With a few notable exceptions- genetic schizophrenia, major personality disorders, and the like- I can narrow down the reason anyone comes to therapy to ONE reason:
The root of most of the psychological stress that people carry around is due to not facing the things they need to face. I understand. It's painful. You don't know how to handle it. Many people are unaware that they're doing this.
They're called defense mechanisms for a reason. Often, they aren't conscious. Denial, minimization, and all their cousins are built to help you cope in the short term. Your body is doing what it was beautifully designed to do to protect you. The problem comes in when it goes on too long. Stuffing your feelings leads to depression, anxiety, "sore spots," anger, and relationship problems.
What does this mean for therapy?
It means that it is as simple and as complicated as looking in the face of whatever is bothering you.
This is where a good therapist comes in. Our job is to do several things to assist you:
1) Give it an accurate name- we need to identify your particular ailment- depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress, etc. In order to treat appropriately, we need to accurately identify what is going on. Without an accurate description of what is going on, we can't treat appropriately.
2) Educate you on what this "name" means- a good therapist will not only tell you what your diagnosis is, but they will make sure that you understand exactly what this means for you. We discuss the particular symptoms you are having, how they are affecting you, and how we plan to resolve them.
3) Give you tools to deal with the current symptoms- sometimes, these issues don't resolve right away. A good therapist will give you tools to deal with the symptoms you are dealing with at the moment. Ideally, you can use these tools when your emotions get the best of you while you're cleaning out the cobwebs.
4) Assist you in identifying the source- once we "name" the dragon (so to speak), we have to figure out where it's coming from. We explore together and try to find the source of the issue. We take a flashlight, look in the closet, and help you realize that the skeletons really aren't that scary. They just cast big shadows!
From there, it's just a matter of resolving the problem. It's as easy, and as difficult, as that!
When you find a therapist you're comfortable with and trust, it often doesn't take long to see a resolution of symptoms.
It's okay to "interview" a few therapists until you find a good fit. Many of us will even do a free phone consultation- I will! Find someone that you can work with and trust to guide you in the process. You don't have to carry it around forever.