Frequently we receive calls from individuals who say they are “at the end of their rope.” They have tried and tried without success to address a problem or a troubling circumstance on their own and feel a sense of failure at their need to consult a psychologist. Why do these individuals wait until their lives are so disrupted… until they experience such a high level of distress… before seeking help?
This reluctance to seek therapy that we observe in the general public and in our patients has now been addressed on a national scale. A recently released report by the U.S. Surgeon General indicates that one out of five Americans experiences a treatable mental disorder in any given year but that most do not seek professional help. The report states “… mental disorders are not the result of moral failings or limited will power, but are legitimate illnesses that are responsive to treatments…” and it encourages individuals to seek help when needed.
People often lack basic information about psychological problems. They will visit a medical doctor when they have a stomach pain to make sure it does not turn into an ulcer but they hesitate to consult a psychologist when they are severely or chronically angry, confused, sad, or frustrated. While such symptoms were stigmatized in the past as signs of weakness to be hidden or ignored, the U.S. Surgeon General has now emphasized the need and ability to obtain prompt and effective treatment for the full range of emotional problems.
Early intervention for a psychological problem is as important as early intervention for a physical disorder. Prompt, effective treatment can achieve positive results more quickly, while minimizing any future negative impact on an individual’s life. It also precludes secondary problems that could arise if an individual’s condition is not treated promptly or appropriately. Just as with medical illnesses, delays in obtaining mental health treatment may actually worsen an individual’s ability to recover and may necessitate more extensive treatment.
It is extremely important that people understand that the majority of individuals seeking mental health treatment are not diagnosed with a severe mental illness. In most cases they are experiencing the intense stress of life or relationship changes which negatively affect their mood, their thoughts, and/or their actions. Effective and often brief treatment is available for these conditions. Many of our patients are seeking to understand and cope with a difficult life transition. In some circumstances these transitions involve expected developmental stages. For example, parents may feel unable to communicate with their adolescent child, a college student may question his or her future plans after receiving poor grades or a family must decide where an 80 year-old grandmother, who is no longer able to live independently, will reside. Other transitions are more unexpected; a family member is diagnosed with a life threatening illness, a marriage ends in divorce, an individual is forced to retire from a job of 30 years.
Whether the transition is expected or unexpected it is often very stressful, and some people react to the change in a negative and reactive manner. Responding to each specific crisis as it erupts, however, often leaves people feeling that they just cannot cope with the situation. They may agonize about what to do but have difficulty organizing their thoughts and actions to reach a workable solution. Over time the situation may worsen and an individual or a family may feel overwhelmed and see no options for their predicament.
Individuals who lack an understanding of psychotherapy may be reluctant to seek treatment. Many people say, “Okay so I have a problem, but just talking to someone about it isn’t going to help.” They are right, “just talking” is not the answer. But psychologists do not “just talk.” While the sessions involve conversation, the discussion is focused. We have had years of training and many more years of experience. The questions we ask, the interpretations of situations we offer, the comments we make are based on our understanding of each patient’s individual needs and capabilities. We help individuals to achieve a clearer understanding of their motives, thoughts, feelings and behavior and work with them to develop the skills that will allow them to cope with or adapt to new situations. We are not “just talking.” We are assessing the situation, formulating ideas, presenting new ways of understanding one’s self and others, and we are helping people recognize previously unidentified options and opportunities.
Meeting with a psychologist gives individuals and families the opportunity to step back, explore their situation from a new perspective and develop plans to assess and respond to their difficulties. With our assistance individuals can discover why certain problems or life transitions have felt unmanageable, and they can learn adaptive ways to respond to and resolve future problems more effectively.
In today’s complicated world, meeting expected and unexpected demands can be challenging. Many people are pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to talk with us about their problems. Talking helps them feel less disoriented and more in control of their lives. They become aware of options and opportunities and learn new ways of seeking support and satisfaction for themselves and for those they care about.
Please click here to view & print as a PDF.
For more information or to make an appointment, please call Swerdlow-Freed Psychology at (248) 539-7777. Our offices are conveniently located at 30600 Northwestern Highway, Suite 210, Farmington Hills, Michigan 48334, and 55 North Pond Drive, Suite 6, Walled Lake, Michigan 48390.