“Is Therapy Right for Me?” Ensign, February 2020
As Latter-day Saints, we value hard work, independence, and self-reliance. With such a strong focus on those positive values, is there any room to acknowledge our struggles and ask for help? When might therapy (or psychotherapy, as it’s called clinically) be an appropriate tool for addressing our challenges?
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has stated that mental health treatment can be as vital as treatment for any medical condition: “If you had appendicitis, God would expect you to seek a priesthood blessing and get the best medical care available. So too with emotional disorders.”1
As we strive in mortality to become more like the Savior and to serve others, we work on refining our weaknesses and addressing our struggles. Put simply, we seek His help to become as healthy as possible—physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Therapy can be part of that process.
The Savior said, “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples” (John 15:8). If we are truly self-reliant, we will “bear much fruit.” In order to do that, we may need to employ some of the techniques described in the allegory from Jacob 5 in the Book of Mormon. The master of the vineyard put considerable work into his trees. He had to prune, dig, nourish, and graft before the trees “brought forth much fruit” (verses 20, 22, 23). Similarly, we might need to do some work on ourselves in order to be able to “bear much fruit”—and therapy might help.
So when should we consider seeking therapy? And what considerations should we keep in mind in selecting a therapist?
Therapy can be helpful in addressing challenges that cause considerable distress over an extended period of time or that significantly impact functioning in a negative way. These challenges can include but are not limited to the following:
Marital problems and other unresolved relationship difficulties
Addictions or compulsive behaviors
Mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, psychotic disorders, and so on
Concerns regarding one’s sexual orientation or gender identity
Difficulty overcoming grief and loss
Past trauma that continues to negatively impact functioning
Some might assume that therapy primarily involves talking about your feelings to a sympathetic listener. While expressing feelings can be an important part of the process, effective therapy also involves learning new skills and coming up with new, healthy perspectives. For example, you might learn how to change self-defeating thoughts and behaviors. You might learn how to view a challenging situation in a different way. You might be supported in making changes that enable you to more closely align your life with your values.
Therapy is hard work that can involve challenging your assumptions, relating to others in more meaningful ways, and doing homework between sessions to apply what you learn. The greatest benefits occur when you are willing to invest time and effort into the process.
Elder Holland spoke of being a wise consumer when looking for mental health assistance: “Seek the advice of reputable people with certified training, professional skills, and good values. Be honest with them about your history and your struggles. Prayerfully and responsibly consider the counsel they give. … Our Father in Heaven expects us to use all of the marvelous gifts He has provided in this glorious dispensation.”2
Some information about therapists might be available online, or you might choose to contact a therapist directly before setting up an appointment. In addition to gathering logistical information, such as information regarding insurance, fees, and so on, asking a therapist the following questions might be helpful:
What kind of professional license do you have?
What is your experience in working with this challenge?
What is your general approach to this problem?
Will I be asked to work on this issue between sessions?
What is your understanding of my religious background?
What is your approach with people who have values similar to mine?
How will you support my role as a parent?
What will my involvement in my child’s therapy look like?
Can I participate in some sessions?
What information will be conveyed to me about the therapy process? how often?
If a therapist appears defensive or resistant to such questions, you may want to consider someone else. Keep in mind that you can change your therapist at any time if you feel uneasy about your sessions or if you feel you are not making progress. You might need to try several therapists before you find the right fit.
The relationship between the therapist and the client is the most important predictor of success. After therapy has started, you might want to ask yourself the following questions:
Do I feel safe in opening up to my therapist?
Is my therapist doing most of the talking, or am I able to express myself? Do I feel heard?
Are my values and boundaries respected?
Do I believe we are moving in the right direction?
Is my therapist open to feedback?
Are the goals for therapy clear to me and the therapist?
Do I know when it will be time to end therapy?
Sister Reyna I. Aburto, Second Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, has taught: “Like any part of the body, the brain is subject to illnesses, trauma, and chemical imbalances. When our minds are suffering, it is appropriate to seek help from God, from those around us, and from medical and mental health professionals.”3
While it may not be easy to ask for help, good therapy can help you learn, grow, and heal. It can benefit you and all within your circle as you work to bring your best self to your relationships. The growth you achieve can make a difference not just now but for generations to come.