Maybe you’ve always thought people only go to therapy if there’s something wrong with them – it’s like admitting you’re a failure or a nut. But actually, therapy is nothing to be ashamed of. Even if you don’t have any type of mental illness (and it’s also ok if you do!) it’s useful to talk to a therapist to work through your own thoughts and feelings.
Who Therapy is for
The main category of people that therapy helps is those who are human and have feelings – in short, everyone.
Most of us don’t grow up knowing how to handle our feelings well or communicate in the most effective way with others. It’s not something our culture or education does a good job of teaching us. Therapists are specifically trained in helping people to develop those skills.
A trip to therapy is usually more worthwhile when you’re dealing with something big in life – a loss, relationship troubles or a transitional period – but it can be illuminating and useful even when you’re not. A good therapist can help you with life skills that make your day-to-day a little better even when things are fine.
What Therapy Can Teach You
It’s important here to clarify that therapy isn’t magic – you can’t go to one appointment and – Poof! – all your problems are gone. But if you find a good therapist and put in the time and work, you can make some serious strides toward many of life’s biggest challenges.
As a starter list, therapy is useful for:
- Teaching people how to communicate with loved ones better
- Teaching people to control their anger
- Helping people manage stress better – which pays off in reducing stress-related health issues as well
- Helping people beat depression
- Helping people deal with loneliness
- Helping people and their families face a difficult diagnosis
- Teaching people how to manage and reduce anxiety
- Providing techniques to improve many of the little things about yourself and your life you don’t like
Caregivers face a lot of stress and generally have difficulty balancing their other priorities with caregiving. Therapy can help with that.
Therapy doesn’t make problems go away, but it teaches you how to face them in a way that makes them more manageable and less destructive to yourself and those around you.
How to Get What You Need Out of Therapy
As mentioned, therapy isn’t a fast and easy solution. You have to approach it the right way and be willing to do the work the therapist recommends. That could even mean homework in between visits. For seniors it’s probably been a long time since you had “homework” so it may take a mental shift to get used to it.
If you’re going to give therapy a try, here’s how to increase your chances of getting what you need from it.
Rule #1: Have an open mind.
If you go into it assuming you won’t get anything out if it or thinking it’s all cheesy, well, you won’t get anything out of it. First things first, you have to trust that your therapist knows what they’re doing and cares about helping you. Be prepared to listen to what they have to say and seriously consider it – even if it’s not always something you think you want to hear.
Rule #2: Be honest.
Sometimes honesty is embarrassing. Sometimes honesty is so difficult to face that it reveals something we don’t even want to admit it to ourselves. You have to go into each therapy session with a willingness to tell your therapist what you’re really thinking and feeling – even when you’re worried it might reflect badly on you, and even when it means talking about something you usually prefer not to think about.
Rule #3: Don’t be ashamed.
This rule applies both in the room and out. Therapists are trained to listen to patients without judgment. That doesn’t mean they won’t ever be stern about telling you something you don’t want to hear, but their focus is on listening and helping, rather than passing judgment on what they hear. Don’t be embarrassed to admit any upsetting or dark thoughts you may have. They have to hear them before they can help you with them.
And unfortunately, you may still encounter the occasional person who doesn’t respect therapy. Don’t let their opinions get to you. Much of our current culture now understands that therapy can be useful, so those who see it as shameful are in the minority. And anyone who intentionally avoids therapy due to shame and stigma is missing out, while you’ll get to take advantage of the benefits of gaining a deeper understanding of yourself and how best to navigate through this world.
Rule #4: It’s ok to shop around.
Not all therapists are created equal. If your first experience isn’t great, that doesn’t necessarily mean therapy isn’t right for you – it might just mean that particular therapist isn’t right for you.
Therapists are still human, so while they all get special training to do this, that training doesn’t make them perfect at their job for all possible patients. You might need to give a couple therapists a try until you settle on the one that’s really right for you.
How to Find a Therapist
Start by asking around to see if friends, family members, or your doctor can offer a recommendation for therapists they like. Word-of-mouth references are generally a good way to know you’re in good hands.
If your insurance covers therapy, then do some searches through your insurance website to see who’s covered in your area. Medicare also covers therapy up to a point. Seniors can search on Psychology Today to find therapists in their area that take Medicare.
Many therapists have specialties, so if you know you need someone who focuses on helping people deal with grief or one that knows all about finding strategies to handle stress, you can identify a therapist suited to your needs with a little research. Check the listings on GoodTherapy.org and Psychology Today, where you can search by location and see details and specialties of therapists in your area at a glance.
When you find someone who seems like a good fit, give them a call. A lot of therapists will provide an introductory call free of charge so you have a chance to chat and see if they feel right for you before you commit to an appointment. You’ll have a better first session if you go into it feeling comfortable and confident that you’re making the right choice.