There are few pieces of furniture as loyal as a couch. Part-time seating support, part-time napping support, they endure the clawing of cats, the gnawing of dogs, the marathon binge-watching sessions, and the rambunctious kid who trampolines all over them. Apple founder Steve Jobs famously spent a decade in search of the Goldilocks sofa, preferring to live without one until he had settled on just the right one to meet his needs.
I myself spent several years visiting furniture stores, sitting on floor samples, lying down on them, evaluating their durability, texture, and design. There’s a lot to consider. The winner was an eight-foot, squared-off leather model that I found at Jordan’s Furniture in New Haven. It has very little clearance underneath for pets and hiding children, with deep, commodious seating that is great for napping. Several thousand customers had plopped their kiesters on the display model in the entrance to the store, attesting to its durability. It’s all I could ask of a piece of furniture.
But sometimes our couches can be too accommodating. While I don’t love the squared armrests on mine, they prevent me from getting too comfortable by resisting my insistence that they could be pillows. They’re not, and that’s a good thing. I might never get up.
It’s been tempting to pull a Rip Van Winkle to escape the pandemic. We’d love to fall asleep on our couches and wake up without masks and the insufferable chatter about social distancing. It’s all so tedious and mundane. For most of us, our world has been restricted to our houses and our favorite form of seating, the couch.
Getting on a therapist’s couch
So why is it that getting someone off of one couch and onto another – a therapist’s couch – is so hard? During stressful times, the solace of familiar places and objects is a balm against uncertainty, and physics itself reminds us that objects at rest tend to stay at rest. But if you suspect that your couch routine is something more than COVID-coping and is veering into avoidance or apathy, how can you get moving toward a more productive routine?
Chances are, you’ve spent time on your couch surfing the web on your phone or laptop, so checking out this website shouldn’t take too much effort: Psychology Today. I spoke with two counselors who independently recommended it as a go-to source for information and resources about mental health issues. Let’s slow this down a bit, though.
You’ve been lying on your couch, looking for anything still interesting to watch on television. You notice that this is the same routine you follow just about every day. You’re not convinced there’s a problem, but maybe. You’re not about to reach out to an actual therapist, but you’re curious enough to read about it from the comfort of your living room.
Psychology Today has just the thing: dozens of self-assessments, many of which are free and designed to help you reflect upon your wellbeing in areas ranging from mental health to career choice. Best of all, there is no risk to browsing it. The self-assessments provide a series of questions that guide users to evaluate their behavior and ultimately explore treatment options if their answers are cause for concern.
So let’s say you decide to look for a therapist. Type your location into the search bar, and the site will return a list of local providers, along with descriptions of the kinds of therapies they provide or specialize in, which can quickly narrow the field to one that works with the kinds of issues you may be experiencing. Each therapist composes a brief biography about their practice that mentions their work with addiction, adolescents, relationships, and other kinds of issues. Some of them will also describe their approach, which is helpful for those who have some experience with therapy and may prefer a particular method. Perhaps just as importantly, when you click on a specific therapist, you can find information about their rates and the kinds of insurance they accept.
The word “psychology” is derived from Greek, meaning “study of the soul,” and for many of us, working with another human being is an essential element for reflecting upon ourselves. More and more, however, we turn to technology for solutions to our problems, and while psychology is not immune to that phenomenon, web-based solutions can serve patients and therapists instead of causing more of a hassle. Alongside a list of local providers, Psychology Today provides a list of teletherapists (a word that is still new enough to get clogged in my spell-checker), some of whom may be just a little too far to drive to, and some of whom are in an entirely different part of the country. How far is “too far” differs from person to person, though, and because the website sometimes limits searches by state boundaries, it is a good strategy to do some searches in one of our neighboring states to get a more comprehensive list.
Don’t wait for a crisis to make the call
You really can narrow your search with the descriptions and pictures (which can be pretty revealing, too), and many of the practitioners have revised their biographies to incorporate the scope of their work during the pandemic. But here’s the trick: demand for them is at an all-time high, so they might not be accepting patients. Sara Cousins, an LCSW with a practice in Lakeville, CT, advises people, “don’t wait for a crisis. Schedule an appointment before there’s a problem.”
Cousins also advises those who are “testing the water” for the first time to “try a meeting first. Sit in the back of the room for an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting to see what it’s like.” Many of those meetings have migrated online, so it may not even be necessary to leave your couch to join.
Frankly, I wondered why she had mentioned AA meetings at first, but then it occurred to me that just about everyone I know has increased their intake of alcohol to dull the acute boredom of the pandemic. National Institutes of Health data show increases in the volume of liquor sold this year in Connecticut and Massachusetts over the previous three-year period (New York data are not available), and a simple count of new dispensaries in Berkshire County tells you all you need to know about the amount of self-medication that is happening.
But the suggestion of starting with AA is more nuanced than just seeking help for alcohol addiction. The group context for meetings is anonymous but supportive. When I spoke with one long-time participant, the distinguishing characteristic of his diction was a reliance on the first-person plural. When I pointed this out to him, he pointed out that the word “we” begins eleven of the twelve steps of Narcotics Anonymous – a reminder that others are a part of the solution.
Group dynamics also offer a more gradual on-ramp to help. Attending a meeting these days is as passive and noncommittal as changing a television channel. Both AA and Narcotics Anonymous websites offer searchable databases of meetings, including virtual meetings, so in the words of the aforementioned participant, “get to a meeting, raise your hand, and we’ll do the rest.”