Article by Emily Keller, PhD, LPC, RPT
It is normal to feel a lack of hope from time to time. When feeling hopeless, it is important to actively seek and receive internal and external support. Internal support is what you do to connect with and nurture your true self. External support is what you do to connect with and nurture relationships.
Many people feel hopeless when they perceive an insurmountable space between where they are and where they want to be. This feeling of hopelessness can come through natural developmental stages and changes in life or through life’s surprises that suddenly immerse us into unfamiliar terrain. In both cases, reading about how others went through similar events can be both inspirational and transformational. Inspirational stories connect our personal narratives to the narratives of others. They strengthen us through connection: connection to our inner resources and connection to other people. When we are connected to our inner strengths and are fortified through uplifting relationships, we feel empowered to transform our lives.
Lack of hope, however, also may be a sign of more serious concerns, such as depression, complicated grief, and trauma. If you are searching for hope and are finding that self-care and self-help methods are not enough, it is time to reach out to a mental health professional. Even without an official diagnosis, mental health professionals can help you get in touch with your strengths so you can better navigate the space between where you are right now and where you want to be.
There are several mental health professionals to choose from, leaving many people wondering where to start. For a quick start, visit professional listing websites such as http://www.psychologytoday.com and http://www.marriagefriendlytherapists.com. Most professional listing services allow you to search by setting a number of parameters, such as theoretical orientation, specialty, office hours, and cost. This will help you filter the results to meet your needs.
In my experience, however, the most helpful parameter is not on a website. It is who you know. Like any other service, it is helpful to talk to friends and family first. Not everyone openly discusses therapeutic relationships. In many cases, you won’t know who has a therapist they would recommend (or not) until you ask. I encourage you to let your friends and family know. If you have a friend or family member in the field, while they can’t offer you services directly, they may be able to recommend someone to you.
Once you’ve gathered a few names, look up their profiles online. Read their bios and check out their pictures. Also, take a look at their office hours. It is important to find a practical match as well as a personal match. Then, when you’ve narrowed down the list, give them a call. You may want to have a list of questions to ask them in advance.
Research shows that the biggest predictor of therapeutic success is the quality of the therapeutic relationship (Asay and Lambert, 1999). While models and techniques only account for 15% of improvement, the client-therapist relationship accounts for 30% of improvement!
Therapeutic relationships are built with reliability and consistency over time. This doesn’t mean you need to find the “perfect” therapist to have a “perfect” relationship. There are no perfect therapists. Like many things in life, perfection is an ideal that stands in the way of moving forward. Find the good-enough therapist with whom you feel you can grow and evolve. Trust your thinking, feeling, and intuition to guide you.
On that note, there also isn’t a perfect time to take the next step. If you are thinking about getting professional help, make the decision to take the next step. The very act of making a decision will redirect your energy toward reaching your goal.
Emily Keller, PhD, LPC, RPT, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Registered Play Therapist at Southeast Institute for Group and Family Therapy in Chapel Hill, NC. She has been married for 17 years and has four sons.
Asay, T. P. & Lambert, M. J., “The Empirical Case for the Common Factors in Therapy: Quantitative Findings,” in The Heart and Soul of Change: What Works in Therapy, edited by M. Hubble, B. L. Duncan, and S. D. Miller (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1999), 351-357.