The world of psychotherapy is a very broad and varied one. There is a dizzying array of theories, techniques and approaches to therapy from which to choose and weeding through them to find the therapy style that is right for you can be almost as stressful as the problem that drove you to therapy in the first place!
From psychoanalytic theory to cognitive-behavioral theory, from “Gestalt Therapy” to “Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy,” from relaxation techniques to role playing exercises, the options are endless. So where do you start? Is there some easy answer...some secret formula?
Of course not. I wish I could give you a simple formula...some easy mathematical equation that would lead you to “the answer” but I can't. Finding what works for you is simply, or not so simply, a process of trial and error.
But let me tell you something that might help. Before I decided to stay home with children (and climb the walls on a daily basis), I did a little bit of counseling myself. What I mean to say is I counseled other people...but then again, I have counseled myself quite a bit as well. Never mind...the point is I have some training and experience in this area and I'm going to let you in on a secret. Counselors and therapists can sometimes have a hard time sorting through the piles of psychotherapeutic techniques as well.
It's true. Back when I was working I would often hear the voice of one of my favorite grad school professors (a practicing psychologist himself) in my head. When I was scrambling for the best technique to use with a particular client, feeling overwhelmed and unsure, his voice would remind me to “trust the process.” In other words, don't worry so much about the technique. Remember that it is the process of counseling that is most important.
Whether it is a relationship with a trusted mental health professional or the employment of self-help techniques, it often is the process that is therapeutic. It is the commitment to getting help, the active involvement of the individual who is seeking help and the process of working things through that gets the job done.
So, if you're having an issue, to whom, or what, do you turn? How do you know what technique or therapist is going to suit you? You don't, and let's face it - sampling a huge variety of therapists is costly, and as much as you might want to work with a professional, this might not be the most affordable, initial approach. As much as they are mocked and scorned by many mental health professionals, sometimes books in the “Self-Help” aisle really are the best place to start. They allow you to get a feel for different approaches to solving you particular problems without going broke.
Skim the titles and the tables of contents. You'll get an immediate reaction, either “that's an interesting idea” or “yeah, right, what a load of...” Find a couple of approaches that seem up your alley and give the book a full read. See what you think. You might find the solution to your problems right then and there or you may find that you need more structure, guidance or someone to hold you accountable for making progress. If so, you'll be back to looking for the right therapist or program but at least you'll have some idea of what you're looking for. You may want to work with one person or you may find that sampling – a support group here, a work shop there – might be more to your liking.
Still feeling overwhelmed? You're not alone. The world is filled with people with problems (as well as with people promising solutions). Many have traveled the road before you and made their share of mistakes. If you're lucky enough to know anyone who'll admit to it, you have access to a wonderful resource. If not, you might want to pick up a book I just read called “Hide and Seek” by Wendy Aron.
Wendy shares her own personal story of how she struggled with depression for most of her life, spent years in therapy and tried just about everything when it came to self-help. Most importantly, unlike most people we know, she's not afraid to admit it. Her book is poignant yet light-hearted, inspiring yet amusing and it will not only help you to recognize that you are not alone but also that you might be less screwed up than you think.
As she shares her struggles with depression and her self-help and therapy foibles, Wendy allows you to laugh at her problems while encouraging you to laugh at your own. She provides a humorous respite from your search for solutions while she introduces you to some of the help that is available – the good, the bad...and the just plain stupid.
Although Wendy pokes fun at most of the helpers, workshops and techniques she tries along the way, she seems to take a little something useful away from all of them. In the end, she does more than provide an amusing and insightful look at the world of therapy and self-help. She proves what most good therapists know; that the desire to get better, to grow and to change and the commitment to doing whatever it takes to achieve that is what ultimately leads to success. No theory or method can help a person who isn't fully invested in their own recovery or improvement. But for the person who is fully committed to change, small kernels of wisdom can be found in even the most ridiculous of places.
Still worried that you won't know what to do or whom to turn to? Don't be afraid to try things. There are no real mistakes to be made here. Remember, it isn't necessarily the right technique or the right therapist that matters; it is your desire, commitment and willingness to trust the process that does. Read Wendy's book, have a laugh, follow her lead. Find a therapist, read a self-help book, attend a workshop...try, try and try again. You will learn something from every choice, good or bad, and eventually find what works for you. Good luck on your journey.
(The advice in this post is for people who are suffering primarily from adjustment disorders or mild mental health issues. Anyone suffering from severe anxiety or depression, or who is experiencing severe emotional distress or significant dysfunction in their life should consult their physician or a mental health professional.)