Dear Missed Call – A Letter To Those Asking "Should I go to therapy?"
“When the phone rang, I hung up”
We were saying goodbye. We were reveling at his progress, his freedom, his course-corrected life. Savoring the dreams that were coming to fruition, the hope and happiness. I said “I’m so glad we met, I’m so glad you gave me a chance. Thank you for trusting me.” And he paused, deciding whether to share one last thing. “It almost didn’t happen. Three months before we started, I called you. And when the phone rang, I hung up.”
There’s an alternate future where he didn’t call back – didn’t reach out one more time after life went downhill even more. Where maybe he found someone else, another therapist qualified and warm and tough, who enjoyed arguing and laughing and being still with respect when it was time to discuss the hard parts. And maybe not. Maybe in this alternate future, he didn’t find another person, maybe he stayed stuck, still teetering between quitting and being fired, still holding it all inside as his wife and children stared at him curiously when they thought he wouldn’t notice.
This is a letter for you, the missed call, the person in the middle space. That space where it hurts almost enough to act…almost.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” ― Anais Nin
Dear Missed Call
It’s hard now. It’s exhausting and stressful and really freaking lonely. You’re working too much but it doesn’t feel like enough, you go to bed and wake up unsatisfied, stressed, anxious, or numbed out. You want to run away or disappear. Maybe the dark cloud around you has started to seep into your marriage, into your work. Or maybe the mask you’re wearing isn’t slipping off yet.
This is hard now and I promise there’s a way out. You don’t need to hold all this alone.
If you feel paralyzed, let’s talk about it. On some level, that fear of change can hold us all. How many times have you envied something different, a change that felt too big to consider. It’s easy to get stuck in resentment, easier (in the short term) to dream instead of do.
I suspect that this freezing in all of us is reinforced by the soft cultural whisper that asking for help is weakness, real men figure it all out themselves. Bootstraps etc., etc.
In a world of photo shopped six packs and tweets about weight training at 4AM, it is easy to skip over what isn’t said…the shouting matches with business partners, the loneliness, the desperation of maintaining an illusion of crushing it while hustling for likes, for funding, for applause.
Asking others to help you is a great skill and your life is worth it
And the man’s man himself, billionaire investor Ray Dalio in Principles says,
“If you are disappointed because you can’t be the best person to do everything yourself, you are terribly naïve. Nobody can do everything well. Would you want to have Einstein on your basketball team? When he fails to dribble and shoot well, would you think badly of him? Should he feel humiliated? Imagine all the areas in which Einstein was incompetent, and imagine how hard he struggled to excel even in the areas in which he was the best in the world.”
And then the next sub-principle from our good buddy Ray:
“Asking others who are strong in areas where you are weak to help you is a great skill that you should develop no matter what, as it will help you develop guardrails that will prevent you from doing what you shouldn’t be doing.”
Ok so maybe you are now a teeny bit more open to asking for help.
The leap into therapy (insert momentous music) can feel terrifying, huge, and vulnerable. Yet, it is also simple. A few steps through a door, breath forming into words, telling another human your story. So it is both these things, and so much more.
And what you may learn is that therapy (more momentous music) with the right person and in the right time is, at its core, a conversation between two humans. What gains are worth an awkward conversation?
There is good scientific evidence that talk therapy with an expert you trust can make life better. It can reduce anxiety and depression, improve relationships, and increase your enjoyment of life.
And I’ve seen it, I’ve seen this rocky hike up the mountain, learning new skills, new ways of understanding and relating to your thoughts, emotions and experiences, and much like that hike, for a while it’s just one foot in front of the other, around switch backs and scrambling over loose terrain.
And then your body warms up, the water tastes sweeter, there’s a break in the trees, and it’s better than you expected. There may be surprises along the way, wildlife you didn’t expect. You weren’t exactly sure where you were going to end up. But here you are. Not at the base, stuck in your head. Here, in the thick of life, with a few more tools and a lot more practice with a guide. And you feel more equipped for the next leg of the journey.
I have hiked this path over and over and over. The hike is hard, your life is worth it.
Finding a guide in a sea of distractions
So you think maybe you want to find a guide. That makes sense right?
Ray Dalio says “Pain + reflection = progress.”
Therapy can be a great way to reflect on what’s happening, examine your habitual patterns that are no longer working, and get feedback and learn new skills with an expert.
But how to find someone? There’s a thousand Psychology Ads, a thousand coaches and therapists and spirit guides. Websites blending into a never-ending blur of buzz words. We all do start to look that same after a while don’t we?
This is made more confusing by the wide variety of terms which seem synonymous and indicate widely varying levels of training and credentials. Briefly, you don’t need any special training or qualifications to call yourself a coach. Similarly, in Colorado, anyone can legally call themselves a psychotherapist, counselor or therapist (more information on the variety of terms here). There are skilled professionals calling themselves a variety of things – it’s your job to find the right person for you.
I regularly help people sift through this mess. Here are my suggestions:
1. Decide what you can afford and the level of investment you are willing to make.
You will find that many helpers are not on health insurance panels. If you are not able to afford to pay out of pocket, know that your search will be longer, don’t give up hope. Ask about sliding scales, look into lower cost options. My husband interviewed eight therapists before he found the right person, perseverance serves you well here.
2. Articulate your values and needs (or the defining category of value proposition).
First and foremost, I recommend looking for someone who understands and can articulate the science and the art of wise counsel. The fields of psychology, counseling, and social work have over 100 years of empirical data on what works and doesn’t. No reason to reinvent the wheel.
When looking for a therapist for a child or adolescent, Effective Child Therapy summarizes the types of evidence-based mental health treatments available for children and adolescents. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a parallel site for adults that is as well organized or easy to use. You can find a therapist who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral therapy here or a therapist who specializes in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy here. The National Center for PTSD also offers a succinct summary of evidence based treatments here.
So let’s assume you have a list of evidence-based professionals. Next, I value expertise over affordability so I avoid generalists. I look for people who have a tightly described niche but I was well into my thirties before I could afford to do that. (*There are competent Jack-of-many-trades out there and you will likely need to do more sorting to find them.)
I was raised under the mantra of ‘reuse or do without’ and I spent my twenties living on fourteen thousand a year and a can of corn for dinner. Now I spend over ten thousand dollars on mentoring and learning each year. I don’t vacation much, but I am growing! This clarity of expertise over affordability was a mind shift for me that came as I made more money and valued my time more. It’s so easy for entrepreneurs to value their own time at zero. And therapy is an investment of time as well as money. Let’s spend it well.
· Make a list of a dozen contenders based on a brief perusal of their website and their photos*.
*I’ve always been intrigued by Graham Duncan’s use of pictures. He says,
“I have my assistant Google pictures of people I’m considering meeting or calling in the next two weeks. I see meeting new people as the opportunity to open a new door to a new world that could change my or their life in some way. Seeing someone’s picture allows me to visualize their intentionality and unleashes more creative ideas about what we can discuss and how I may be able to help them. It also lets me access whether I have a “full-body yes” to actually seeing them and opening this new door, and if I don’t then I take my hand off the door handle.”
3. Ask tough questions
After reviewing photos and the website, some people will naturally be crossed out. When you have a shortlist, do a deeper dive of collecting your own data. Read the websites in detail and talk to each person on the phone. There are many ways someone can demonstrate competence or the opposite.
Ask tough questions:
After hearing what I’m experiencing, how would you suggest we work together? What would our goals be? How would we achieve them?
What have you learned from working with people like me in the past?
What are your strengths as a professional?
What are your blind spots? What are your growth edges?
Finally, take heart. You can do this. Humanity bends toward resilience and growth.
Trust that what you seek is also seeking you. - Rumi
Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage. - Anais Nin
Disclaimer: You as a reasonable person know that reading this blog does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. And just to be super clear for all the lawyers in the house, I do not assume liability for any content on the blog and accept no liability for damage or injury resulting from your interaction with my writing and the content therein (oh my goodness, I hope you don’t injure yourself reading this). If you are seeking professional support, I recommend seeking services via the websites on my resources page or by contacting me directly.