In my quest to find solutions to all my problems, I have needed and received a lot of help. Thanks to all the help, I was eventually able to create a healthy, balanced, and meaningful life for myself. A life I’m quite happy to be living. 😀
But I would have gotten to where I am today – in a position to actually help other people find solutions to their problems – a whole lot faster had I been a savvier help seeker.
So this article is all about what I wish I had known about getting help as a highly sensitive introvert who was so stressed out by “normal” life that my mental and physical health were in the gutter.
On the one hand, the information I’m about to share with you is so simple that I’m sure some people are out there rolling their eyes over the wasted effort.
On the other hand, NOT having the information I’m about to share with you has personally cost me not only several years of poor health and low quality of life overall, but also many thousands of dollars in money basically flushed down the toilet.
And that’s because back when I really needed help figuring my life out, I didn’t understand what kind of help I could reasonably expect from various kinds of helping professionals.
I dutifully followed the well-intentioned but way too vague advice to “get help” and “see someone”. But even after many visits, things didn’t get better. And after I’d repeated this with a few different someones, I grew increasingly hopeless and resigned to the reality that my life was just going to suck for all eternity.
But I’m happy to let you know that all turned out well in the end.
Here’s the big breakthrough that saved me.
What I Wish I Had Known About Getting Help
What I didn’t understand back in the day was that different kinds of helping professionals have been trained to use different sets of tools. The reason I stayed stuck for as long as I did was that I was seeing “someones” offering:
- Tools that were not the most effective fix for my situation OR
- Tools that only worked on a small sliver of my problems, leaving a mountain of other related issues unaddressed
And I didn’t know what else was out there, so I didn’t seek alternatives when those tools weren’t working.
Once I did gain this awareness though and opened myself up to the possibilities, my recovery skyrocketed. And things are constantly improving to this day. Whenever I hit a new snag, I now immediately know where I need to go in order to move forward.
So just in case you are still searching for the right possibilities for you, let me share with you where I go and when:
Medical doctors obviously aim to treat health problems. But different kinds of doctors go about this in different ways.
Allopathic medicine – also sometimes referred to as conventional or Western medicine – is what most of us experience when we “go to the doctor”. Allopathic doctors primarily treat symptoms and diseases with drugs and procedures. Those are their primary tools.
I turn to allopathic medicine if I have an acute medical issue that requires immediate alleviation of symptoms, such as a broken leg or a life-threatening allergic reaction. I can typically expect a prescription, a surgical procedure, and minimal, if any, lifestyle recommendations.
Functional Medicine Doctors
According to the Institute for Functional Medicine, “functional medicine determines how and why illness occurs and restores health by addressing the root causes of disease for each individual”.
Functional medicine is often practiced by professionals who have received training in both conventional medicine as well as alternative approaches. If you look for a functional medicine doctor, you’ll also see references to holistic medicine, integrative medicine, and naturopathic medicine. Click here for a good article comparing and contrasting the various medical paradigms in more depth.
I turn to functional medicine if I want to work on preventing future problems or if I have a chronic health issue and I’m interested in finding out if I can keep it at bay without taking medications for the rest of my life. To give you a concrete example, I used to struggle with stress-induced diabetes and hormonal imbalances. Allopathic doctors attempted to alleviate my symptoms with medications and told me I would have to keep taking them indefinitely. But the functional medicine approach was to address the cause of my symptoms by working on reducing my stress levels. Once the cause of my symptoms was correctly identified and addressed, my symptoms disappeared.
So from a functional medicine doctor, I can typically expect information about the potential root causes of my issues and recommendations for lifestyle changes that might help.
Therapists And Counselors
Therapists and counselors are similar to medical doctors in that they aim to diagnose and treat various dysfunctions and disorders. However, instead of using medications and procedures, their tools are non-medical in nature. What exactly these tools are depends on the type of therapist.
Psychoanalytic therapy is what most of us think of when someone mentions “seeing a therapist”. According to Psychology Today, this is “a form of in-depth talk therapy that aims to bring unconscious or deeply buried thoughts and feelings to the conscious mind so that repressed experiences and emotions, often from childhood, can be brought to the surface and examined.” The idea is to uncover how your childhood experiences are impacting your thinking and behavior in adulthood.
So I would turn to psychoanalytic therapy (and have) if I felt like my past experiences were potentially holding me back today. But for me personally, just analyzing my childhood was not enough and that’s why I’ve been excited to discover…
A Gazillion Other Kinds Of Therapy
Psychology Today’s Types of Therapy List includes more than 50 different kinds of specialties. That’s a whole lot of different potential tools that can be utilized to improve your well-being!
Personally, I have gotten the most benefit out of the tools associated with more present-day focused therapies:
- Acceptance And Commitment Therapy (for dealing with painful emotions)
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (for dealing with unproductive thought patterns)
- Humanistic Therapy (for low self esteem)
- Solution-Focused Therapy (for dealing with any crappy situation)
So nowadays, if I were to seek therapy, I would carefully assess what training the therapist has received and whether it seems like an appropriate approach to my problem. After a while, I would evaluate whether it was making a difference, and if not, try someone with a different approach.
Another thing I would want to know is whether the therapist I’m considering is knowledgeable about high sensitivity. Although awareness of high sensitivity is growing, many service providers are still not familiar with the concept. What you don’t want is someone who:
- paints your normal HSP-needs (or your introversion) as abnormal
- encourages you to engage in more stimulating activity than is healthy for an HSP and therefore exacerbates your problems
If you’d like to be certain that you are consulting someone who IS knowledgeable, click here for a list of HSP-knowledgeable therapists by location.
Teachers are people who have developed expertise in a particular topic area and they help you solve problems by sharing their expertise. Teachers obviously teach classes either live or online, but I also count many non-fiction book authors as teachers. They are teaching you what they know after all.
I have found that turning to teachers can be helpful in the following circumstances:
- When I feel like I need to understand my problem better in order to figure out how to go about solving it. For example, I’ve read a lot about stress in order to understand all the possible ways one might go about dealing with it.
- When there is a skill I want to learn and I just want someone to tell me what to do. For example, I’ve had people teach me breathing techniques that help with relaxation.
- When I’m not ready or don’t have the funds to hire a 1:1 professional. It’s often more economical to buy a book or enroll in a course.
Mentors are like teachers in that they share knowledge, but they do it based on personal experience.
I turn to mentors when I have a problem and I want to find out how other people in similar circumstances have gone about solving it. For example, how do other introvert parents find time to recharge? Or how do other highly sensitive people deal with overstimulation?
The International Coach Federation defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”
Coaching is different from many of the other helping professions listed here in that coaches don’t typically tell you what you should do. It’s much less of a top-down relationship. Instead, a client goes to a coach with a goal and then the coach and client partner together to move the client toward their desired outcome using whatever strategies the client deems would be most helpful.
I seek coaching whenever I really and truly want to make a change in my life, but I feel stuck, because:
- I’m unclear or can’t make up my mind about next steps
- I keep doubting myself
- I can’t seem to get focused or organized
- I keep procrastinating
- I need the encouragement and support of another person to move forward
The main difference between therapy and coaching is that therapy is about healing, while coaching is about making changes. Sometimes this distinction can get a little confusing though, so click here for more details on therapy vs coaching.
Many Helpers Wear Many Hats
In reality, many helping professionals wear more than one hat. For example, a functional medicine doctor might use the principles of coaching to help their clients make the recommended lifestyle changes. Or a therapist might employ multiple techniques depending on the needs of the client.
In my own work, I see myself mostly as a teacher and mentor when it comes to my articles and courses. But in my 1:1 work, I mostly serve as a coach with a little bit of teaching and mentoring thrown in there if the client requests it.
The key though – for you as the help-seeker – is to consider what exactly it is you are looking for. What kind of help would be most appropriate for your situation? And what kind of professional would be most likely to be able to give you that kind of help?