How to know if you are ready for psychotherapy

Copyright 2006 Sara Dryburgh

Starting psychotherapy can be the start of many positive changes in your life, but it is not something to undertake lightly. In my psychotherapy practice I am continually meeting new potential patients and advising them on whether they are ready to start. Over the years I have developed a set of criteria. Here they are, to help you decide.

DO YOU REALISE IT’S NOT LIKE A VISIT TO THE DOCTOR ?

Many visits to the doctor are very simple and straightforward. You go with a problem, the doctor makes a diagnosis, prescribes the drug or carries out a procedure and the problem goes away. Psychotherapy isn’t like that at all. You go with a problem which may not be the real problem, then you start on a course of treatment which may move very quickly, or very slowly. Sometimes you might have an idea that you know where it is going, sometimes you may have no idea at all. You will see progress but may have very little view of when it is actually going to end.

ARE YOU PREPARED TO DISCOVER THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF ?

You may realise that the problem is quite different from what you thought. For example one lady came to me complaining of low self esteem, but after a number of sessions we realised that it was quite the opposite. The problem was actually a feeling of omnipotence, feeling that she should be capable of anything, deserved everything and it was the frustration of that that was actually causing her problem rather than the feeling of low self worth.

CAN YOU ACCEPT THAT THERAPY WON’T MOVE IN A STRAIGHT LINE ?

At the start of a course of therapy it’s possible usually to give some idea how long things will take, but that’s only an indication. Sometimes things will move quickly for a spell then slow down. At times you may even feel that you are going backwards, but then you will set off again in an entirely new direction. You need to keep yourself open to the possibilities.

ARE YOU READY FOR THE ELEMENT OF RISK INVOLVED ?

You are committing a lot of time and money to therapy. You are going to be disclosing quite sensitive things about yourself to someone who at the moment you don’t know particularly well. There is an unavoidable risk involved there which you have to accept.

DON’T NECESSARILY EXPECT A LONG TREATMENT.

Some people are in therapy for years, sometimes it takes months, while others come only 2 or 3 times and get everything they need. You may simply need some interpretations which help you to reframe the problem to look at it in a different way. You may fairly quickly realise that the problem isn’t a psychological one at all; it may be that you need to change environments; you need to change jobs, that maybe the problem.

DON’T BE PUT OFF IF YOU FEEL NERVOUS.

If you feel nervous when you pick up the phone or when you come to your first appointment, don’t worry; it’s normal. Psychotherapy isn’t like a visit to the hairdresser or the manicurist. In fact, it is probably a good sign to feel a little nervous at the start. It shows that you have begun to think about the possibility of change; positive, but also sometimes quite scary.

ACCEPT THAT YOU ARE GOING TO BE CHALLENGED

Therapy will on occasions make you feel uncomfortable. A good therapist will never push you too hard but you are going to have to disclose weaknesses, or things about yourself which you have always kept quiet before. You are going to have some of your views about the world and about other people challenged and examined. This is an inevitable part of the process but at times it will make you feel slightly uncomfortable.

DON’T WAIT TOO LONG

If you can answer yes to most of the above, do something. Start looking for a therapist, make a first appointment. You could spend the rest of your life waiting to be completely sure or completely ready, but life is too short.

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