We all go through difficult periods in life. But sometimes, some challenges can be hard to cope with on our own. Some individuals may believe that they must “suck it up” and deal with their problems alone, while others turn to therapy for help.
But how do you determine if you need to see a therapist?
Deciding whether or not to seek professional help can be difficult for some, and it’s often hard to be objective about your own mental health.
Fortunately, experts say there are some signs that could indicate that you would benefit from therapy. If you’re experiencing any of the following, it might be time to consult a therapist.
Registered Clinical Counsellor
There is a common misconception that therapy is only for those who have a severe mental illness. When in fact, we all experience stress and fluctuations in our mood from time to time.
It could be caused by unexpected financial hiccups, a professional setback, or our relationship going sour.
For the most part, we will bounce back. However, there might be times when we will benefit from some extra push. That is where counseling comes into the picture.
Counseling can be a safe space for you to process your experience and explore ways to approach life differently. Our thoughts and feelings will impact the way we show up in our work and personal life.
Remember the inflight passenger announcement to put an oxygen mask on ourselves first before helping others? That is what counseling is about.
Still wondering whether you will benefit from seeing a counselor? Here are nine sure tell-tale signs:
You lose interest in doing activities that you used to enjoy
We may outgrow certain hobbies, passions, or interests. However, when we suddenly lose interest and motivation to engage in activities that we used to find enjoyable, it can be an indication that there is something deeper happening.
When we cannot find any enjoyment in life, we may develop a feeling of apathy. It will further make us feel disconnected from ourselves and the world around us.
Your performance at work suffers
Have you been struggling at work lately? We cannot perform at 100% all the time. Though, if you experience a constant decline in your performance, it might be worth looking into.
Mental health struggles may cause a lapse in memory, impaired attention span, and motivation at work.
You experience a dramatic change in your sleep and appetite
Have you been getting enough sleep? Have there been any changes in your food intake lately? If you respond yes to both questions, it might be worth figuring out what is happening.
It is normal to experience some fluctuations in the average amount of sleep and food intake. However, if there has been a dramatic change, it might be a sign that you need to figure out what caused those changes.
Chronic stress has been shown to affect our sleep and eating. If we let this persist, it will impact our physical health at some point.
You experienced trauma
Trauma is any experience that is unpleasant and unexpected, which leaves us feeling helpless. When a traumatic event happens, our immediate reaction is to disconnect from ourselves and the world around us so that we can remain safe.
Even years after the trauma, the event still leaves scars that can impact the way we show up in the world. Therapy can be a safe space for you to unpack your past and reframe those events.
You have difficulties regulating your emotions
Emotional regulation is our ability to control our emotional state at any given moment. Imagine accidentally spilling coffee on your textbook. A baseline reaction would be feeling upset that your book is now soaking wet and a mild irritation that you now need to clean up your desk.
If you find yourself screaming at the top of your lungs and barking at someone, it might be a sign that you have trouble regulating your emotions.
In some cases, lingering difficulties in regulating your emotions may lead to anxiety or depression. In some cases, emotional dysregulation may look like pretending that everything is okay.
You display disproportionate reactions to certain situations
Have you ever experienced some strong emotions for no reason and found it difficult to understand what is happening? You may find yourself crying out of the blue. Those scenarios could happen when we are so full to the brim and have not got a chance to process our experience.
Emotions are a source of information for us. However, when we bottled things up for so long, the emotions still need to be expressed somehow. The only way for this fullness to be released is through those tears, uncontrollably.
When we disconnect our feelings from our thoughts, for the most part, our emotions become an enigma, and we may need help to decode what those emotions are trying to tell us.
Counseling can provide you with the space to process these confusing experiences. I always encourage clients to approach any issues with curiosity because there is enough judgment out there.
Your relationship is suffering
A therapist can help clients figure out why you showed up the way you did in those scenarios and explore ways you can show up differently in the future.
Your physical health takes a hit
Our mind and body are interconnected. It is a somewhat sad reality that mental health isn’t given the same priority as physical health. Take a look at our healthcare system that covers medical expenses, all the while completely excluding any mental health unless you have extended benefits.
When left untreated, prolonged stress and anxiety may cause a whole host of issues like headaches, vulnerability to getting sick/flu, eczema flaring up, etc.
I had heard of cases where a client was pronounced fine by their doctor after going through a series of medical tests and procedures. The medical world could not offer any remedy to the patient’s condition because the answer lies within themselves.
You live life okay yet sensing that there is more to life
This is exactly why I sought therapy in the first place ten years ago. Deep inside, I felt that there was more to life than the routine that I lived at the time. I experienced complex childhood trauma and needed someone to walk with me on the healing path.
The pain from my past planted seeds of insecurities and doubts that impacted the way I showed up in relationships. I felt stuck and even more isolated when I tried to process my unresolved trauma on my own.
At the time, I felt ready to do the work, and even though it took me three tries to find the right fit, initiating the process was the best decision I ever made.
Here are a few important things to consider before you commit to therapy:
- Remember that reaching out for help and committing to therapy is no easy task. That is why I feel inspired by my clients’ courage in beginning the process.
- Deciding to go to therapy today does not mean that you have to do it for life. Sometimes, we might need to have a safe space to process our life experiences for a period of time. When our situation gets better, we can take a break. I have clients who have popped in and out of therapy over the years, and that is totally okay.
- There is no one-size-fits-all approach to doing therapy. You get to decide how many sessions you need and how long you want to commit. I always discuss with clients how often they want to see me. In some cases, depending on what the client is working on, I may recommend a weekly meeting. Though eventually, I let the client decide.
If you think you want to make some changes in your life
You have a lot of responsibilities pulling you in different directions. Sometimes it can be exhausting and unfulfilling.
Eventually, you may begin to think that this is just how life is going to be. You will always be tired, behind, upset with your family, and eating too much ice cream or drinking too much coffee.
Maybe you just don’t feel a strong sense of purpose in your life, or you can’t figure out why you make the same mistakes over and over again. No matter which situation you most identify with, a therapist may be a good next step.
Below are a few different tips that can help you decide if therapy is right for you right now.
Reasons to seek therapy
Here are some specific reasons to seek therapy (but of course, there are more):
- You have a mental health diagnosis and don’t want to take medication.
- You are taking mental health medication and want to combine it with therapy for maximum benefit.
- You don’t know if you have a mental health problem, but you feel like you need to find out because things just don’t feel “normal” for you.
- You’ve tried self-help books and taken online courses but haven’t been happy with the results or want to go deeper.
- You don’t feel good about some aspect of your life and feel that looking inward may provide some answers.
- You feel good about yourself and your mental wellness but want to gain insight to maximize your potential.
If you have already been diagnosed with a mental health problem, or you take mental health medications, but they don’t seem to be providing enough benefit, then therapy can be a good option.
And in many cases, it’s a great resource for helping people improve their mental wellness by building skills and insight into specific areas where they struggle, like managing panic attacks or dealing with past trauma.
But I’d also like to make a strong case for working with a therapist even if you don’t have mental health issues. There are lots of benefits to be gained from therapy if you’re willing to put in the work.
You should see a therapist if you want these benefits
If you think you want to make some changes in your life or that something from your past is holding you back, you should seriously consider seeing a therapist.
You need a safe place to feel vulnerable
This is the category that is most classically associated with therapy, the “I have to talk about my feelings, I might cry, I’ll feel crazy” stereotyped therapy experience.
But there is a ton of value in having a safe space where you can experience all the things, say what needs to be said, fall apart, and then be built back up again. Working through difficult memories or emotions can feel impossible without the non-judgmental space that a therapist can offer.
You get to feel what you need to feel without being told what it should look like or being offered a bunch of ways to “fix” it. Sometimes you just need to let it all out so you can leave it behind or work through it and move forward.
You want to learn more about yourself
Another huge benefit of working with a therapist is the guidance you get when you investigate the past to explain your current situation.
Therapy can help you gain insight into decisions you keep repeating. By learning more about why you have certain patterns of behavior or emotional responses, you can learn and practice skills for positive changes.
This helps you to understand more about why you do what you do and how you came to this point. Then you can decide how you want to make changes to feel more aligned with who you really are and want to become.
You’re planning to optimize your life
Although your therapist can’t do the hard work for you, they can often provide guidance and teach skills that will help you to take more control over how you want to feel in the world.
With the information about your past and patterns, you can choose to make new decisions and create stronger, healthier patterns. You can build a clearer sense of purpose and gain some control over where you want to take your life.
And as you make these sometimes-difficult changes, your therapist can be right there waiting, like training wheels when you learn to ride a bike.
You’re ready to take steps to feel better
The overarching goal of therapy is to help you feel better and move closer to who you want to become.
The therapist will start where you are, here in the present, but there will be a lot of looking into your past to work through those old issues as well. And when you put in the work with your therapist’s guidance, you will be able to experience the benefits and understand why things are getting better.
You deserve to feel well, strong, and capable and to live with intention. There’s no better time to start engaging in therapy than now.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Trauma-Informed Therapist
I think there are several reasons one should enter therapy, and none of them have to do with being broken, needing to be fixed, or having someone tell you what’s wrong with you. Sadly, I think that is still part of the stigma to therapy.
In fact, I believe that all therapists should also have therapy. There’s a myth that therapists are supposed to be like paragons.
I prefer to remind my clients that I have struggled with hard things, too—that’s what makes me empathic and understanding. At the end of the day, we are all humans having a human experience.
But therapists, muggles, and squibs alike (Harry Potter anyone?) get faced with challenges, and sometimes we need a trustworthy companion for part of the journey.
So come explore therapy if:
You are facing a transition that feels difficult or challenging
Maybe you are going off to college or graduating from college and fearful of what’s next, or maybe you are getting divorced, retiring, or facing an empty nest.
These are good times to get some support and understanding and allow someone objective and non-judgmental to bear witness to the hurt, fear, and stress you may be experiencing.
You want to explore why you do certain things
Maybe you are drinking too much or watching porn or binge eating, and you feel like it’s becoming a problem for you.
Along with many other what we call ‘maladaptive behaviors,’ sometimes someone we love points out that these behaviors don’t exactly work for you or for them.
Perhaps you would like to change the behavior for yourself? A therapist can help you answer questions about your behaviors and patterns you may not have considered.
You may not always want the people close to you to know about your behaviors
You may feel some shame or guilt about your actions. A therapist can help you get to the root cause of the behaviors, help you find other, more adaptive coping skills, and help heal your shame.
Related: How to Deal with Guilt
Remember, shame is healed when we bring it into the light. Having a therapist you trust—someone you know won’t judge you—can be a huge step in lifting the burden of shame.
You recognize that the ways you think, feel, or behave are impacting your quality of life
Maybe you are always late for work because you must check that the stove is off ten times every morning. Or you can barely get out of bed, maintain proper hygiene, or stop crying.
Maybe you worry about everything and fear danger at every turn, and so you avoid people and places and have cut all the enjoyment from your life.
If these types of things are impacting your quality of life, therapy can help.
Some people fear their therapist will put them on medication. That’s not something a therapist can do. Research does indicate a combination of medication and therapy works best for issues like the ones above, but that is something you get to decide.
For therapy to be reimbursed by insurance, you must receive a diagnosis
A diagnosis can be helpful to a degree for understanding ourselves and for guiding treatment, but it is not a label that needs to define you. The goal of therapy is to help you find ways to cope better, improve relationships, suffer less, and achieve some of your goals or wishes.
You experienced a traumatic event in your life
If you have had a lot of trauma in your past, if you are a first responder, if you have experienced things that you can’t get out of your head, give you repeated nightmares, or if you get triggered in places and ways that don’t feel appropriate to the situation, therapy is right for you.
It’s ok to know something makes you feel like you need help but not be quite sure what it is. Therapy can help you figure it out.
There are different therapy modalities (which is a fancy way of saying what we are trained to do to help you). But basically, the goals are all the same: to heal. Therapists all have different styles and, of course, personalities. It can be hard to find one you really like, but it’s worth the time. This is an important relationship.
Having a therapist you really like will make it easier to be open and trust. Some people prefer women, and others prefer men. Sometimes it’s good to try both and see how you feel.
Therapy can be hard at times. A good therapist will try to challenge your growth a little. You may get mad at your therapist at times. That’s ok. It’s important to work as a team.
Therapy can be a great place to practice communication skills, set limits, and meet your own needs.
There are so many reasons therapy can be good for you and so many reasons to seek therapy.
"I prefer to think of my patients and myself as fellow travelers, a term that abolishes distinctions between 'them' (the afflicted) and 'us' (the healers). … We are all in this together, and there is no therapist and no person immune to the inherent tragedies of existence." — Irvin Yalom, from "The Gift of Therapy"
Emily Griffin, MA, LCPC, RPT
Mental Health Therapist, Clarity Through Counseling
When you feel tired and lack motivation
A lot of people end up in therapy when they are feeling tired often, lack motivation, feel irritable/frustrated, or are not engaging in activities they previously found fun.
These can be symptoms of burnout, and if they become intense, they can even be a telltale sign of depression.
Related: How to Recover From Burnout
Burnout can come from jobs that ask too much of us, family responsibilities that feel overwhelming and never-ending, or when we take on too much so, we are constantly running on empty.
Some people also report feeling less empathy for themselves or others when they are burnt out.
Therapy can help you identify sources of stress in your life and how to set boundaries in order to take care of yourself. If you do not make changes, you run the risk of repeating burnout cycles forever or even causing depression.
Difficulty following through
Some people have a hard time keeping promises or completing tasks and assignments. Sometimes this can be due to procrastination, challenges with time management, or even from fear of starting or completing something.
No matter the reason, it most likely affects your performance in school, work, or in relationships. It can also affect how you view yourself. When we are not sure if we can trust ourselves to follow through, it can decrease our self-worth.
Therapy can help with time management skills, identifying what is causing procrastination, and helping you work on increasing your self-worth.
You take on too much
If you are the person, everyone can rely on, and you take on many projects because you get them done well, or if you are afraid to say “no” when people ask for help, you most likely take on too much.
Most people who take on too much are experiencing some type of anxiety and have difficulty setting boundaries. This may also indicate people-pleasing tendencies.
People who fall into this category get their self-worth from completing tasks and doing for others.
The issue here is that your self-worth is wrapped up in extrinsic rewards. Therapy can help you set boundaries, take on less, learn to enjoy intrinsic activities, and stop having to prove yourself to others.
Difficulty making friends
If your caretakers did not model healthy social skills growing up or did not emphasize the importance of friendships, if you are neurodivergent, or if you are afraid to be vulnerable with people, then making friends can be very difficult.
Social interaction is needed and necessary for fulfillment, so if there are deficits with these skills, this can impact how fulfilled you feel in your life.
It is important for us to have well-rounded lives, which include work, hobbies, self-care, and relationships.
In therapy, you can learn the root of what has caused you to have difficulty with making friends, improve your social skills, identify whether you are doing things that can be off-putting to others, and how to be your genuine self.
Related: The Importance of Being Yourself
Some people feel unhappy with how their lives have played out.
You may not enjoy your career, have distanced relationships with friends or family, or you may not have anything to look forward to. This shows us that there need to be improvements in how you use your time and make meaning out of life.
Depression can also cause people to feel unfulfilled.
Therapists can help you explore aspects of your life that are unsatisfactory, help you identify new coping skills and self-care activities to try, and how to set boundaries with yourself and others.
When you start to self-criticize
If you find yourself having negative self-talk, telling yourself you are a “failure,” beating yourself up for mistakes, or criticizing and second-guessing things that you often do, then it is most likely affecting your self-worth.
How we talk to ourselves shows not only our inner thoughts but how we feel about ourselves and our perspective on the world.
In therapy, you can work on learning how to identify when you are self-criticizing, learning to pause at the moment instead of letting the self-criticism continue, and then how to reframe negative self-talk.
Reframing entails taking different perspectives, having self-compassion, and diverting your attention to other actions and thoughts that are neutral or beneficial.
Dr. Ketan Parmar, MD
Psychiatrist and Mental Health Expert, ClinicSpots
If you struggle to cope with a major life change
Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is a type of counseling that helps people learn how better to manage their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It can be used to treat a wide variety of mental health conditions, such as:
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Eating Disorders
Therapy can help people learn how to cope with difficult life situations, build better relationships, and make positive changes in their lives.
If you’re experiencing mental health problems or if you’re struggling to cope with a major life change, such as a divorce or the death of a loved one, therapy can be an effective treatment option.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to therapy, and the type of treatment that’s right for you will depend on your unique needs and circumstances.
Some people benefit from weekly therapy sessions, while others only need a few sessions to see results.
If you’re not sure whether therapy is right for you, it’s important to talk to your doctor or a mental health professional about your options. Here are five signs that you may need to see a therapist:
You’re experiencing persistent and intense feelings of sadness, anxiety, or anger
If you’re struggling to cope with difficult emotions, therapy can help you learn how to manage them better. A therapist can teach you coping and problem-solving skills and can help you develop a positive outlook on life.
You’re having difficulty functioning in your daily life
If your mental health problems are interfering with your ability to work, take care of your family, or enjoy your hobbies, therapy can help you get back on track.
A therapist can teach you how to manage your symptoms better and help you regain a sense of control in your life.
You’re using alcohol or drugs to cope with your emotions
If you’re drinking alcohol or using drugs as a way to cope with your emotions, it’s important to get help.
A therapist can work with you to address the underlying causes of your substance abuse and help you develop healthier coping skills.
You’re having thoughts of harming yourself or others
If you’re having thoughts of harming yourself or others, it’s important to seek professional help immediately.
A therapist can provide you with support and can help you develop a safety plan to reduce the risk of self-harm or violence.
You’re feeling hopeless and like there’s no way to improve your situation
If you feel like there’s no hope for improvement, therapy can help you see that there is a reason for hope. A therapist can provide you with support and guidance as you work to improve your life.
Toni Teixeira, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Strong at the Core, LLC
If you want your mental health to improve
Get out of the bubble bath
First off, anytime, especially right now, is the best time to see a therapist. Who doesn’t need someone to pay complete and devoted attention to them in the world of buzzing phones and multiple distractions?
You see TikTokers encouraging you to do “self-care” to improve your mental health. But the fact of the matter is that therapy is the ultimate self-care, so get out of the bubble bath and take a look on the inside with a therapist.
Get on the “couch”
The stigma of mental health has kept some people away from seeking therapy.
However, to have someone listen to you and give you their undivided attention so that you can sort through your thoughts and feelings is not a luxury but the highest form of self-care and can lead to improved mental health.
We live in a world where we constantly are exposed to the exploits of others and for some that constant comparison can set them up for bashing themselves and can lead to a downward spiral. And in our busy world, where it is easier to look up advice on what to do, we know that knowing what to do and learning how to do it are very different things.
A mental health professional can help you unlock your own wisdom and help you build trust in yourself to experiment with different ways you can make a change.
Therapy is a unique process that is tailored to your needs. Well-meaning friends often share advice and want to fix problems quickly.
They often don’t spend time to allow you to talk so you can sort through your own emotions and hear yourself. Therapy helps you take that deep dive safely and learn new skills.
Get back on your feet
If you are struggling and wondering, should I see a therapist? Does this problem warrant going to see a professional? Chances are, if you are asking that question, I would say, “yup.”
But here is the marker for professionals, and it is even an important part of planning goals with a client. Do you feel like you need to get “back” to yourself somehow?
Therapists will ask about your level of functioning before you were struggling. If you feel like you’re not acting and thinking like you usually do, then it is probably a good indicator that it is time to speak to a therapist.
Also, if you have had difficulty before and were able to figure it out, but this time it seems harder, then that is a good indicator to find a therapist who can help you navigate your issues.
If your main goal is to get back to where you were before, you can benefit from working with a therapist.
I would definitely encourage you to make some calls and find a therapist who is a good fit for you, so you get back on your feet and feel like yourself again.
Jackie Tassiello, ATR-BC, LCAT, LPAT, ATCS
Licensed and Board-Certified Art Therapist | Founder, Art Therapy Source
When you’re feeling overwhelmed
Feeling as though you have less emotional bandwidth can be a sign it’s time to get some support. Conditions like burnout and chronic stress are serious and can be life-threatening.
For anyone who is a caretaker, helper, empath, or healthcare professional, having a place to bring our emotions and experiences can help us stay balanced both psychologically and emotionally.
Therapy can help us release our stress and process what we are holding inside.
You experienced trauma
Trauma of any kind — from big “T” trauma, such as violent crimes and war to little “t” trauma, such as the loss of a pet or bullying — is significant.
Our response can be shaped by everything from our stress level, personal history, support system, and resources, to name a few. What impacts one person and not the other will vary for this reason.
Therapy — especially somatic, embodied forms of therapy — can help with healing from any kind of trauma.
You’re at a crossroads
Whether it’s in your career, relationships, academics, or life stage, transitions are a time that requires us to adjust and grow — which can be uncomfortable and sometimes involve grief.
Even positive change creates disruption and stress.
Therapy can help with navigating the transitions we go through at different times of life, whether planned or not.
Whether it’s fear of abandonment, distrust, repeating hurtful or unhelpful patterns that we can’t seem to get out of, or struggling with boundaries, conflict, or communication, our relationships mirror our attachment style and, often, reflect areas of growth for us.
Exploring relational dynamics in therapy can yield great insight and awareness over time.
Something is significantly impacting your daily life
Whether it’s an increasing frequency and duration of panic attacks, your child’s anxiety the night before school, or your relationship with work, food, or substances, feeling that something is increasingly out of your control can be truly overwhelming and anxiety-producing. Speaking to a therapist can help.
You need support
Having a truly unbiased, nonjudgmental, warm, and attuned person to witness and reflect back to you is healing.
Many therapists consider the therapeutic relationship to be the foundation for all healing in the therapy space for this reason.
The consistency, commitment, and level of emotional and psychic energy that therapy asks of us and provides for us allow us to develop safety and trust to grow in self-awareness and insight, which impacts our life outside of the therapy room.
Heather Wilson, LCSW, LCADC, CCTP
Executive Director, Epiphany Wellness
Talking to a therapist can be incredibly helpful in managing difficult life transitions, relationship issues, and mental health conditions. Therapists can provide support, guidance, and practical tools to help you manage your symptoms and improve your overall well-being.
If you’re experiencing any of these, you might need therapy:
You’re struggling to cope with a major life event
Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a divorce, or another significant change, it can be tough to deal with big life changes.
If you’re finding it hard to adjust and keep going day-to-day, therapy can help you work through your emotions and start moving forward.
You’re experiencing mental health problems
If you’re feeling persistently sad, unmotivated, or empty, it could be a sign of depression. These feelings can make it hard to concentrate, sleep, or eat. You could also be experiencing other symptoms like anxiety or high levels of stress, which could mean a different diagnosis.
Whatever the case, if you’re noticing changes in your mood, energy levels, or behavior that are affecting your life, it’s worth talking to a therapist.
You’re having difficulty in your relationships
Do you find yourself constantly arguing with your partner or feeling disconnected from those around you? Emotionally focused therapy can be great for couples who are struggling in their relationship.
If your relationships are causing you distress, therapy can help you improve communication and build stronger bonds.
You’re turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms
If you’re using alcohol, drugs, or other substances to cope with your emotions, it’s a sign that something is off with the balance in your life. Therapy can provide you with alternative, healthy ways to deal with stress and difficult emotions.
You’re struggling with a chronic health condition
If you have chronic illness or pain, such as cancer, diabetes, or heart disease, you might find yourself feeling overwhelmed by your diagnosis and treatment.
Therapy can help you cope with your diagnosis, manage your symptoms, and make lifestyle changes to improve your health.
You simply want to take care of your mental health
Everyone can benefit from therapy. You don’t need to have a mental health diagnosis to see a therapist.
If you’re interested in exploring your thoughts and emotions, growing as a person, and improving your well-being, therapy can be a great option for you.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
When dysfunction has or is becoming the norm
No human being is without flaws. Life challenges us all. We are all imperfect by design, and life is what it is.
For the most part, people learn to adapt to things and live their lives in a manner that makes sense to them, given their environment and their psychological state. This does not necessarily mean that people are happy and successful. It simply means that they have learned how to survive.
Not everyone who needs therapy will access it. For some, this will be due to a general resistance or avoidance of addressing the conflicts that are making them unhappy.
While therapy can be helpful, it can also be a difficult process to undertake and one that requires extensive self-reflection and action to make worthwhile changes.
Many people are unfortunately unwilling to engage in the necessary self-growth work to improve the quality of their lives. They want others to change so that their lives will be better.
In other words, they want other people to do their work, but they are unwilling to do their own.
Still, other people won’t access therapy because they are so far removed from themselves or reality that they have little awareness that something is wrong. These are the individuals that need the most help but are too unstable or detached from reality to be able to engage in traditional therapy.
In general, everyone can benefit from engaging in therapy at some point in their lives. But the key to knowing when it’s time to seek out services is when dysfunction has or is becoming the norm.
When one’s mental health challenges are interfering with one’s ability to function effectively at work, home, and/or interpersonally, then it is time to seek out structured therapeutic support services.
Some individuals are lucky enough to be able to compartmentalize their emotional and psychological struggles and can therefore continue to function in their day-to-day lives.
For these individuals, the key to knowing that it’s time to seek therapeutic help is when they feel an internal void, a sense that something is missing or not quite right.
These are the individuals that appear to have things going in their favor but are nevertheless unhappy. These individuals are usually facing an existential crisis and are seeking a deeper understanding and meaning of life.
Ultimately, most of us are searching for a deeper connection to ourselves and desire to live our lives in a manner that feels authentic to who we are at our core.
This desire and goal are perhaps the main reason so many people choose to engage in therapy.
Omar Ruiz, LMFT
Licensed Couples Therapist | Founder, Online Private Practice, LLC
If you experience relationship issues, affairs, divorce, and parenting
If you are having ongoing communication problems with your partner, it might be time to consider getting help from a therapist that specializes in relationships.
This type of therapist can provide you with some guidance, strategies, and techniques that will help improve the effectiveness of your communication as a couple.
If you just caught your partner cheating on you, whether you found a social media message, saw some pictures/videos, or heard from others that they saw your partner with another person, then it’s time to see a couples therapist.
Couples have a higher probability of working through infidelity if they are to seek out treatment.
If you are married and are contemplating whether it’s best to legally separate, then before contacting a divorce mediator or attorney, it’s best to talk through this decision with a marriage counselor.
Try not to contact the therapist when it’s the last resort, as marriage counseling should be sought out as a preventative measure rather than a reactive one.
If you are struggling to co-parent with your spouse or ex, it is best to seek help from a family therapist.
Sometimes parents do not see eye to eye, and their reactions to their children’s behaviors may differ, causing issues among the parents.
If both you and your co-parent are struggling to implement similar parenting strategies, it’s best to seek out help so that you both can be on the same page about the well-being of your child.
If you are looking to better manage stress
This is a question that many of us have asked ourselves from time to time, especially when dealing with a big transition, a complicated relationship, or maybe even just a stressful time of year (like the holidays!).
Unfortunately, it may be a question that some of us look for reasons to dismiss a little too readily as well. After all, therapy is scary, right? Well, it doesn’t have to be, and many people find benefit in it.
Here are some ways to tell:
- You feel so overwhelmed that it’s difficult to focus and be productive.
- You feel lonely and isolated like you don’t have anyone you can talk to about what you’re dealing with in life.
- You’re recognizing that certain self-sabotaging behaviors are getting in the way of being the person you want to be.
- You have unprocessed trauma or grief from your past that is impacting your ability to connect with people in the present.
- You feel paralyzed or scared to make a major decision or change in your life.
While things like depression, anxiety, or a mental health “emergency” are certainly very valid reasons to seek therapy, it doesn’t always have to be that serious.
Therapy can benefit you if you are looking to better manage stress, commit more fully to your relationships or just get to know yourself better.
A quick internet search in your area can help you get a better sense of what your options are and can often lead to a sigh of relief that you’re no longer dealing with life alone.
Combat Trauma Therapist
To prevent future issues like outbursts, anxiety attacks, or failed relationships
For men, it’s simple. They’re at risk of losing something. It may be a job, relationship, or legal issue, but most of the time, the men who walk through my door are already in deep.
The issue with waiting is that by the time they arrive, we’re working harder to dig them out of the hole than doing preventative work. Once things are stable, we can then proceed to prevent future issues like outbursts, anxiety attacks, or failed relationships.
So, how do you know when you need to see a clinician? Look at the following list of self-assessment questions:
- “I’m unable to control my emotional reactions.” (Crying spells, anger, or anything in between).
- “Others in my life cause stress that is beyond my/their control.” (Sickness or ill parent, Alzheimer’s, etc.)
- “I have suffered to the point of self-isolation. It makes me uncomfortable to go places.”
- “I don’t sleep even with medication.”
- You have chronic nervousness or anxiety, a constant feeling of being on edge.
- You have nightmares of past events.
- Your marriage is suffering because of your own negative beliefs (i.e., they will leave me).
- Medication alone has only helped slightly (meds and therapy are always more effective together).
Therapy is not a lifelong commitment, and you may have to shop around a bit to find one that’s a good personality fit.
I’ve had men who saw up to 9 therapists before me…or they tried for 14 years and were still searching. It takes time, but rapport is what matters.
Once you can trust a provider, the two of you can take on any stressor; addressing the problems before they worsen is key, and therapy can help you accomplish your goals, then move on with life.
Go back for as-needed appointments or if something comes up.
Beck Institute CBT Certified Clinician
There doesn’t have to be a reason to seek a therapist
I believe everyone deserves the opportunity to go to therapy, and there doesn’t necessarily have to be a ‘reason’ to go. Most, if not all, people can benefit from talking through their thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a non-judgmental, empathic space.
Some people are looking for more detailed reasons to know if they need therapy, which as a therapist, I can understand too.
Therapy is a treatment for mental health conditions/disorders; for some, it can make all the difference in their quality of life or even save their life.
There are a few questions I would encourage someone to answer to tell if they might need to be a therapist.
- Have you tried medication for your mental health symptoms but not seeing the results you hoped for?
- Do you feel like you can’t share how you feel with those close to you?
- Do you feel like when you share with loved ones, it’s not helpful?
- Are there life events that you would consider troubling/traumatic that you feel you can’t move past?
- Are you finding it hard to cope with everyday life/responsibilities?
- Do you feel like you might hurt yourself (suicidal)?
- Do you feel like your mental health symptoms are impacting your day-to-day life?
And last, are you asking yourself if therapy might be beneficial? Because if you are asking that question, it’s a good indicator that therapy could benefit you.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of questions someone might ask, but these are the types of questions that if someone says yes to one or more of, I will encourage that person to reach out for therapy.
Everyone deserves access to mental health treatment, and sometimes reaching out is the hardest step.
Dr. Elyssa Helfer, M.A, LMFT, CST
Certified Sexologist, Elevated Healing Center
When you notice a negative pattern in your life
One of the telltale signs indicating that it may be time to seek therapy is when someone notices a negative pattern in their life. Perhaps they continue to date the same type of person, resulting in the same painful break-up.
Maybe they find themselves having the same arguments with family members or friends, and while they eventually stop, they do not actually come to a resolution.
When negative interactions happen repeatedly and continue to cause distress, it is time to break the pattern, and therapy can be one of the tools to assist with that.
It can be difficult to see how or why we get stuck in negative patterns in our lives, and therapy can serve as a vessel to uncover those blind spots.
While good therapy can benefit most individuals, it can be particularly helpful for those who feel lost, stuck, or ready to change but are unsure how to take those steps.
Therapy may not sound particularly appealing to everyone, especially given the false stereotype that therapy is only for people who are “sick”; however, it actually can be incredibly beneficial at any life stage.
What I often tell people is that the moment they ask themselves whether or not they should seek therapy, the answer is “yes.”
Therapy does not have to be a lifelong commitment; in fact, there are many instances where just a few sessions are enough to provide the clarity needed to pursue and engage in change.
I cannot stress enough that recognizing and correcting negative patterns early can significantly impact our current and future mental health.
If someone feels as though they have exhausted their go-to strategies to resolve problems without results or to correct a negative pattern, it can be an excellent time to welcome therapy into their life.
Psychotherapist, Speaker, Wellness Coach, and Educator
Everyone can always benefit from seeing a therapist at any point in their life
We are human beings, which means that we are intricate and ever-changing, and our lives are always evolving.
When we have a therapist through all of the seasons of life, it means that we have support from someone who sees our world through only our eyes and perspective, something that a friend or family member can’t provide in the same way that a therapist can.
Everyone can always benefit from seeing a therapist at any point in their life.
Even when we believe that we are on the uptick and everything is feeling great, a therapist can help us figure out why things are feeling, what is working really well, and what is different now than when things don’t feel as stable.
Building insight around the times that we feel stable, able, and strong can build on that, more easily maintain it, and use it as a north star to return from more challenging times.
- If you feel like you’ve been headed on a strong path and things are feeling really good, go.
- If you have ever considered what it would be like to see a therapist or if it was right for you, go. Go and find out for yourself. Fulfill that curiosity.
- If you have things that you would like to work on, go. Now is always the right time to start seeing a therapist.
Things are never going to align exactly how you envisioned.
Find someone and reach out to start sessions. If they aren’t the right fit, that’s okay. You’ve just learned something about yourself and the type of help that you need and are searching for.
The path to understanding ourselves is limitless and always open during all phases of life.
Janine Piernas, M.A, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Piernas Marriage & Family Therapy Inc.
Therapy can be helpful in supporting you in getting to the root of the issue
- Are you at a juncture in life where you need to gain clarity about something, someone, or yourself?
- Are you overwhelmed with your life, your partner, or your choices?
- Are you using alcohol, recreational drugs, or prescription medication to manage or suppress your emotions?
- Do you recognize patterns of behavior in yourself that you may not be proud of, but you also do not understand where these behavioral patterns come from?
- Do these behaviors cause relational problems for you with friends, family, significant others, or co-workers?
If people in your life give you similar feedback about your attitude, behavior, or your personality, and you do not understand why, therapy can be helpful to support you in getting to the root of the issue.
Therapy can help you manage these symptoms and lead you to solutions like if you are going through a significant life transition or have been experiencing anxious/intrusive thoughts or depressive symptoms such as:
- Isolation from others
- Low mood
- Low motivation
- Loss of interest in previously preferred activities
- Thoughts of escaping your life
- Poor appetite
If you were able to answer “yes” to any of these questions, it might be time to seek therapy as a means of confronting these issues and getting some support to assist you in coping more effectively.
Brent Metcalf, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Tri-Star Counseling
You can see a therapist for any reason
When thinking about people that go to therapy, we often think something bad has happened. They’re either grieving a loss of a loved one, there has been some type of trauma, or maybe they are thinking about harming themselves in some way.
While those scenarios are good reasons to see a therapist, the reality is you can see a therapist for any reason.
Any time you are bothered by something, and it is having a negative impact on your life or functioning, a therapist can help. If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or work stress, a therapist can help.
Maybe you are a parent of a child with ADHD and really feel overwhelmed by their behaviors and feel you are failing as a parent.
Talking with a therapist can help you feel validated and hopeful, give you a safe place to let out all of the emotions you are holding on to, and maybe even give you some tips on how to handle those ADHD behaviors.
A therapist is here to offer you any type of support you may need. Maybe you’re not feeling super depressed but just feel like you are stuck in a rut, a therapist can help.
Myisha Jackson, LPC-S
Licensed Professional Counselor | Owner, Healing Journey Counseling Center
You can see a therapist if you notice any changes within yourself mentally or emotionally
It has been taught that we all need a primary care doctor, gynecologist (if you are a woman), eye doctor, or a dentist, but somehow a licensed mental health professional was left off of the list.
I think it is because many believe that there has to be a problem to go to see a therapist; although that has some truth in it but not solely the only reason you should see a therapist.
I recommend people to have a licensed therapist as part of their care team.
You can see a therapist if you notice any changes within yourself mentally or emotionally, such as:
- Being easily irritable toward your family and friends.
- Struggling with finding motivation.
- You’re just tired of venting to your family and friends.
It is okay and completely normal to want a professional opinion on certain things. You do not have to meet with your therapist on a weekly basis; it can be bi-weekly or once a month, depending on your needs.
A therapist can assist you with identifying your current stressors or blind spots and teach you how to manage your daily stressors. They can also simply be your listening ears.
Kasia Ciszewski, Ms.Ed., LPC
Mental Health Therapist, Charleston Counseling Services, LLC
There’s never a wrong time and reason to see a therapist
Many things can bring you to a therapist, such as:
- The loss of a family member
- Relationship issues
- An identity crisis
- The inability to manage your anxiety
- A desperate desire to feel heard and be seen
If you are feeling alone or helpless, talking to someone may help you feel more understood, and it can help you reconnect with your purpose.
If you struggle to express your feelings, it can help you become more comfortable in that space with others. It can help you understand other people’s experiences and behaviors better.
If you have been abused or neglected, it can help you learn about healthy boundaries. You can practice feeling safe, revealing parts of you that you may have never shared with anyone before.
If you struggle with self-confidence and self-worth, therapy can help you find comfort in yourself. It can help you work through insecure attachment styles and develop a world where you feel like you can trust your ability to make good decisions.
There’s never a wrong time to see a therapist. No matter where you are in your life, there’s always something we can improve on.
We’re always faced with challenges, and it’s valuable to have someone with a non-bias opinion with whom you can bounce back and forth ideas, thoughts, and feelings. This person has no personal agenda other than to help you learn more about yourself.
Dr. Arielle Smith, MSW, DSW, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker | Founder and Intervention Designer, Eunoia Wellness Boutique
When life gets overwhelming
When life is “Life-ing,” One way to know if you need to see a therapist is when life gets overwhelming.
You find yourself not feeling the same as you normally do, or if your thoughts, feelings, or behaviors begin to impair your daily functioning (Sleeping all day, indulging in recreational activities more, not caring about things you usually care about).
There is no shame in seeking help. A therapist can help you identify and clarify what may be going on in your life, help you identify possible triggers, and even explore solutions with you.
Sometimes having that un-bias person to process with can make an enormous difference in the way you feel.
There doesn’t need to be a big change in your life or behaviors to know if you need to seek a licensed professional. Feeling “off” or wanting to check in on your mental health is enough to schedule an appointment.
Most therapists are more than happy to also explore preventative measures with you, such as self-care and coping strategies, so that you may begin or continue to thrive as your best self! Therapy is a great way to reset.
Jordyn Mastrodomenico, LCADC, LAC, CTP
Clinical Director, ChoicePoint
If you are going through a life crisis
There is no right or wrong time to seek help because there is always a chance to be a better person. Everyone moves through life at their own pace and looks for therapy for different reasons.
Some people visit a therapist when they are going through a life crisis. Sometimes they are unclear about their sexual identity, which causes depression and anxiety.
Perhaps some are dealing with sexual dysfunctions. More common causes are feeling depressed, anxious, distant, helpless, and unable to control their anger.
Moreover, they simply want to understand themselves better and become the best versions of themselves they can be, so they actively start seeking therapy.
However, certain red flags indicate that therapy is necessary at a point in life.
- You notice that you are having suicidal thoughts.
- Self-harming has started.
- You feel like you are fixated on things that make you unable to move forward in life.
- Your friends and family can’t help you deal with your feelings.
- Your relationship or marriage is getting affected.
- Your loved ones have started noticing behavioral and mood changes in you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What happens during a therapy session?
The structure of therapy sessions can vary depending on the therapist and the type of therapy, but generally, a therapy session includes the following:
• Talking with your therapist about what has been happening in your life and how you’re feeling.
• Identifying patterns in your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that may be contributing to your problems.
• Setting goals you want to achieve in therapy and working with your therapist to develop strategies to reach those goals.
• Learning new coping skills and techniques for managing stress, anxiety, or other mental health problems.
• Receiving support, validation, and guidance from your therapist.
How do I find a therapist?
Finding the right therapist can be a process, but there are a few steps you can take to make it easier:
• Ask for recommendations from friends or family members who have had positive experiences with therapy.
• Check with your insurance provider to see which therapists are covered under your plan.
• Look for therapists online through directories like Psychology Today or GoodTherapy.
• Consider factors such as the therapist’s specialization, location, and availability when making your decision.
What type of therapist should I go to?
There are many different types of therapists, and which one is right for you depends on your needs and preferences. Here are some common types of therapists: psychologists, social workers, counselors, psychiatrists
How long does therapy last?
The length of therapy can vary depending on your needs and the type of therapy you’re receiving. Some people may only need a few sessions, while others may benefit from long-term therapy. Your therapist will work with you to determine the best course of treatment based on your individual needs and goals.
Will therapy really help me?
Therapy can be an effective way to improve your mental health and well-being, but it’s not a guarantee. You need to be open and honest with your therapist and actively participate in the process to get results.
However, many people find that therapy helps them feel more in control of their emotions, improve their relationships, and live more fulfilling lives.
What if I’m afraid to go to therapy?
It’s normal to be nervous or anxious about going to therapy, especially if it’s your first time. It may be helpful to talk to a friend or family member about your concerns or ask a therapist for a consultation to learn more about what therapy involves.
Remember that therapy is a safe and confidential space where you can discuss your problems and concerns without judgment.
Can I do therapy online?
Yes! Online therapy, also known as teletherapy, has become increasingly popular in recent years and can be a convenient option for those who cannot or don’t want to attend in-person therapy sessions.
Many therapists offer online therapy via video conferencing or phone, and this can be a great way to receive therapy from the comfort of your own home.
Can I bring up sensitive or difficult topics in therapy?
Absolutely. Your therapist is there to help you work through the issues that are important to you, and it’s important that you feel comfortable talking about anything that is bothering you.
Your therapist is trained to help you have difficult conversations and can provide support and guidance as you work through difficult issues.
Will my therapist tell anyone what I say in therapy?
No. Therapy is a confidential space, and ethical and legal guidelines bind your therapist to protect your privacy. There are a few exceptions to this rule, such as if your therapist believes you’re in danger of harming yourself or someone else, but generally, what you say in therapy stays in therapy.
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