When do people decide to see a counsellor or psychotherapist?

January 30, 2019

I just ended a meeting with one of my clients, someone who has a bundle of things going on in life and who could very well deal with it by themselves. Instead, they decided to seek help and use my services to help align their life with their goals. It got me thinking about how to figure out when one would need help and when one does not. As a psychotherapist and counsellor, it is important to know what it is that makes people take the step. Why take the plunge and stop waiting?

Why do people decide they want to take the steps to seek help? Most of my clients are rather well adjusted and rather successful individuals, gifted in some way or another, with a “real” life going on. If the great majority of my clients are individuals who are rather good at what they do, have “a life” or have some kind of amazing ability, and who are completely fine…why and when do they decide to use therapy?

Too many things at once

My sense, from experience, is that most high functioning people use therapy when they have more than one of two things going on that they need to juggle. I firmly believe that otherwise they would probably try and deal with it themselves. Why come to me then? What do I have that they don’t? The truth is the right training, and that I am not them.

Why talking to a stranger works

The helpful part of therapy is mostly the relationship you establish with the “shrink.” Research undeniably shows that it really does not matter what interventions the psychotherapist uses, the most important thing across the board correlated with success is the relationship. But why not talk to your friends and family?

Talking to someone that is not connected to you emotionally can have many advantages. When loved ones are involved in the life you are trying to figure out, it can be too much to constantly discuss your concerns with them, right? You are in the same stew, stewing about the same things. It is hard to get the necessary perspective. I also hear from others that sometimes people close to them are too keen on giving advice and not listening.

Listening without giving “helpful advice” is very difficult, especially if you want to help someone in a way that makes you feel good. In my first year as a therapist, I would often fall into that trap. Many therapists fall into what I call the “family member” or “best friend” trap, which is to feel compelled to solve the situation. This is because they feel anxiety about it as much as the client!

Deep listening

I quickly learned to listen carefully, because most people don’t want anyone to tell them what to do, and they already know what the solution is. Many of my clients come to therapy to find a safe place where they are able to hear themselves talk, to try solutions on for size, in a welcoming, empathic and accepting place, in their terms.

If I talk too much, my clients may think of me as another uncle or aunt, or another “well-intentioned” friend. I keep quiet until it is obvious my clients need me to talk and they do not need to talk any more. Timing is important. 

Re-inventing your self

One of my first jobs was working in a psychiatric hospital with individuals suffering from serious mental illness and substance problems. These individuals could be super sensitive. I had to learn to be very patient and to stay put. Coming to a counselling session can feel a bit sensitive.

After all, one is opening up to a stranger about intimate matters and feelings. This may be what keeps someone from coming in the first place, this feeling of vulnerability. The payoff is that someone that is more of a stranger can give you the space that you don’t get with people close to you. You might get to see yourself in different ways than the way your loved ones see you, and you might get to try out your thoughts, feelings and ideas in ways that allow for change, adjustment and re-invention.

Are you ready for the payoff?

People make the decision to start therapy when the are ready for the payoff of being able to see themselves in a different way or behave differently. The opportunity to be focused on your internal world, with a person who is more “objective” and less enmeshed in your regular life can be refreshing. It can open a chance to experience how it feels to be less weighted down by established ways of behaving. It is like a trip abroad, when you can re-imagine yourself because no one knows who you have been all this time. This can be very energizing and elating!

Ariel Blau has a formidable passion for helping his clients energize a joyful, loving and creative life. He has more than 30 years of experience helping people bloom. His formal education includes a Master’s degree in Social Work from New York University, a Master’s in Fine Arts from Brandeis University, and a great number of workshops, certificates and seminars. He has been studying mindfulness and how to bring compassion into the world for more than 15 years. His passion for helping others is matched by his enormous drive for continuous learning. Ariel completed his professional clinical training at Yale New Haven Psychiatric Hospital, and served as  Lead Clinician at the Jewish Family Service of Greater New Haven.

Ariel Blau brings a sense of active engagement, innovation, and imagination to his work as a catalyst for change, responding to the idea that every person’s life is a work in progress. He wakes every morning eager to do what he loves, full of energy and enthusiasm.

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