How do I know if therapy is right for me?

Have you ever struggled on with a problem or issue on your own, believing if you just keep going, powering through and pushing your feelings aside, that you’ll get through it? That carrying the world on your shoulders and ‘getting on with it’ somehow is a sign of your strength? That admitting you’re struggling must mean you’re weak?


Sadly, too many of us have. Sometimes, we do manage to get through things on our own, without much in the way of support from others but, inevitably, there will be those who buckle under the weight of carrying their issues alone. Even if we do somehow manage to overcome our troubles, we can face burnout, extreme fatigue, illness or other problems once the initial issue has passed. Carrying the burden alone sometimes comes at a cost.

When we do this, we aren’t really dealing with our issues at all. Pushing feelings down to be able to power through is not the same as really processing our feelings and dealing with things. Although mental health is a lot more talked about in the main than in previous years, a stigma still remains around asking for help. Some people see asking for help as a sign of weakness; that they should be able to work their problems out on their own.

Many cultures have unwritten rules around this too: repeated surveys have shown that black, Asian and minority ethnic people use counselling services far less than white indigenous people in the UK. (BACP - “You don’t talk your business to people”, Therapy Today, November 2015, Volume 26, Issue 9).

Often, people will try speaking with friends, family or work colleagues and while this, of course, can be helpful, it can also be problematic. New clients coming into therapy often tell me that they have spoken to their loved ones about their issues but, over time, they’ve started to feel like a burden or broken record and they just can’t carry on without risking problems in their relationship. Other people tell me that their well-meaning family member was very opinionated and overbearing and so it felt like time to talk to a professional!

That’s where talking to a trained therapist is different; we don’t have an agenda; we won’t voice our opinion; we won’t give you advice or tell you what to do.

We don’t have the same emotional connection to you that your family does, which often complicates things because their perspective is likely to be influenced by what they think is best for you. As therapists, we steer clear of judgements and thinking we know what is best for others. Instead, we offer a neutral space for you to really explore and work out what is best for you, without pushing our own agenda.

5 common myths about therapy

There are many myths around therapy that are worth addressing, especially if they prevent people from accessing the care and support they desperately need. Below are some common misconceptions. See how many you can relate to:

1. Therapy is only for people in crisis

This could not be further from the truth. In actual fact, someone who is facing a mental health emergency is probably not in need of counselling support right at this moment – rather, specialised support from a crisis team. A person’s psychological state is an important factor in determining how successful therapy is likely to be. For therapy to be effective, a person needs to be open to the process, have a sense of responsibility for their own life and well-being and a willingness to explore their feelings.

2. Therapy is only for those with a mental illness

Again, this is not true. Mental well-being is not an 'either or' situation. We are not either mentally well or mentally ill. There is a whole spectrum in between!

Mental health is a broad concept and is quite often framed in a negative way. But health, in general, is more than just the absence of illness – we don’t just strive to not be ill. Health is about feeling as good as we can, that’s why lots of us go to the gym or eat healthy foods. The same is true of our mental health; it’s not just about preventing poor mental health, it’s about fostering positive mental healthto help us thrive and excel.

3. My problems aren’t bad enough for therapy

So the question is, how bad do you have to feel before you admit you’re struggling and need help? So often, we wait until things are really bad before we feel justified in asking for support. If you were sitting on a rusty nail, would you wait until the pain was absolutely unbearable before you got up and moved? How much pain and struggle is enough?

People come to therapy for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes there is a specific issue in the present that they are dealing with and need support around this such as bereavement, redundancy, or a big life change. It may be an issue from the past that hasn’t been processed and is preventing them from moving on or enjoying life. Often, it’s a mixture of things and people sometimes can’t name their struggles; they just know that they don’t feel good and they want help to feel better. If something is causing you distress or to feel stuck, then it’s worth exploring.

Something I hear a lot is, “My problems aren’t that bad compared to…” or “So and so has it so much worse than me.” Suffering is all relative, and there will always be someone worse off, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need or deserve help, too. In many ways, speaking to someone earlier is better than waiting until you feel like you’re at breaking point.

4. I won’t get anything from it that I can’t get from friends or family

People often tell me that they’ve got lots of support around them – in fact, it’s one of the things I ask about during my initial assessment. However, it’s very difficult to get completely impartial support from someone we are close to. How many times have you been talking about your problems and the other person has interrupted you to tell you about how the same thing happened to them?

What’s really special about therapy is that it is a time and space that is purely focused on you. No one is going to cut you off with stories of their own troubles; change the subject when you’re in the middle of pouring your heart out or talk you out of how you’re feeling.

A common misconception is that therapists are ‘just listening’. But there’s a bit more to it than that! Active listening is a skill that addresses not just what is said, but also what is unsaid and what is conveyed through body language and facial expressions. Alongside listening, a good therapist will often challenge, give insights and new perspectives and offer education around particular things and teach coping strategies.

The therapy space is designed to allow you to be your truest self; where you can be honest about your thoughts and feelings and have time to examine these without any pressure. So many of us live buried beneath the expectations of others that it’s difficult in our everyday lives to find the time and space to ‘unpick’ what’s really going on.

I often tell my clients that coming to therapy is a bit like reorganising a wardrobe. First, you need to get everything out in the open, have a rummage through and see what’s there. Then you can start to evaluate what you no longer need; what doesn’t fit you anymore; what is no longer working for you and what you have outgrown. Once you’ve tweaked and pruned, you can put everything back neatly along with all the new knowledge and skills you’ve attained! 

5. Therapy is too expensive

This is a tricky one because, yes, therapy can be costly. But it doesn’t have to be. Many private therapists offer sliding scales for those on low incomes. There are also low-cost agencies and, if you’re happy to wait, there’s therapy on the NHS. Although, waiting lists can be long and you may wish to be seen sooner rather than later. Fees vary by area too, so there isn’t a quick answer to this point.

Something to consider though, is that many people pay for monthly gym memberships, in the name of keeping physically fit and healthy – is our mental and emotional well-being not worthy of the same? It’s like anything, it comes down to what you feel is a priority in your life.

If you would like to find out if therapy is right for you, please do get in touch to arrange a free, no-obligation phone call. I'm happy to answer any questions about the therapy process and how it may benefit you.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Rayleigh SS6
Written by Janine Clifton, Counsellor/Therapist Dip. Couns Registered MBACP
Rayleigh SS6

I am a person-centred/integrative therapist working with adults from my private practice in Rayleigh, Essex. Through encouraging self-compassion and gentle curiosity, my aim is to help people feel more connected to themselves and to empower them to believe in their own ability to heal. I work with issues such as anxiety, depression, trauma & abuse.

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