It’s estimated that one in five Americans are living with a mental health diagnosis.1 If you feel that your mental health is impacting your quality of life, it may be time to consider professional counseling. The first step in improving is recognizing that a problem exists and that there’s something that you can do about it.
Therapy can help by providing a non-judgmental space to deal with trauma, stress, anxiety, mood disorders, relationship issues, and more, and learn healthy ways to cope and improve your quality of life.
17 Signs That It’s Time to Consider Therapy
While we all face challenges in life, there are several signs that professionalTrish Glynn Carey, LMHC, CRC help may be needed. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or your quality of life is impacted by your mental health, it may be time to find a therapist. It is important to note that although it can be stigmatized, there is no shame in seeking help from a therapist.1
Here are 17 signs that it may be time to see a therapist:
1. You Often Feel Overwhelmed
When you find yourself constantly questioning your life and struggle with finishing daily tasks at work or at home, seeking therapy is a good idea. Increased stress and feelings of being overwhelmed can be an indication of depression or anxiety—which can be treated and managed through therapy. Experiencing trauma in the past or recently can also be an indication that it’s time to get some professional assistance. After all, trauma from past relationships can have significant impact on current and future relationships. While we can deal with trauma differently, processing complicated emotions and addressing feelings of guilt and shame can be empowering.
2. You’re Experiencing Increased Irritability in Your Relationships
Experiencing an abrupt change in relationship dynamics or struggles with communication can mean that it’s time to talk to a professional. Couples therapy has been shown to have a positive impact on the emotional well-being of both partners and it can be a great way to learn some skills and techniques that will enhance your relationship.2 Relationships can be challenging and having a neutral party present can help you process your feelings and communicate your needs to your family or your partner.
3. Depression or Anxiety Is Interfering With Your Quality of Life
Symptoms of depression and anxiety can include feeling hopeless, decreased motivation, increased isolation, decreased or increased appetite and difficulty sleeping.3 If your symptoms are impacting your ability to complete daily tasks in your house or at work, it’s time to make an appointment with a therapist. Additionally, another good course of action is to reach out to your primary care doctor to discuss any physical symptoms you may be having, or a psychiatrist to discuss medication options.
4. You’re Experiencing Ongoing Weariness
“Overwhelm, weariness, and excessive fury or anger may necessitate therapy. You may feel overwhelmed by tasks or concerns. You may be unable to sleep or even breathe. Stress and overwhelm can cause significant health issues. However, weariness often follows or arises from mental health concerns. Everyone gets irritated. Even a brief fury isn’t detrimental. Seeking support for these feelings can help if they persist, are out of proportion to the circumstances, or escalate to violent or possibly harmful behaviors.” – Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D.
5. You Find Yourself Isolating
“Are you avoiding social events and isolating yourself? If you’re stepping away from the places, activities, and people that you’ve always enjoyed, it could be worth considering trying therapy. It could be because you’ve just lost all interest. Or maybe you are having a hard time getting along with people. Perhaps you’re dealing with a lot of insecurity and it’s just too challenging to get too close to anyone. Most of us do our best with love and support, so if you’re pulling back, it is an important sign that something isn’t right. A therapist can work with you to overcome limiting beliefs, to adjust problematic thinking, or to help you learn better communication skills.” – Trish Glynn Carey, LMHC, CRC
6. You Feel Stuck or Have a Lack of Motivation
“Feeling like things are not changing and you are less active in your day can be a result of anxiety or mood changes. Seeking therapy can help you to start becoming more self-aware as to why this is happening and what is triggering these feelings. A therapist can encourage you to start identifying certain thoughts and behaviors that may be keeping you in this cycle. Working with a therapist can result in you improving your mood, reducing anxiety and finding new ways to navigate through any lack of motivation. You will start to feel better as you start to build a healthy foundation.” – Dr. Jaclyn Gulotta, PhD, LMHC
7. You’re Constantly Asking Friends & Family for Advice
“Your loved ones aren’t your therapists, nor should they be. Even your therapist family and friends, aren’t your therapists. This is a good thing—it allows us to keep the boundaries from getting messy and blurred. If you notice your friends and family have become your regular sounding board, it’s time to find a new sounding board. While it sometimes feels the most comfortable to talk to those we already know, it doesn’t mean it’s the most effective way to become unstuck. In fact, turning to particular people because they make us “feel better” may actually enable our symptoms and allow us to feel stuck longer.” – Jennifer Weaver-Breitenbecher MA, CAGS LMHC
8. You’re Feeling Lost After a Big Life Change
“Life changes can be exciting, but they can also leave you feeling scared or unsure. Here are some potential times when it might be a good time to reach out to a therapist:
- You’ve just graduated college or moved out of the home
- You’re making a career change
- You feel like you don’t know what to do next
- You feel like you don’t know yourself or something is missing
- You realize who you thought you were before is not really who you are now” – Robert Hinojosa, LCSW
9. You Have a Problem That’s Causing You Shame or Embarrassment
“Does it cause you shame, and would you be embarrassed if others knew this was happening to you? Keeping things bottled up often just makes them worse. Therapy can be a great outlet and you don’t need to carry the burden alone. Therapists have heard just about everything so we’re hard to shock. And a therapist has taken an oath to keep conversations with you confidential. Further, a therapist has committed their life to helping and is trained to be non-judgmental. If you’re feeling weighed down by a dark secret then a therapist could be just the person you need.” – Trish Glynn Carey, LMHC, CRC
10. Your Relationship Is Struggling
“Are you fighting daily? Are fights leaving you hopeless? Do you find yourself yelling? You might be in a romantic relationship where you are in conflict, fighting, and it is feeling like you are not satisfied. Therapy can help couples in relationships learn how to communicate in healthy ways, learn how to share their feelings in a vulnerable manner, emotionally expressed, have a great sex life, and release patterns from childhood trauma that are holding them back. Relationship therapy can be a very positive space to build a meaningful connection that you have always wanted, while releasing challenges from the past related to trauma.” – Katie Ziskind, LMFT, owner of Wisdom Within Counseling
11. Your Baseline Behavior or Feelings Have Changed
“If you’re typically easy-going and find lately you’re irritable a good portion of the time, or you’re typically in a positive mood and find you’re struggling to see more than the negative lately, or your ‘normal’ is different than before—it’s time to go see a therapist and investigate why. Maybe you know the ‘why,’ but you could use some assistance in the “how” of getting back to your baseline.” – Jennifer Weaver-Breitenbecher MA, CAGS LMHC
12. You Have a Medical Issue or Chronic Pain
“If you’re dealing with a medical concern or you’re struggling with chronic pain, a therapist could be helpful to you. We often don’t think about a therapist when we are having physical symptoms, but mental and physical health are deeply interconnected. We can’t really tease them apart, and a concern with one inevitably impacts the other. If you’re dealing with a physical medical issue, that can greatly affect your mental well-being as it could result in additional stress or feelings of loss. In addition, we know that mental health concerns like anxiety, stress, and depression affect us physically.” – Trish Glynn Carey, LMHC, CRC
13. You’re Ruminating or Obsessing Over an Event
“If you are finding a large amount of your time is being consumed by a past event or interaction – this can include thinking/remembering while driving, increased dreams surrounding the event, discussing with friends & family, searching social media of others involved, etc. Any time you’re finding that you are consumed with a past event or interaction, that’s your brain’s way of telling you it’s trying to process something – and when it continues for awhile, that’s your brain’s way of signaling that maybe you aren’t processing it so well on your own.” – Jennifer Weaver-Breitenbecher MA, CAGS LMHC
14. You Want to Invest in Your Mental Health
“To be clear, individuals do not NEED to have anything ‘wrong’ with them to attend them. Insurance companies require a diagnosis for reimbursement, but I also see plenty of individuals who cover the cost of couples counseling out of pocket because mental health is something that is important to them and something they want to invest their time, energy, and money into.” – Dr. Nicole Lacherza-Drew, Psy.D.
15. Your Usual Coping Strategies Are Having Painful or Undesired Consequences
“Sometimes coping strategies that alleviate discomfort in the short-term have painful or undesired long-term consequences. For example, let’s say you have social anxiety. To avoid this uncomfortable feeling, you may avoid social settings. In the short-term, this strategy may seem successful. In the long-term, it may reinforce your belief that social settings are threatening and lead to increased isolation. You may find yourself wishing that you could have more meaningful relationships, but you just don’t know how to get there. Working with a licensed mental health professional can help you develop new strategies to manage uncomfortable emotions so that they don’t interfere with your ability to pursue experiences that are important to you.” – Kayti McDaniel, LCSW
16. You Need a Neutral Person to Get Something Off Your Chest
“There are many times when you experience something and would like to speak to someone about it. It could be to complain about an issue you are having with your boss or to celebrate a boundary you recently established with your overbearing mother-in-law. You don’t necessarily want to burden our friends/family or feel as though it is their role to listen to you vent. You simply want our thoughts and feelings to be heard and validated. This is when therapy may be an appropriate place for you. You can talk about whatever you want for however long you want without having to worry about your audience’s opinions or reaction.” – Erica Cramer, LCSW, therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy
17. You Think You Should!
“If you’re having the thought, ‘should I see a therapist?’ That alone tells me things aren’t feeling okay for you. So yes, perhaps talking with a neutral, qualified professional could be beneficial. Our friends and family, while perhaps well-meaning, aren’t always the best ones to talk to about our troubles. This is because it’s much harder for them to be truly objective since they know you personally. Also, they may have an unconscious bias or their own personal agenda. If you have nobody you feel you can safely talk with and/or you’re thinking therapy might help, then it’s worth exploring. Even if you’re not sure what you would talk about in therapy, a therapist’s job is to ask you the right questions to process how you’re feeling. You’re not required to remain in therapy if you decide it’s not a good fit, so you really don’t have much to lose by exploring the option.” – Trish Glynn Carey, LMHC, CRC
What Are the Benefits of Seeing a Therapist?
Seeing a therapist is an important part of dealing with mental health issues and there are many benefits of seeing a therapist. The benefits of therapy are numerous and the effectiveness of therapy is well-documented. Mental health can greatly impact physical health, so a primary care doctor may also refer you to a therapist if/when you have chronic illness or present with physical symptoms.
Benefits of having a therapist include:
- Hearing from an individual that has an unbiased perspective
- The opportunity to process previous experiences and past traumas in a healthy way
- Learning healthy ways and coping skills to manage stress, depression and anxiety.
- Increasing your confidence and developing a healthy self-image and self-esteem.
What Type of Mental Health Professional Should I See?
There are several types of mental health professionals that you can see for therapy. With the exception of psychiatrists that have a medical degree, mental health professionals have a master’s degree or higher in their field. They have completed several thousand hours of supervised work experience after graduate school and have passed a national certification exam. It’s important to keep in mind that different types of therapy can help with different needs.
Different types of mental health professionals can help with different concerns:
- Psychologist: Psychologists can administer standardized tests that can confirm a diagnosis of a learning disorder, autism, or other mental health disorders.4 A psychologist can be a great resource if you are looking for confirmation and treatment of a diagnosis that requires extensive testing.
- Psychiatrist: Psychiatrists specialize in disorders of the brain and while many of them don’t actively provide therapy services, there are some that do. A psychiatrist typically provides medication evaluations and prescribes medications for mental illness. If your mental health symptoms are interfering with your quality of life and daily tasks, a psychiatrist can be a great resource to help you find a medication regimen that works for you and your needs.
- Counselor: Counselors work with individuals of all ages and can have various areas of specialty. A counselor may be a good fit for your needs if you want to work through childhood trauma and increase your self-awareness and self-confidence.
- Clinical Social Worker: Social Workers are skilled in evaluating and treating individuals within the context of their environment and social supports. A clinical social worker may be a good fit for you if you’re experiencing life challenges that involve friends, work, school and other systems.
- Marriage and Family Therapist: Marriage and Family Therapists specialize in family and couple systems and are specifically trained in working with individuals who are having relational challenges.5 If you’re experiencing family discord or difficulty in your relationship with your partner, then a marriage and family therapist may be a good fit for you.
What If I’ve Tried Therapy Before & It Didn’t Work?
Therapy is not a magic wand or an easy fix to all your problems. It requires intention, dedication and perseverance to become a better version of yourself. There can be situations where a therapist does not specialize in the area that you have come to therapy for and may need to refer you to another provider.6
Many times people go to therapy and have unrealistic expectations of what the process entails. While a therapist can give you a different perspective and provide you with ideas on how to better manage stress, the responsibility is on you to make the necessary changes in your life.
You can have all the resources and support in the world, but change begins within and some people are in therapy, but they don’t have any desire to change or grow. Therapy may feel uncomfortable because you’re being challenged, but you should never feel like you’re emotionally unsafe or that you are being emotionally attacked.
How to Find the Right Therapist
Choosing a therapist is an important step in getting help. It’s important to work with a mental health professional that you trust and who you feel has your best interest at heart. You need to work with a mental health professional that is culturally sensitive and is able to gently challenge you. If you feel like you aren’t getting what you need out of your therapy experience, speak up to your therapist and let them know what you are feeling.
A good place to start your search is an online therapist directory, where you can filter by specialty and insurance coverage. You can also call your insurance company to ask for a list of providers in your area and then reach out to them individually. Many times, therapists also offer a free initial phone or video consultation where you can ask questions about their specialties and approach to therapy. An initial consultation is also a great opportunity to ask if they are in network with your insurance and their session rate.
While most therapists are trained in addressing depression and anxiety, there are numerous other specialties that therapists can get additional training in. Be honest about what you think you need help with when you talk to a prospective therapist and ask what they would do in therapy to help you address your challenges.
For Further Reading
- Round up of the best online therapy providers available today
- See our list of the best books on depression
- Take a look at the best books on anxiety & anxiety disorders
- NAMI support groups
Infographic: Do I Need Therapy?