Sometimes perfectly healthy people go through tumultuous, difficult periods simply because of – well, life. The formal psychiatric term for this kind of problem is “Adjustment Disorder”, but what this really means is that some event or situation has thrown you temporarily off balance. Your aging parent may die: even though this is an expected event, you may find your grief is overwhelming. You or a loved one may be faced with a chronic illness; this is not a ‘neurosis,’ but it can be so upsetting that you find yourself depressed and irritable. A relationship has just ended; even though you may be glad it is over, you still ruminate over the past and feel painfully lonely. Even positive life changes can be stressful: you’re attending the college of your choice, but it’s a thousand miles from home and you feel a bit frightened; you are moving in with a partner you love, but suddenly find yourself fighting with each other over nothing. Any life transition or loss can precipitate symptoms that look like depression or anxiety, even in someone who is the paragon of mental health. When this happens, you will surely ‘get through’ the situation without counseling – but the support of psychotherapy can smooth your response and hasten your return to a normal, balanced state of mind.
If you come to therapy because of a reaction to a life transition or loss, treatment will usually be brief – sometimes only a few sessions – and you will rarely be referred for medication. Instead, counseling will focus on allowing you to vent your feelings and have them validated, and, when possible, find practical solutions to the life crisis that faces you. Often, we may suggest a support group, particularly if your problem is bereavement or facing chronic or terminal illness. At other times, we’ll recommend books, articles, or websites that can give you useful information – “bibliotherapy”.You may find that just having the support of another person gives you more strength to face a difficult situation. Sometimes therapy will reveal repetitive patterns that exacerbate your reaction to a stressful life event; for example, a relationship loss may feel overwhelming because it triggers feelings from past-ended relationships, or a geographic move may remind you of a painful childhood transition. Other times, you will find you have an exaggerated response to trouble because you blame yourself or feel you are being punished; you might be uncomfortable with success because you are afraid you don’t deserve it. Therapy can help you uncover these deeper dynamics so that you can genuinely change a problem into an opportunity for growth.