Five Signs You May Need to See a Therapist
I remember when I told my baby boomer parents about my chosen profession when I got accepted into graduate school. My dad’s response: “You want to work with crazy people, huh?”
Well… not quite.
The idea that therapy is only for those who are mentally ill or “crazy” is pervasive, and sadly, that stigma still prevents many people from seeking out a therapist when they really need one. A 2004 poll by the American Psychological Association reported that 30% of Americans worried about others finding out if they saw a therapist, and 20% wouldn’t seek out a therapist due to the stigma associated with therapy (Russell, 2011). That’s an alarmingly sad statistic despite all of the work we have done to de-stigmatize mental health in the past decades. Although therapy is becoming more culturally acceptable (and even hip in some circles), many people are still uncomfortable with the idea of receiving mental health services.
Most people would go to the doctor for a physical problem that wouldn’t go away—so what’s so different about seeking professional help for a persistent mental or emotional situation? Perhaps you have found yourself stuck in some patterns and feel the need to get some outside help. Maybe the stigma is preventing you from reaching out to a professional. Or, maybe you’re just not sure that you are a good candidate for therapy. No matter the reason, I have compiled a list of the top five reasons I have found to use as indicators to inform someone if therapy might be a good option for them:
- You have experienced something you can’t stop thinking about. We all have experiences that can occupy our thoughts from time to time. But sometimes a certain experience can consume our thoughts, emotions, and even our behaviors. When something of this magnitude occurs, our brain does not know how to process it. Instead of processing the information normally, it will often replay the episode over and over. When the episode is replayed so often, the original negative emotions usually accompany it. This type of occurrence often needs professional assistance to help the memory or experience get processed as it should. Such unprocessed memories can result in dysfunctional relationship dynamics and increased stress, fear, and anxiety. Most people experience an event like this in their lifetime, and therapy can allow you to effectively process such events.
- You struggle to connect meaningfully with others. Relationships give our lives meaning. Some of our happiest and most unpleasant memories alike usually include a relationship of some type. When we are unable to connect with others in a meaningful way, it causes loneliness, fear, anger, and many other negative emotions. Perhaps you can’t quite figure out how other people seem to make friends so effortlessly, or you don’t have a complete understanding as to what caused so many of your former friendships or romantic relationships to fail. Overall, if you’re struggling to connect with others, it’s a good indicator that therapy might be helpful for you to explore your relational dynamics in greater detail.
- Your doctor can’t explain your physical symptoms or attribute them to a specific medical condition. Solid research has indicated that our minds and bodies are more interconnected than we once knew. In other words, when we are in psychological pain, it can take a toll on our body, and vice versa (Levine, 2010). Many people are mystified by their physical symptoms and cannot seem to get answers from their medical professionals. Often, a simple mental health assessment by a mental health professional can inform and give insight to a variety of issues, conditions, and physical ailments.
- You have tried many ways to get better by yourself but do not seem to be improving. Let’s face it, therapy costs money and can be uncomfortable; it’s sometimes unpleasant to admit we need the help of others. But here’s the reality: we all need help from others in our lives. One of my favorite authors and writers, Margaret Wheatley, emphasizes the need for humanity to turn toward one another instead of operating in competition with each other (Wheatley, 2009). We are relational beings by nature, and when we attempt to tackle problems in isolation, we often get stuck, frustrated and disillusioned. When we turn inwards, we are missing the beauty that relationships can bring to our lives by showing another perspective, another way of relating, or another way of being.
- Your friends are concerned about you. Often times the people we are closest to can be the best indicators of how we are really doing. I encourage many of my clients to occasionally survey their closest relationships in order to practice and grow their self-awareness skills. We can learn a lot by asking others the simple question: “How do you experience me?” It’s a bold question and likely surfaces a great deal of discomfort when we think about asking it. However, it’s an important question and can offer a vast amount of insight into our relationship dynamics. If your friends have voiced problems or struggles with you, then listen. If you’re unsure if you should see a therapist, then ask your friends and family members for their opinion. Get multiple perspectives so you can make the best decision for yourself.
Overall, therapy is usually never a bad idea. When you make the decision to see a therapist, you are taking a step toward better understanding yourself and improving the relationships with those around you. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it can serve as a good start as you navigate the discomfort that may surface when contemplating whether therapy will be a good choice for you. If you have further questions about how and why therapy works, please see my thoughts here or shoot me an email. I wish you lots of courage as you continue on your journey!
Levine, P. (2010). In an unspoken voice: How the body releases trauma and restores goodness. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Russell, M. (2011). Don’t ask, don’t tell: The stigma of going to therapy. The Albert Ellis Institute. Retrieved from http://rebtinstitute.org/blog/2011/08/17/dont-ask-dont-tell-the-stigma-of-going-to-therapy.
Wheatley, M. (2009). Turning to one another: Simple conversations to restore hope to the future. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.