Have you ever been to see a psychologist, counsellor, hypnotherapist or any other type of therapist who assists with mental or emotional health?
No doubt that if you haven’t personally, you likely know someone who has. These days there is much less stigma around asking for help which is a great thing. Nonetheless, therapy still seems to be shrouded in some stigma and mystery which may prevent some people from reaching out when needed. In fact, research from The National Mental Health Report 2010 showed that the proportion of people with mental illness accessing treatment is still only half that of people with physical disorders. Statistics like this show us that there is still more to be done in this space.
In this article, I am going to unravel some of the stigma and mystery around seeking therapy.
So, the question is; who is therapy for?
In exploring this topic, I will address three points. Firstly, I will look briefly at exactly who is and who isn’t typically seeking therapy (these statistics will be specific to Australia). Next, I will talk about my experience as a therapist and the types of clients I see. Finally, I will explain a bit more about what sort of person can benefit from seeking therapy.
Taken from the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2007, nearly two-thirds (65%) of people with a mental health disorder had not used services for their mental health problems in the 12 months prior to the survey.
To break this down; those aged 16-34 years were less likely to have used services (29%) than people aged 35-54 (41%) or 55-85 years (37%). Women were more likely than men to have used a service (41% compared with 28%). People from Major Cities were almost twice as likely to have used a psychologist (15%) compared with those from other areas (8%).
What types of issues are people seeking to treat when they reach out for help?
According to these statistics, those with a mood disorder were the most likely to use a service for mental health problems (50%), compared with people with an anxiety disorder (22%) or a substance use disorder (11%).
My Experience as a Therapist
As a therapist, I have found that I tend to see three main types of clients.
Clients who are in crisis.
These may be the types of clients that you commonly think of when you think of someone reaching out for help. They may have issues such as an eating disorder, substance abuse disorder, depression or anxiety, just to name a few. Often times they have taken the initiative to seek help; sometimes they have been brought in by a loved one.
Clients who are in prevention.
These clients may have been previously diagnosed with a mental health issue or had a period of crisis. Whilst they have gotten through the worst of it, they know that they need to keep on top of triggers or stressors which could lead to a relapse or create distress in some way.
Clients who want to improve in some area of their life.
These clients have worked through stages one and two and now they are ready to improve their mindset so as they can perform better in their lives in general. Either this, or they may also be the sort of person who comes to therapy simply wanting to improve some aspect of their lives such as in work, sport or health. Working on small habits, sports performance, procrastination and public speaking are common.
So, with these three stages in mind……
Who should seek therapy?
When people reach out to me for help, it is my goal as their therapist to help those in stages one and two to move to stage three and stay there. It is in my professional experience that once a client has moved in to stage three; this is where the real magic happens.
When a person comes in at stage one, a large part of the therapy is by necessity tailored towards damage control. We’re putting the fire out so to speak, and it can take some time to come out of crisis, depending on the person. In stage two, there is a higher degree of self-awareness and maintenance, however the person often still feels vulnerable and hasn’t completely overcome the triggers or stressors which lead to the initial crisis. Whilst the fire has been put out, it may still be hard to see through the smoke. Lingering embers remain.
In stage three however, the crisis is over. The fire has been put out, the smoke has dissipated and most of the clean-up has been done. At this stage, the person is in a position to really start to decide what they want their life to look like. This is a time when we can really take advantage of the therapy sessions. In these sessions we can start to explore what they want out of their life. What their goals and skills are, what makes them happy, what makes them tick and what makes them the best version of themselves that they can be.
It is at this stage of therapy that a person can address the smaller aspects of their life that they still might want to improve.
Behavioural habits such as nail biting or occasional comfort eating, or cognitive habits such as repetitive thoughts or negative self-talk may have been put on the backburner whilst other things were more important. Phobias also fall in to this category. Now that the crisis is over, the person is in a better position to be able to address the smaller things which still bother them. Whilst these smaller issues may not be impacting a person’s life in a big way, they know that they would be better off without it.
The thing is that when you improve in one area in your life, it doesn’t take too long before you adjust to your ‘new normal’, and you can start to see other things that you would too like to improve as well. In this sense, you are always a work in progress. I find that many of my clients really enjoy and get a lot out of this stage of therapy as they are able to direct more attention towards self-development and exploration.
As a therapist, it is most rewarding to see a client progress through all of the stages to stage three, where they can finally start to be in charge of what they want their life to be. After all, a meaningful and happy life is not just the absence of sadness, worry or stress but the presence of all of the good things that you want to work towards, achieve and experience.