No, your problems aren’t too small for therapy

My problems aren’t big enough to seek help...are they?

WRITER
Aug 20, 2021 UPDATED
Featured Article

I can’t remember if this actually happened or if I just absorbed the trope from popular culture, but I have the vague recollection of being five or six years old, proclaiming to the dinner table that I did not like this meal, and my mother telling me “Be grateful you’re eating dinner at all; there are starving children in Africa.”

Now that I see that written out, I realize it doesn’t sound like my mom at all. But however it got there, the message stuck with me: There are people out there worse off than you. Be grateful for the problems you have.

And it’s true. I’ve led a pretty charmed life. I grew up in a devoted two-parent household. I was provided with the means for and access to a high-tier education. I’ve had the best friends and healthy, loving romantic relationships. I was born into the privilege of being a white, able-bodied, cisgender woman. I’m not even left-handed.

So how can I justify enlisting professional help for these problems that are so—to put it bluntly—flimsy?

The “struggles” I face are those we all face: worrying about doing well at work, wondering if my friends secretly hate me, stressing out about my rent increasing every year. You know: being a person. So how can I justify enlisting professional help for these problems that are so—to put it bluntly—flimsy?

A lot of us feel this way. Even the expression “get help” sounds like advice for someone whose life has spiraled out of control. This thinking is even more insidious in some marginalized communities where the treatment of mental health can come with a hefty stigma. But the truth is, therapy can help even the most ostensibly well-adjusted person with the most apparently frictionless life.

SimplePractice Learning Education Director and licensed marriage and family therapist Dr. Ben Caldwell has some advice. “When people wonder if their problem is big enough or important enough to warrant a visit to a therapist, it can be helpful in those moments to think of a therapist as something more like a consultant,” he says.

Having an outside perspective can make all the difference. 

Therapy is not the ambulance you call when you’re at death’s door and you have no other recourse. Well, it can be, and it’s important to note that therapy does literally save lives. But therapy is at least as often the yearly trip to your doctor to confirm you’re in good health.

Therapy can be what prevents the life-and-death catastrophes that necessitate the ambulance—or what enables you to handle them when they come. As Dr. Caldwell puts it, “Therapy can be what keeps a small problem or conflict from becoming a big one.”

Think about people who go to the gym. People work out for any number of reasons: Some are there to heal an injury they sustained in childhood. Some are there to strengthen specific muscle groups they’ve neglected. Some just want to feel stronger or healthier.

I go to the gym just to have a routine to keep my world in order and my brain in check.

A Monarch by SimplePractice illustration of a woman with black hair in a gray top holding a pink mug looking up at colorful lines and doodles.

So goes therapy. Of course, there are those in therapy who are working through long-standing childhood traumas or acute struggles like drug addiction. But there are also those in therapy who just want to learn how to be better listeners, or how to stop procrastinating. Like working out your body, working out your mind with the help of a professional can be strengthening and preventative.

Therapy is not the ambulance you call when you’re at death’s door.

If you still feel like you don’t have “enough” to bring to a session with a therapist, you might want to look into group therapy. In group therapy, those who don’t want to do any talking can listen to others with similar concerns share how they do—or do not—deal with these issues.

By observing and empathizing with people in comparable situations, they not only come to find that they aren’t alone in their struggles, but they come to regard these struggles for what they are: not too small, not too lame, but real adversities that have real impacts. 

Listen, it’s hard to be a person. It’s especially hard to be a person right now, in what has got to be one of the most uncertain, insecure periods in the history of humanity.

If you have quotidian worries like saving for retirement or trouble sleeping, or if you just want to enjoy your social life without the nagging feeling you’re not as fun or interesting as your friends, know that you can feel better. You owe it to yourself to feel better.

“I've never known anyone whose big regret about seeing a therapist was that they did it too soon,” says Dr. Caldwell. “I've known lots of folks whose regret was that they waited too long as their problem got worse.”

Article originally published Jan 14, 2021. Updated Aug 20, 2021.

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