By GWEN OREL
You know that phrase “it’s never too late?”
Sometimes it’s too late.
The best time to call a therapist is sooner rather than later. By the time you get to a grudging “let’s try marriage counseling,” it may be too late.
That’s the main thesis of “When to Call a Therapist,” by Montclair resident Robert C. Ciampi (pronounced “champy”).
If you’re wondering whether a therapist would help, it’s time to call.
Ciampi, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, has worked in the field of behavioral health for more than 20 years. He continues to see patients in his Montclair and Midland Park offices, and can be reached through his website. Ciampi has worked with couples for premarital and marital counseling, with individuals suffering from anger management problems or depression, with people struggling with addiction and with people dealing with many other issues.
One reality has struck him over and over again: that people often come in as a last resort, and have suffered too long on their own. Sometimes he’s been able to help anyway, other times not.
“Some people who have anxiety, I would ask them ‘How long have you had anxiety,’ and they would say ‘My whole life.’ Someone else may say when they lost their job — a year and a half ago. Why do people wait a long time when they’ve been suffering for years with issues?” he said.
Often, he observed, couples call in a therapist as a last resort before they call a divorce attorney. By that time, unhealthy ways of communicating and relating may be too difficult to change, and the trust may be broken.
“People tend to have a very high tolerance level,” Ciampi said. “People will stay together for finances, kids. Sometimes when the marriage is at that point, couples are not talking, and pass like ships in the night.” And yet some people endure without separating.
In contrast, if people come in when problems first establish themselves, they can often learn to overcome them.
“I have an analogy called ‘When to Get a Marital Tune-Up.’ We bring cars into the shop to get the oil changed, tires checked, every so often. Why shouldn’t it be the same with couples?” he asked.
Ideally, a couple could come in for just a few sessions as they struggle with a particular parenting issue or finance issue before it becomes compounded.
Not every couple needs regular tune-ups, but with a couple struggling with an issue, therapy could stop a bump in the road from becoming a chasm.
Unfortunately, people delay because often one person is willing to go to therapy, but the other isn’t, and couples’ counseling needs both people to be present, he said.
Stigma is another issue that stops people from seeking therapy sooner. “It’s still a problem,” Ciampi said. “But it’s headed in the right direction, especially with athletes and entertainers and musicians talking about their struggles with mental health.”
Ciampi gives advice on finding and evaluating a therapist, what to look for and expect. Each chapter in the book gives examples and lists of symptoms that could prompt a visit to a therapist, such as symptoms of panic attacks, depression or red flags in relationships such as abuse or neglect. The book also suggests some tactics for overcoming other issues, such as setting healthy boundaries.
“Someone may not know the extent of their depression, but read the chapter on depression and find they can relate to all the signs. Someone came back to me and told me that, and said it was great to see all the signs and symptoms that an adolescent might be in trouble. Other times, it may be normal growth. I try to differentiate between what’s normal and might be a psychiatric issue,” he said.
A book like his would have been useful for Ciampi when he was a young man, looking for a path after being a bouncer and a wine retail salesman. Then a married friend began having therapy and suggested Ciampi go too. “It turned my life around, and put me on a path,” he said.
People do come in for different reasons. With anger management, people may be sent by a spouse or even by the courts. They must recognize their triggers and learn to control their responses, rather than saying “You made me angry.”
But how do you know when you’re depressed, anxious or just need a vacation?
Ciampi laughed. “Probably a depressed person won’t go on vacation, they don’t have the energy,” he said. Some people may be afraid of flying, and medication can help.
“The real answer is, ‘It depends.’ Someone may be tired because they are burned out,” he said. “Therapy is a way of uncovering layers and layers that are there to see what’s really going on.”
Common Signs That a Marriage Is in Trouble
When a couple decides to get married, it is usually a happy time in their
lives. After spending some time getting to know one another, a proposal
for marriage is often the next step. Attractiveness, kindness, a strong
work ethic, being able to work through differences, and agreeing on having
a family of their own are just a few of the values people base their
decision to marry upon. A new marriage is filled with excitement and
with the hope that dreams will become reality. So what happens when a
marriage begins to fail? Below is a list of warning signs that a marriage
is in trouble and that action should be taken sooner than later.
* The couple begins to bicker often over the same topics
* The arguments escalate out of control or become screaming
* The fighting often occurs in front of the kids
* One or both spouses start to detach emotionally
* The couple no longer enjoys spending time together
* Problem aren’t discussed and are left unsettled
* Respect for one another begins to fade
* The level of intimacy is low, or there isn’t any at all
* One spouse may become suspicious of the other upon finding
* There is noticeable stress in the relationship that is making one
or both spouses anxious and/or depressed
* A spouse is in frequent contact with old boyfriends or girlfriends
on social media
* A couple may start arguing about where money is spent
* One spouse is happier when the other spouse is away from home
* There is the discovery that a spouse is making disparaging comments
about the other to family or friends
* A spouse begins to cheat on the other emotionally and/or
* Alcohol and/or substance abuse begins or escalates
This list, although extensive, is not comprehensive, and there are
numerous reasons a marriage will begin to unravel. The point here is
to not wait until the marriage is beyond repair. Getting into therapy
when problems first develop gives the marriage a better chance of survival
than waiting until all the trust, respect, and love have disappeared.