Written By: Ryan Howes PhD, ABPP
David Letterman is retiring in 2015(link is external). Good for him, he’s had a long, fruitful career and looks forward to a well-earned retirement to spend time with his family. But it’s a bummer for me, because he’s been a constant from my teen years into my middle age. Letterman is forever a reminder to take my work and my life seriously without taking myself too seriously. In honor of Dave, my cynical, self-effacing, sentimental gap-toothed mentor (and a fan of psychotherapy,(link is external) by the way), I present this not-quite-funny Top 10 list.
The Top 10 Reasons to Try Therapy:
10 – Relationships: Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em. I’m pretty sure every single client of mine in 20 years either sought therapy because of a relational problem or their biological or otherwise internal issues were impacted by their relationships. For most people, relationships are the main thing, and if they’re going sour, life goes sour. Therapists are expert relaters, skilled at treating all varieties of relational problems.Marriage, parenting, siblings, bosses, friendships, frienemies, we’ve got you covered.
This is one area where therapy has Big Pharma beat hands down, by the way. Sure, meds can help you think or feel better, but they can’t teach you who or how to be in relationships, how to deal with conflict, or how to forgive. Medication treats the symptoms, therapy treats the problem.
9 – No Relationships: Despite the ease of connection through social media and apps that make coupling appear as simple as buying a couch on Craigslist, many believe we are lonelier(link is external) than ever. Why is this?
Much of the time technology enhances our intimate relationships, helping us connect more frequently on a variety of levels, but for some technology is a substitute for intimacy. For evidence, find the new Tinder couple who have great text chemistry but can’t maintain a five minute conversation in person. Therapy is a weekly 50-minute face-to-face intimacy workout. Regardless of the subject matter that brought you into therapy, this regular practice can’t help but boost your ability to connect with another.
8 – Work: Studies show that 70% of Americans(link is external) are unhappy with their job. If 70% of the nation is dissatisfied with a primary part of their identity where they spend ¼ to ½ of their time, is there any question why we have a few depressed, anxious, and addicted people floating around?
At some point, every therapist (not just career counselors) helps people explore their career choice, alter their approach to their work or co-workers, and either accept or change their circumstances. For example, I’ve seen some clients realize that they don’t really hate their work, they just like to commiserate with their co-workers. For them, work no longer feels like a burden as they accept that they bond through kvetching with others.
7 – No Work: An all-too-common problem in the past few years, unfortunately, I’ve seen far too many people in my practice who lost a job and can’t find another. They suddenly find themselves at a self-esteem low point as they embark on a demoralizing and crazy-making job search process.
While therapists aren’t headhunters and our fees present a drain on a dwindling severance package, many people find therapy very helpful at this time. The non-judgmental support is welcomed, as well as the place to vent without repercussion. Many people also find that this “between jobs” time is a good time to evaluate many areas from career path to self-care to the very meaning of life. Most therapists live for these kind of talks.
6 – Poor Physical Health: The connection between emotional health and physical wellbeing(link is external) made the leap from myth to fact long ago. The most obvious is when we are confronted with experiences and feelings, make choices based on those feelings (e.g. comfort food, drugs/alcohol, inactivity, etc.) and our physical health is impacted. People with serious medical conditions now include psychological treatments along with their physical, pharmaceutical, and nutritional interventions. Overall health requires balance, and the psyche is key to that balance.
5 – Mediocre Physical/Mental/Social Health: Many people are reasonably healthy but have dreams of living long healthy lives that near the century mark. Others aspire to peak performance in their chosen field but find themselves wallowing in mediocrity despite opportunities for advancement. As I’ve said before, therapy is not just for treating disorders, it’s also available to help good lives become great through removing unnecessary blockage, expanding limiting beliefs, and encouraging healthy risks. You don’t have to stop therapy once your arachnophobia (link is external)is cured. You’re welcome to address your success-phobia as well.
4 – Overwhelming Emotions: Trauma, sensitivity, loss, fear, and anger can feel incredibly huge at times. So huge it seems unmanageable. Therapy can help you make sense of the emotion, contain it, and point you to the deeper issues that are stirring up such a reaction. People can make some regrettable choices and say some hurtful things when overtaken by emotion,
3 – No Emotions: There are many people (okay, mostly men) who suffer from the inability to access and express emotion. They know they should feel sad, happy, angry, or scared, but they can’t. Other people in their life often say they’d like to connect with them, but the lack of emotion makes it difficult to relate. I’ve grown to understand that the inability to access emotion can be the most debilitating force in a person’s life. Emotion causes people to hold a grudge for years, suffer for months to avoid a 10 minute conversation, or fail to be truly present at meaningful moments. Therapy can help people work past the blockage and access that important component of life. But be warned, it's not always a fun journey. Those emotions may be blocked for a reason.
2 – For Your Loved Ones: If you are an altruist, focused on the good you can do for those around you, maybe you can start with yourself. Would improving your communication, your boundaries, your sense of responsibility, your empathy, and your capacity for intimacy impact those around you? Sure it would. You may even lead by example, helping others become curious about themselves and taking the leap into their own therapy. You are the common denominator in all your relationships, and improving yourself is bound to enhance the lives of everyone you meet as well.
1 – For Yourself: I hate to have to trot out an overplayed quote, but I feel I have no choice: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates may be a cliché at this point, but he has even more staying power than a whole season of Dr. Phil. What are you doing with your life? Is it the best life you could live, or are you hindered by old injuries, relationships, roles, or habits that weigh you down? We only get so many trips around the sun, isn’t it time you followed through on your 2006 resolution and tried out some therapy this year? Pick a good one(link is external), follow some tips, let yourself fully engage. It could be one of the best decisions of your life.
Farewell Dave. I leave the funny to you, and wish you the very best retirement and continued therapy experience!