A timeline for therapy

Mar 03, 2023 08:41 PM IST

When should you seek professional help? Any time is a good time, but some milestones call for a helping hand

Sure, it makes sense to go to a counsellor when someone close has passed away. Grief is difficult. So are anxiety, depression, divorce, abuse, addiction and phobias. But therapy can help in smaller ways too.

Grief, anxiety, depression, divorce, abuse, addiction and phobias are difficult. But therapy can help in smaller ways too. (Shutterstock)
Grief, anxiety, depression, divorce, abuse, addiction and phobias are difficult. But therapy can help in smaller ways too. (Shutterstock)

Priyanka Varma, a clinical psychologist, counsellor and psychotherapist founded The Thought Co in 2014. The mental-health awareness organisation sees patients mostly aged 18 to 35. “Many have trouble adjusting to adult life,” she says. “There are new freedoms, money, the hustle and the sense that you can do anything. But there are also responsibilities. Some people have trouble setting boundaries.”

Poor mental health shows up in the form of too much or too little sleep, over exercising, struggling with intimacy and with moving ahead. Here are some key moments when working with a trained professional can smooth the journey onward.

When chasing a degree: “If you’ve given the same exam three or four times and you’re depressed and frustrated because it still hasn’t worked out, you might need help accepting that you need a new path to pursue,” Varma says. One of her patients attempted the same competitive exam for eight years because he believed it was his only chance for success. “A lot of people are sold a particular journey of life. Your path might lie elsewhere.”

If you’ve returned from a foreign university: Indian students accepted at colleges abroad “go with the sense that they already have an edge over the ones left behind,” Varma says. Trouble starts when they return and find that former classmates, or colleagues who don’t have elite degrees are also doing well or better in life. “Meanwhile, you’re paying off student loans, so it’s hard to accept.” Varma worked with one student for two years to help reorient their notions of privilege and talent.

After you’ve moved cities: “Those who can’t adjust tend to escape by consciously avoiding the new world,” Varma says. “They’ll work longer hours, stay home on weekends. Even reading too much, though it’s viewed so positively, might become a coping mechanism.” It typically takes three to six months to settle in. See a counsellor if you still feel out of place.

After a promotion: A few months in, if the job seems doable, but the new position still draws self-doubt, get help. “Imposter syndrome, or the feeling of ‘I can’t do this’, is common,” Varma says. Some people need help believing they are indeed up to the job. “If you find yourself working on autopilot for more than a few weeks, or struggling to complete routine, familiar tasks, or functioning but dragging along, you may have dysthymia, a milder, but long-lasting form of depression.”

Therapists can help separate the professional and personal self-worth. (Shutterstock)
Therapists can help separate the professional and personal self-worth. (Shutterstock)

After a major break-up: “Those who visit us feel an overwhelming sadness,” Varma says. “They’re questioning their sense of self, wondering why it didn’t work out. They find it hard to introspect and navigate their way forward.” In most cases, counsellors like Varma work on getting patients to objectively view the damaged relationship.

Before making a commitment: Whether popping the question, accepting the proposal or even deciding to spend years pursuing a degree, you need to submit 100% to your goal, says Varma. So sometimes you need an unbiased sounding board for your thoughts. Therapists also help patients see the value of a balanced life. “Someone who aces an exam or a work project but doesn’t know how to unwind might end up with an addiction.”

After getting laid off: It almost always comes as a surprise, and it can shatter one’s confidence. Varma recommends taking 10 days to process the news. Then introspection must begin. “Ask yourself what skills you have, which ones you need to work on, how your field and the workplace is changing, and whether you can find more relevance elsewhere” she says. “Of course, people tie self-worth to their jobs, it takes up so much of our lives!” Therapists can help people separate their professional and personal worth.

If dating is frustrating: Online dating can be stressful, given that too many men are trying to secure the attention of too few women. “Men end up thinking ‘Why not me?’ and it can damage their sense of self,” Varma says. But younger men fare better in therapy than older ones. “Patriarchy makes it hard for older men to accept their feelings or admit to a flaw. Younger men open up faster, are open to communicating with their partners, they even cry more easily.”

In most cases, counsellors work on getting patients to objectively view a damaged relationship. (Shutterstock)
In most cases, counsellors work on getting patients to objectively view a damaged relationship. (Shutterstock)

Need therapy? Check your wallet

Financial habits are a good indicator of mental health, Varma says. The ability to save, keep spending in check and invest without parental supervision is a sign of self-empowerment.

“Early-career workers struggle with this,” Varma says. “Debt, risky investment, a fear of spending, hesitating to buy insurance, these are all red flags pointing to an underlying issue.”

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From HT Brunch, March 4, 2023

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    Rachel Lopez is a a writer and editor with the Hindustan Times. She has worked with the Times Group, Time Out and Vogue and has a special interest in city history, culture, etymology and internet and society.

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