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  • Dr. Avis Attaway

When is Therapy the answer?

“Something’s been on my mind and I can’t seem to shake it. The more I think about it the more confused I get. It’s not that big of a deal, and when I try to tell a friend about it, I just end up feeling dumb – and more confused. Like I should be able to figure this out – or let it go – or just get over it. But I can’t…”


Not much is worse than feeling stuck in your head – or stuck in your life. Where can you go? Since you can’t get away from yourself it feels like torture. Getting mad at yourself doesn’t really help and there isn’t anyone else to get mad at. Or maybe there is but they don’t know why you’re upset, or maybe they don’t even care. It seems hopeless. Being stuck like this is what they call depression.


Or it could be creating anxiety - constantly and excessively worrying about certain things, or things in general. Either condition makes you feel even worse about yourself, like "What’s wrong with me?"


The truth is that even before the pandemic hit, over 40 million Americans were suffering from anxiety. This is about the population of California. Probably there were many more than that because those are only the people who went to a doctor or therapist for help. Lots more were – and are suffering - and blaming themselves for being in pain.


As children, if we complained to adults many of us were told that we should “get over it.” We probably didn’t know how to do that so we decided that it means to ignore it. Feelings are big, especially when you’re little. It might have felt like listening to these feelings could even make you go crazy. Learning to ignore them means that you stop listening to them. And when we do that, we end up getting lost because they’re only there to give us direction.


But what if your feelings are too big? Maybe they’re popping up at the most inconvenient times – even intruding into your life. They come in like a tidal wave wiping out rational thoughts. And when you act on those big feelings it often leaves a big mess to clean up. Like getting too angry, or too scared, and taking it out on those closest to you. And then being hurt or disappointed or even more angry when they don’t (can’t) make us feel better.


It may be time to talk to someone who is trained to listen and knows how to help. Helping doesn’t mean telling you what to do - that’s advice. Counseling or therapy is not advice. It’s compassionate listening combined with educated feedback to help you problem-solve it yourself. And in the process, to learn to understand yourself better and develop the self-confidence to move through this problem and any future situations.


There might be someone in your life who thinks that therapy is only for “crazy” people. Or that problems should be handled within the family and not involve outsiders who don’t really know you. But what if the problem includes someone close to you, and you’ve tried talking to them and it hasn’t helped?


This is when someone on the outside can see things more clearly – more objectively. Every individual is unique, as is every family or relationship. Yet there are basic ways that humans act and interact. Someone trained to identify where support and re-direction is needed can save lots of time and suffering. Even therapists are expected to go to counseling! They are trained to realize that even they can be too close to their own problems to be able to see them clearly.


Lots of time can be wasted worrying or feeling hopeless about a situation. Instead, the problem can be solved and turned into a learning experience (so as not to repeat it) and then you get on with life. And the more we practice a skill the better we become at it. Problem-solving is a life skill. Getting good at it means you get better at living your life the way you want it to be – happier, with improved relationships, and better opportunities for your future.

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