When is it Time for Professional Help?

I am often asked, “isn’t marriage therapy only for couples who are about to get divorced?” Others over time have also said to me, “therapy is only for people who are feeling suicidal, right?” In the case that I casually share with someone that I am a Marriage and Family Therapist I hear, “that is so great…there are so many people out there who need help.” Or a man will say half-heartedly “my wife and I could use some of that.” Even more often than that I hear, “Oh I know several people who need to talk to you,” and jump right in about their family or friends’ personal problems. So many people are eager to volunteer their own mothers-in-law, husbands, cousins, or crazy uncles for therapy services, so why does everyone wait so long to finally get help for themselves or their relationship?

I have long wondered about why this phenomenon exists. It is likely that many people feel they want to exhaust all possible resources on their own before reaching out because they are afraid of admitting out loud to a professional, or anyone for that matter, that their marriage is struggling. Or maybe it is the idea that by signing up for therapy you and/or your partner are finally recognizing that the problems you have been experiencing are not getting better, and you are starting to feel a bit hopeless. I imagine many people/couples don’t seek therapy sooner when they are struggling because they assume that they are the only ones who are so messed up that they would need a professional to help them resolve an issue. For a variety of reasons individuals and couples alike tend to put off getting professional help until the very end of the road. Although therapy can be extremely helpful, if not most effective, when used as a regular maintenance strategy like an annual check-up at the doctor; all too often do clients wait until the point at which they need the psychological equivalent to an emergency room or urgent care facility.

Imagine that you have fallen and broken your arm. The immediate pain is excruciating and you are likely to head straight to the ER to get your arm set and on the path to recovery. But say you did not head straight to the ER. Maybe you stayed at home thinking the pain would go away eventually. Maybe you tried to think of all the things that your arm pain could be caused by, in an effort to convince yourself that it was not in fact broken. Or maybe you worried about the cost of an ER visit and decided that you would wait and see how things went, and see if your own resolve could out last the pain. Even if you chose to not seek immediate treatment, eventually the injury would begin to heal over and the pain would begin to mostly reseed. The problem though is that your arm would never work or function exactly the same again. If you tweaked it just right or accidently jammed it in a certain direction, a deeply rooted ache would surface and remind you of the old injury. You would try medication, massage, stretching, strength exercises, but nothing seems to help. Maybe this ache persists frequently and often enough that you finally go to a specialist to see if there is anything that can be done.

This is the point that most people come to before they finally reach out for something like therapy. They have already tried all the self-help, coping strategies, friends’ advice, or family suggestions and seek out help from a specialist. However, in our example of the broken bone we run into similar problems in therapy that we might in a medical setting. The wound has healed up, but the bone is no longer straight. The injury did not receive the appropriate attention and care it needed in order to heal properly, and now continues to cause problems through the deeply rooted aches and pains you experience daily. Emotional and relational wounds are like this broken arm. They can heal most effectively if they receive appropriate medical treatment as soon after injury as possible. The longer they are left unaddressed the longer they may fester or heal over improperly.

It takes great courage and vulnerability to seek help in a therapy setting. That fact alone is likely what keeps most people out of the therapy room for as long as they do. Therapy requires commitment and strength as individuals or couples decide to face head-on a problem that has been plaguing them for a very long time. The therapy process can even be painful as well, as clients and the therapist work together to re-open an old wound and stitch it up properly. While therapy involves great risk, it offers even greater reward. The possibility of resolving longstanding issues and finding healing sometimes after years or decades of pain.

If you feel that you are ready to take the next step toward healing in your life and/or relationship today, contact me to get started with a consultation or your first appointment. Evening appointment times are available for your convenience, and I look forward to getting started with you on your path toward healing.

Lauren Barron is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist-Associate specializing in working with engaged, newlywed, married couples, and individuals working on relationship concerns. Call Lauren at (713)364-9748 to schedule your first appointment today.

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