At some point in your life, you will have felt sad, demotivated or anxious. This could be associated with a particular negative life event, such as the loss of a loved one (through death, separation, divorce), loss of career (with potential financial difficulties), illness/injury/ loss of health, or relationship struggles. The impact these negative life events might have on you depends on several factors, such as the attributions you make (e.g., do you think it was totally your fault or that it was circumstances that led to a given negative outcome?), the social support network you have (family and friends), your previous experiences of coping with adversity, and generally your developmental history (or in other words, how you were brought up in your family environment).
More important than the severity of negative life events that you experience, is the impact that they have in your life and functioning, and how you cope with them. E.g., did they affect: your relationship with others or with yourself? Did they affect your ability to work, play or have fun? What about your ability to perform day-to-day activities, has that remained intact? Have you stopped doing things you used to enjoy? Have you started drinking/gambling (replace with whatever coping mechanism applies to you)? Or have you simply tried to push negative feelings away and shut down?
You might talk with your friends and family about what is going on for you, and that is great. We do know from psychological research that having a social support network is a good buffer for depression. However, the relationship you have with your friends or family is very different from the relationship you would have with your therapist. One of the main differences is that with your friends/family you are likely to have a reciprocal relationship (you care for them and they care for you), whilst the relationship with your therapist is solely about you. There is no turn-taking as with friends or family (note: if you don’t have reciprocal relationships with other adults in your life, perhaps you should consider doing therapy!). The other obvious difference is that your therapist will have undergone extensive training in psychological theory, knowledge and research, which s/he will use in the clinical context. You, on the other hand, bring knowledge about what it is to be you, what are the issues you want help with, the areas you want to develop and explore about yourself and your life. Therefore, you and your therapist bring their respective knowledge together to help you.
Amongst other things, therapy can help you manage and reduce symptoms, but most importantly it can help you build a more meaningful and enriching life. You will learn:
– to make sense of how your problems developed and were maintained over time;
– to find more adaptive ways to cope with them;
– to explore what is important and meaningful for you and to work towards that;
– how to keep on track and maintain your therapy gains
In summary, engaging or not engaging in therapy is an individual decision that only you can make. If you have experienced life events that have had a negative impact on your life and functioning, and you have had persisted negative feelings (even if from the outside you seem to be functioning), then therapy can support you to find a way towards feeling better. Conversely, you may feel ok, and you may want to do a more exploratory work regarding how your experiences of growing up have affected your current pattern of relationships. Whatever your motivations to attend therapy, it can be an “eye-opening” process and lead to significant changes in your life. You may also feel that you are not ready or that this is not the right time, and that is also fine. Just be honest with yourself.
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