How to Know When It’s Time to See a Therapist
Medically reviewed by Carly Snyder, MD
on October 22, 2020, Print
You may have thought about seeing a therapist at one point or another. Perhaps you talked yourself out of it or convinced yourself that if you just wait a little while longer, the problem might go away.
Or maybe you’re still questioning if you should talk to someone but aren’t sure it’s a priority for you right now.
Knowing when to see a therapist can be a little challenging sometimes. After all, everyone has a bad day or goes through a rough patch every now and again, but how do you know when talking to someone might help?
The following list outlines some of the reasons you may benefit from speaking to a therapist. Of course these are not the only reasons to seek out a therapist, but this list can help you make your decision.
Managing Your Mental Health
With all of life’s challenges you may be having trouble balancing your long list of responsibilities. You might be stressed and have difficulty managing and processing all of your feelings. And, it’s possible you’re not dealing with them in the most effective ways—a therapist can help you navigate your feelings and provide you with tools to manage them.
You Want Help Managing Stress
Life is inherently stressful. You can’t get rid of all the stress in your life. In fact, some stress is good for you.
But, if you’re having trouble managing your stress, you may want to talk to someone. Being stressed out can lead to a variety of issues, like being irritable and short-tempered or becoming inefficient and frantic.
A therapist can help you learn healthy stress management skills or they may assist you in problem-solving so you can eliminate some stressful aspects of your life.
You Are Having Difficulty Regulating Your Emotions
Uncomfortable emotions, like anxiety and anger, can be tough to manage sometimes. And while you might have some emotions handled well, there may be one or two that seem to get the best of you more frequently.
A therapist can help you discover the specific anger management techniques that work for you. Or they could help you practice anxiety reduction strategies that help you feel better faster. No matter what emotions you’re struggling with, a therapist can help you develop a plan to ensure your emotions serve you well.
You Are Reaching for Unhealthy Coping Skills
Whether you’re overeating because you’re stressed out or you’re drinking to help you unwind, unhealthy coping skills will introduce new problems into your life—and they backfire in the long-term.
Keep in mind that almost any coping skill can be unhealthy. Watching TV, playing video games, or even reading books can become unhealthy if you use them to avoid solving problems.
A therapist can help you find healthy coping skills that reduce the intensity of uncomfortable emotions, while also helping you face problems head-on.
Self and Relationship Improvement
You Are Struggling to Reach Your Goals
From weight loss goals to financial goals, there are lots of things that can stand between you and your success. And if you’re struggling to overcome the obstacles in your way, a therapist may be able to help.
Mental health professionals can address a variety of issues, like motivational problems, perfectionism, and self-sabotage—all of which can make reaching a goal nearly impossible.
You Want to Improve Your Relationship(s)
There are many reasons why you might be struggling to manage your relationships. Attachment issues, difficulty being assertive, and the fear of confrontation are just a few.
A therapist can help you discover problems that are interfering with relationships and assist you with the skills and tools you need to form and maintain healthier connections. Your work together may include anything from learning how to establish healthier boundaries to discovering why you often sabotage your relationships.
You Want to Increase Your Self-Awareness
Do you ever wonder why you do the things you do, like break up with a partner who seems good for you or say inappropriate things when you’re nervous? A therapist can help you discover the reasons for your behaviors.
A therapist can also help you learn about the patterns in your life, like your thinking patterns or your relationship patterns. You also might discover the self-limiting beliefs that are holding you back in life like believing you aren’t smart enough to succeed.
Perhaps you have some communication patterns that are off-putting. Or maybe you struggle to get your intentions across in a helpful way.
An objective opinion from a therapist can help you take a step back and review the types of patterns that keep repeating in your life. Then, they can give you tools to help you break free from the ones that don’t serve you well.
Dealing With Major Life Events
You’re Going Through a Transition
Starting a new job, moving to a new city, becoming a parent, or ending a relationship are just a few examples of major life transitions that might create a fair amount of distress for you.
Talking to someone might provide you with the emotional support, guidance, and advice you need to adapt to the changes in your life.
You Want Some Parenting Support
Parenting is tough. And it can be scary at times. After all, how do you know if you’re giving your child too much responsibility or not enough support?
If you’re questioning your parenting skills or you have a question about whether your child’s behavior is normal, talking to a therapist might be in order.
A mental health professional can empower you to make the best choices for you and your child. Whether that means giving you the tools you need to parent a child with ADHD or it just means giving you some reassurance that you’re on the right track.
A little objective feedback from another party might be instrumental in ensuring that you’re raising an emotionally healthy child who will grow up to become a responsible adult.
You Want Help Processing a Traumatic Event
Traumatic events, like near-death experiences, don’t always cause people to become traumatized. People respond to traumatic events differently and sometimes, they’re able to process them in a way that they don’t develop PTSD.
A therapist can help you deal with a traumatic event. This could prevent you from developing PTSD or it may help you find more meaning in your life. It may even help you grow from your experience.
Your Mood Is Affecting Your Work
It’s normal to feel down or anxious sometimes. But if your mood is getting in the way of being effective and productive at work, it may be a sign it’s time to talk to someone.
A therapist can help you get unstuck. Processing your emotions, practicing new skills, and changing the way you think are just a few of the strategies that a therapist might use to help improve your mood so it doesn’t get in the way of your occupation or education.
Your Emotional State Is Impacting Your Appetite or Sleep
There may be times when you don’t notice that you’re stressed or that your mood is “off.” But, you might notice a major change in your appetite or sleep habits.
Some people lose their appetite when they’re struggling emotionally. Other people eat more in an effort to control their feelings.
The same can be said for sleep. Some people experience sleepless nights while others sleep too much when they are having a hard time.
You might not even experience a change in the number of hours you sleep. You might just feel exhausted all the time because the quality of your sleep is suffering.
Once a physician is able to rule out possible medical causes for your change in sleep or appetite, a therapist can help you determine if there are emotional causes.
Therapy can even be beneficial for people who experience chronic insomnia. Cognitive behavioral therapy, for example, uses a variety of strategies to help people train themselves to sleep better.1
You’ve Lost Interest in Activities You Used to Enjoy
Whether you love gardening or you find great joy in visiting antique shops, losing interest in activities you usually find pleasurable is a sign that something may be “off” in your life.
Of course, it’s normal for your interests to come and go. But if you lose interest in almost everything you like to do, your disinterest may be a sign of something bigger.
Maybe you are growing a little depressed. Or maybe you are developing some anxiety. A therapist can help you uncover why you’ve lost interest in those things as well as help you see how the lack of fun activity can take a toll on your well-being.
Together, you might create a plan to help you feel better and incorporate more pleasurable activities into your daily life.
Your Social Life Is Suffering
Sometimes, a lack of social life is a symptom of a bigger problem—like anxiety. At other times, it can be a problem in itself.
While your social calendar doesn’t need to be overflowing every weekend, little social contact can be unhealthy. Your relationships greatly impact your psychological well-being.
Of course, it’s not always the quantity of relationships that matters. Having dozens of acquaintances may not be as helpful as having two close friends.
But it’s important that you have some people you enjoy spending time with. If you don’t, consider talking to a therapist.
A therapist may help you find people you can connect with. They may also teach you skills that enhance your social life or help you discover why your social life is suffering.
Perhaps you just haven’t surrounded yourself with the right people. Studies show individuals with low self-esteem tend to pick friends who put them down, for example.2 So a therapist may help you discover how to find healthier people in your life.
Challenging Negative Thinking
You Want to Change Unhelpful Thinking Patterns
Everyone experiences cognitive distortions sometimes. These are the untrue thoughts that can be tough to eliminate.
Maybe you always believe the catastrophic predictions you make. Or perhaps you always let your self-doubt talk you out of doing things you want to do.
Or maybe your unhealthy thinking patterns involve the harsh self-criticism you give yourself. Rather than be kind when you make a mistake, maybe you call yourself names and put yourself down.
The conversations you have with yourself matter. And the way you think will affect the way you feel and how you perform.
A mental health professional can help you develop a healthier inner dialogue. And that could be key to living your best life.
You Don’t Feel as Happy as You Think You Could Be
There may be times when you don’t necessarily feel like anything is “wrong” but you feel as though you just aren’t as happy as you could be. You might not even be able to pinpoint why that might be.
If you feel like this, you might want to talk to a therapist. A therapist might help you identify if something is missing from your life or if there’s a strategy that could help you feel better.
Sometimes, a few simple tweaks are all it takes to improve the quality of your life. You might find that a little change to your habits, mindset, lifestyle, or daily routine makes a big difference in your happiness level.
You Suspect You Have Symptoms of a Mental Illness
There’s a huge range of mental illnesses—and symptoms that accompany them. From hearing voices no one else hears to experiencing moments of sheer panic for no particular reason, you’ll likely know when something doesn’t feel normal for you.
Sometimes, however, people don’t seek help because they’re embarrassed. And often, people don’t understand their symptoms or why they can’t change their behavior.
Mental illnesses are treatable, however. And the sooner you talk to someone, the sooner you may be able to start to feel better.
Keep in mind you’re in charge of your treatment. You get to decide what you talk about in therapy or whether you want to take medication. But learning about your mental health and the treatment options that can help, can help you make decisions about what’s best for you.
Finding a Therapist
In older, more traditional models of therapy, you waited until you were “sick” to get help. In fact, insurance companies only paid for treatment if you already had depression, anxiety, or some other mental illness.
Now that more people are becoming aware of how important mental health is and are more open to discussing it, this older way of viewing therapy is evolving.
Talking to a mental health professional early on may prevent mental illnesses before they start—and it also may help you to think, feel, and perform at your best.
If you decide to talk to someone, you might start by talking to your physician. Your physician may be able to help you find a therapist that is right for you.
A Word From Verywell
If you’re on the fence about whether to see a therapist, it might help to give it a try. Talking to someone outside of your family and friends might help you in more ways than one.
Keep in mind that talking to a mental health professional doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you. You might simply decide that seeing a therapist is what helps you become the best version of yourself.
And talking to someone isn’t a sign of weakness. After all, it takes strength to admit you don’t have all the answers.