How Do You Know When You Need Counseling?

Jun 25, 2020

Take me to “A Catholic’s Guide to Self-Help”

by Bridget Hannahan, Ph.D.

Seeking mental health care is an important decision involving an investment of time and money. Looking at our weaknesses and seeking help to meet our personal goals requires courage, humility, and fortitude. As Catholics, we believe that “the road that leads to life is narrow, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:14)

Psychotherapy is often depicted in the media as endless talking about problems with little or no observable change. Before seeking therapy, potential clients will benefit from knowing a few principles about the process.

Understand the Therapy Process

Although psychotherapy often starts by telling the therapist your difficulties, it is not the same as talking to a friend. While it is important for your therapist to empathize with your feelings, the expertise and objectivity of a mental health professional will provide an opportunity for you to learn new approaches in dealing with your issues.

Effective therapy is usually more than “just talk.” Taking notes in and between sessions, reading material recommended by your therapist, and other homework assignments will help you progress more quickly toward your goals.

It’s important to understand that your therapist will not tell you what to do. Ideally, the process of psychotherapy is collaborative. Clients who work with their therapist to decide goals and give feedback on methods will gain the most from therapy. Just as Jesus asked the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:35-43), a therapist will ask questions to help facilitate the relationship and healing.

Beginning therapy can be intimidating, but your therapist’s job is to make you feel as comfortable as possible. Location, furnishings and amenities are carefully chosen to enhance your comfort and emotional safety as you approach difficult issues. Most clients do not remain in therapy long-term but participate in several sessions to address a particular issue or goal, sometimes returning to therapy later to address a new issue.

Consider Therapy in These Situations

Although most people may be able to benefit from therapy at different points in their life, there are a few signs that can point to a more immediate need to pursue professional help sooner rather than later.

Unhealthy Life Patterns. When you see an unhealthy pattern in your life that you have been unable to change, engaging a therapist may provide the support, insight, and structure you need to follow through with more healthy behaviors. Unhealthy relationships, habits and addictions, procrastination, negative self-talk and other recurrent difficulties can all be addressed with a caring and competent professional.

Urging From Family or Friends. If someone in your life has asked you to consider “seeing someone,” the suggestion is important to consider prayerfully. While you may feel better after talking to a friend, spouse, or priest, these trusted confidants are not equipped to handle every issue. Even a gentle inquiry about mental health care is an indication that problems require further assistance. It is often because of the deep care for us that our friends and family are unable to provide what we need to address our problems; they simply are too involved to offer new insights. Priests are uniquely equipped to absolve our sins, and clergy can provide wise counsel. They are also trained to recognize when a person needs mental health care.

Obvious Impairments. Impairments in relationship or work can be a sign that you need to consult a mental health professional. Recurrent conflicts at home or in the workplace suggest the need for a different perspective. Feeling Good Together, by Dr. David Burns, is a useful resource for those wanting to improve relationships. As parents, we each have stages of development we prefer and handle better than others. When one of our children reaches a certain stage or encounters a particular difficulty that results in feelings of anger and frustration, it is wise to seek help. As noted in Ephesians 6:4, “Parents, never drive your children to resentment but bring them up with correction and advice inspired by the Lord.”

Suicidal Thoughts. Thoughts of death or suicide, however fleeting, are an indication of distress that requires mental health care. If immediate help is needed, text TALK to 741741 or call 1-800-273-8255.

About Bridget Hannahan, Ph.D.

Bridget Hannahan, Ph.D. has over 25 years of experience as a clinical psychologist. Her practice, Narrow Road Counseling, is based in Mobile, Alabama. Certified in 2019 as a TEAM-CBT provider, she specializes in cognitive-behavioral therapy with adolescents and young adults. Dr. Hannahan has been a member of the Catholic Psychotherapy Association since 2014. She enjoys guest appearances on the Archangel Radio/WNGL show LA Catholic Morning Live. For more information about her practice, please visit Narrow Road Counseling.

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