have struggled with difficult emotional issues and problems in their relationships for a long time. Or they might have a shorter-term problem, such as finding it difficult to settle into a new job or coming to terms with a divorce. They might be trying to cope with a chronic illness that impacts on their emotional and physical well-being, dealing with loss or trauma, or trying to change behaviours, such as substance abuse or excessive spending. There is no “right” reason to see a psychologist – they can help you with anything that makes you feel “stuck”, “not quite right”, “uneasy” or emotionally and physically unwell in some way. No issue is too trivial to be discussed.
But my friends and family are best placed to help me with my problems!
Talking to friends and family is a great way of getting support and has been shown to enhance people’s well-being. However, sometimes it is not enough, and you might feel that things are not changing. A professional might be able to give you a fresh perspective because they are not connected to the issue that you are struggling with. Sometimes it can be easier to talk to someone you do not know because you might be less afraid of being judged or of upsetting them. Psychologists are bound by a code of ethics prescribing a level of confidentiality that you might not always get from those within your network. They have years of specialised education and training, which makes them experts in understanding complex problems. The techniques they draw on have been tried and tested through research and are more than “just talking and listening”.
Will time not heal most things?
Indeed – some issues get better or resolve with time. Research shows that a certain number of people (even with more serious problems) do recover on their own. However, we know that the vast majority of people do not, especially if their problem is more complex and goes back a long time, such as a childhood trauma. Trying to just “keep calm and carry on” can prolong suffering and sometimes make the problem worse because unhelpful pattern and behaviours can become more entrenched.
Getting help from a psychologist is a sign that I am weak – I should be able to cope on my own
On the contrary, it means that you have acknowledged the problem and have taken responsibility for making positive changes to your life. This take self-awareness and commitment. We cannot be experts in all areas and no-one would think twice about seeing a doctor about being sick, calling a lawyer about a legal issue or a contractor to repair their home. Attachment research shows that the most secure and healthy people are those who reach out for help when they need it; we are social beings and it is naturally to need others. People who are intent on solving their problems on their own often end up overwhelmed and start “self-medicating” with substances or behaviours that can make things worse. Seeking help is a positive step.
I will be stuck with a label such as “mentally unstable” or “crazy”
In the past there was indeed some stigma attached to being in therapy. This was partially do to unhelpful portrayals in the media of people seeking help for mental health problems. Some negative views persist, which are often due to people being misinformed and believing that only individuals with extreme emotional and behavioural disturbances enter therapy. You might therefore be worried about being judged or treated differently if those around you find out that you are seeking help from a psychologist. Thankfully, the stigma is gradually disappearing as more people are discovering the merits of finding a skilled compassionate professional to help with the challenges life might throw at them. Remember, that people seek help for a variety of reasons, not just for severe mental health problems, and that asking for help can be a sign of maturity, self-awareness and courage.
It will be difficult for someone else to understand my problem
No other person can truly understand what is going on inside you and how you are struggling with what you are facing in your life. However, psychologists are specifically trained and have a lot of experience of deeply listening to their clients and asking them the right kind of questions to understand what is going on. You might worry that you will feel afraid or ashamed of opening up, but most people are surprised how much they are actually able to share in the safe confines of a therapy room. Your psychologist will make sure that you only share what feels safe in the initial meetings, so you do not struggle with regrets or shame after sessions.
I might discover things about myself that I might not want to know
In psychological consultations and therapy, you might get a deeper understanding of yourself – your emotions, ways of thinking and behavioural patterns. Some of these insights might indeed be difficult to think about at first and trigger feelings such as anxiety, shame or guilt. However, a good psychologist will match the pace of the work to where you are at and help you digest what you are finding out about yourself. Remember that this increased self-awareness is the first step in making productive changes to your life, so in the long run will be of great benefit to you.
So how do I know it’s time to see a psychologist?
Here is a list common reasons why people seek out a consultation:
You feel overwhelmed with difficult feelings, such as low mood, anxiety, feeling constantly on edge, anger or shame
You have withdrawn from family and/or friends
Your relationships are strained
You have stopped enjoying activities that normally give you pleasure
You are finding it difficult to concentrate on everyday activities or on your work assignments
You have suffered a trauma, bereavement, or other difficult life event and are finding it difficult to cope with this
You are in an abusive or dependent relationship that you find hard to leave
You are using unhelpful and potentially harmful behaviours to cope, such as taking substances, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, restricting your eating, spending too much money, engaging in unsafe sexual practices, being aggressive in your interactions with others and hurting yourself.
Your problems do not seem to get better despite your efforts and talking to your network of family and friends
You are feeling stuck/trapped in some kind of life situation
You are experiencing a chronic sense of dissatisfaction or unhappiness
You are finding it impossible to make decisions/an important life decision
You want to understand yourself better and get a new perspective on your life
You have difficulties communicating with your partner and both of you want to work on this together
You feel that you are not reaching your full potential
Remember, you do not have to go through a huge life event or trauma to benefit from talking to a psychologist. Talking to a professional will offer you a fresh perspective on what is going on and why it is happening and will open up new ways of dealing with it and moving forward. Your might find that it also improves your relationships with other people, because you do not just understand yourself better but also those around you. Talking about your problems and emotions rather than keeping them buried might also have a positive effect on your body – people often notice an improvement in issues such as chronic headaches or stomach problems. And usually the effects of psychological consultation and therapy are long-lasting because you are also developing the tools to help you deal with future issues.