“Should I see a therapist?”: Signs That It May Be Time to Give Therapy a Try
Astrid Burke, MHC
We’re often surrounded my messaging, conscious or unconscious, that the best thing to do when the going gets tough is take care of it ourselves, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, be productive, and our mental health will follow suit. So what happens when that new meditation app, the yoga membership you signed up for, or talking it out with a friend just aren’t cutting it anymore?
Most people can, at least at some point in their lives, benefit from therapy. Sometimes, the catalysts for seeking therapy are clear, such as in the event of a trauma or significant loss. At other times, you may be feeling off but unsure of what might help. Here are six signs that it may be time to explore getting help from a mental health professional:
You’ve been having difficulty in your day-to-day life.
You may be feeling less enthusiastic about activities you used to enjoy, feel disconnected from people you love, have difficulty concentrating or being attentive, feel socially withdrawn, or feel overwhelmed. Changes in work or school performance, in relationships, or in managing day-to-day responsibilities are common among people struggling with emotional and mental health. Many times, it is the people around us – friends, coworkers, and family – who notice these changes in us first when they are harder to see in ourselves. Perhaps the people in your life have asked, “Are you seeing someone?” or “Do you have someone to talk to about this?” If you’re experiencing significant distress in your everyday life and either you or the people closest to you have noticed a shift, meeting with a therapist can help you gain some clarity.
You have unexplained headaches, stomach aches, nausea, fatigue, or difficulty sleeping.
The mind and body are intricately connected. If you’ve ever felt nausea before a big presentation at work or had difficulty sleeping the night before an important day, you already know how stress can impact the body. Research confirms that often times the physical symptoms we experience are connected to emotional distress. Stress can manifest in a variety of physical ways: chronic fatigue, lack of appetite, decreased sexual desire, frequent colds, headaches and stomach aches in particular. If you’ve spoken to your doctor and can’t decipher what’s causing your recent or chronic ailments, it may be a sign that it’s time to examine what’s going on beyond the physical.
You’ve tried other things and they haven’t helped.
Whether or not we develop them consciously, we all have go-to coping skills when we’re having a bad day, are going through a difficult time, or just aren’t feeling right. We continue turning to coping skills that seem to work the best for us. You might find, however, that they’ve become less effective or have stopped working entirely. If you’ve already tried coping on your own – exercising, referencing self-help books or apps, talking to friends or family, meditation – but it just isn’t helping right now, it may be time to seek support in a therapist.
You’ve been using substances to cope.
Another sign that it may be time to see a therapist is if your coping skills are doing more harm than good. While having a glass of wine with dinner is certainly not inherently wrong, it’s important to be mindful and recognize patterns that suggest you may be over-using substances to cope. Thinking about your relationships with substances right now, what do you notice? Has your use of substances become more frequent? Does it increase when you’re feeling sad or stressed? Do you feel unable to stop using substances despite the negative consequences they’re having on your relationships, responsibilities, or wellbeing? Are you able to feel good without them? Bear in mind, also, that substances may look different from alcohol, drugs, cigarettes; they may be sex or pornography, food, gambling, or constant social media use. If you’re concerned about your coping skills, therapy is a great, safe space to explore other options and find support
You’re going through a major life transition.
Life transitions, whether planned or unplanned, expected or unexpected, can leave us feeling vulnerable or thrown off balance. Even positive change – a promotion at work, a new addition to the family, going back to school, or dating someone new – can bring with them new fears and anxieties. Other life transitions may be a divorce or significant break up, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one. Life transitions often require a process of mourning, grieving, and eventual acceptance and incorporation into your new reality. A therapist can be there to provide additional support during difficult transitions as well as celebrate positive and meaningful change.
You’re human! And you deserve support and a space for personal growth.
There doesn’t always have to be a major event or catalyst to inspire you to pursue therapy. Simply being curious and wanting to deepen your relationship with yourself is a fantastic reason to explore therapy. You might find that things seem to be going relatively well right now and any unhealthy behaviors or symptoms you’re experiencing feel minor. This may actually be a great time to get a better understanding of your concerns before they spiral and become overwhelming at a more stressful time down the road. Meeting with a therapist can be a great way to gain a deeper understanding of yourself and foster personal growth.