Do I need therapy?

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You are single and have been trying to get married for a while. Things are not going so well. You have dated a decent number of people, and not only have you not met ultimate success (hence your single status), but you have had several difficult experiences. You are unsure why this is happening, and some friends are urging you to get a therapist. You are reluctant and unsure. So, you are asking: do I need therapy?

As you can imagine, this is a loaded question. Someone telling you to go for therapy can sound as if they are implying you have a problem, maybe even that you are mentally unwell. The truth is that some people bandy around the idea of going for therapy like it is a visit to the ice cream store. On the other hand, some people unjustly treat any mention of therapy as a great insult.

Let us have an honest conversation about whether it makes sense for you to seek therapy. The short answer is yes and no. In other words, if you need it, absolutely yes. But if you do not need, certainly not. Put another way, if your situation requires you to seek out a therapist, then you should do so without delay and see out the process – because your long-term wellbeing depends on it.

However, if you do not need therapy, you most definitely should not be pursuing this route. Some may say, “what is the harm? It may even help.” This article is focused on singles looking to enjoy relationship success, and for this unnecessarily going for therapy will cause harm and will not help – unless you need it, in which case this should be a top priority.

Three categories

To make things super-simple, we can divide people into three categories.

  1. Those who have no psychological concerns. Everything seems straightforward. No problem; they should get on with their life.
  2. Those who are clearly struggling in one way or another. For example, they experience long bouts of depression and can spend days unable to get out of bed. Or, they are the victim of child abuse and find trusting people extremely difficult.
  3. Those somewhere in the middle. They do not have a clearly diagnosable medical condition, but they are beginning to have a sneaking suspicion that things are not adding up for them. For example, they repeatedly choose to date people they later realize are unsuitable for them. Or they find themselves backing out of serious dating situations right before the prospect of marriage can materialize – and do not know why.

If you need treatment, get the help you need.

If you are struggling with a significant issue (the second type), you will benefit from therapy. Depending on the issue and its severity, you may need substantial treatment. If you fit in this category, my sincerest advice is to stop dating and focus on getting treatment. You need to be in a healthy position yourself before you can enter into a lifelong relationship. In your current state, you are liable to enter into the wrong relationships for the wrong reasons.

Without getting treatment, you are unlikely to form secure romantic attachments, and this will undermine your chances of dating success. Enter into therapy, and when you feel ready, resume dating. If you need therapy, please do not consider not going. The issues that are dragging you down are unlikely to resolve themselves automatically. They can also become considerably worse if left untreated – not to mention all the torment and hardship you may end up going through.

Finding a good therapist is not simple, and you should treat this as a major project. Getting a good recommendation from a source you trust is the absolute best way to go. There are referral services that generally are sound, and are likely to screen out the really poor options. They can also help you to identify the person right for you. It is important that you ensure the therapist is competent in the specific area you are presenting with.

If you have a longstanding eating disorder, you not only want an ethical and caring therapist, but also one with significant relevant experience and knowledge. If you have tried therapy before and have had a bad experience, I sincerely regret this. It could be because you were unlucky to end up with a not very good therapist. More likely, the fit just was not right; that is, unfortunately, a risk with therapy. Try again and take the lessons you learned from what happened previously. Try to find someone you think will work for you. You are likely to find someone suitable in the end.

If not therapy, perhaps coaching?

If you find yourself in the middle category whereby you feel things are not quite right but have no reason to believe that you have a substantial mental health problem, you should consider coaching. Coaching is a very fluid profession, and practitioners have very different approaches. But there are some generally accepted features of coaching that separates it from therapy. I will set those out momentarily, along with some tips in deciding which coach may be for you.

First, let us consider why you may benefit from coaching. You are a basically functioning human being. You have a full and productive life, and perhaps are even very successful or talented. You may even be both. So, why would you bother with a coach? Just because in one area of your life – dating – things have not gone so easily, does this mean that there is something wrong and you now need intervention by a professional?

Let us understand what coaching is and what it is not. While therapy is designed to deal with traumas and wounds from the past, coaching is focused on helping someone figure out what to do going forward. These are quite fundamentally different things. Therapy is designed to deal with old baggage that is weighing you down, while coaching is structured to help a person gain self-awareness and clarity to make smarter choices in the future.

For this reason, therapy addresses healing wounds and gaining emotional health (very important in marriage), whereas coaching helps people think more clearly and adopt good strategies. The aim of therapy is to secure for the patient enduring emotional change. Coaching has as its aims helping the client to adjust their attitudes and behaviors.

This is why the role of the therapist and the coach are so different. The therapist accompanies the person as they process the pain and arrive at a better place. The coach is there to challenge the client to think in new ways and work out what steps are going to lead to greater success. More explanation about the difference between coaching and therapy is provided in another article.

In short, coaching is not trying to change you or fix you. It is not for people who “have something wrong with them.” Rather, it is there to help people break out of cycles of thinking or acting that are not working for them. It aims to help people raise their awareness of how certain attitudes or practices that have gone unquestioned may be an obstacle in their way to a successful outcome.

The reality is that even really smart and capable people often are entirely unaware of their own mindset and behavior around relationships. Even when made aware of it, people are often unclear how this may be working against them. Yet, without this awareness the person can and will do nothing to change it. If no change occurs, the same negative outcome is likely to reoccur repeatedly. It is this that coaching aims to address.

Are you stuck?

So, it is vital that even completely healthy and effective people consider whether they are stuck in their relationship effort and could benefit from clearing things up. We see people who are going around in circles for decades when it comes to their relationship efforts, despite thriving in their social life and skyrocketing in their professional careers. They are often been held back by something rather minor of which they were unaware and that no one had pointed out to them. If you are doing your level best and things are not turning out the way you expected – and you cannot make sense of why this is happening – you should really consider working with a life coach to clear things and make some necessary changes.

The role of the coach is not as central as the role of the therapist. Thus, getting the “right” coach is less of a deal as it is in therapy. Still, all you have in coaching is the skills of the coach. So, make a point of working with someone trustworthy and competent. Make sure they have relevant relationship expertise. A generic life coach is most likely not going to be your answer, unless this person has gained meaningful knowledge about relationships and has considerable experience working in this area. As said above, coaches vary widely in how they operate. It is certainly worth asking the coach for his or her approach, what to expect during the coaching, how many sessions they normally have with each client, and so on.

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