9 Signs You Should Think About Seeing a Therapist
The right therapist can be life-changing. Here’s how to tell if you’d benefit from starting therapy (the reasons may surprise you).
Going to a therapist used to be shrouded in stigma and secrecy. But new research published in JAMA Network Open found evidence that people’s understanding of mental illnesses is greater than ever before—and the negative public stigma associated with seeing a therapist for issues like depression is disappearing. The American Psychological Association (APA) spells out this effect in action. It reports that in 2021, the number of therapists seeing new patients almost doubled. Still, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates at least half of people living with mental illness aren’t getting treatment.
So, whether you’re managing mental health hurdles or a difficult transition in life, experts point to these nine signs you could benefit from talking to a therapist.
Short on time? Experts say these are the best therapist apps to start feeling better from anywhere.
You feel extreme sadness or anger
Out-of-control emotions may be a sign of an issue that can improve with a professional therapist’s treatment. “If you’re eating or sleeping more or less than usual, withdrawing from family and friends, or just feeling “off,” talk to someone before serious problems develop that impact your quality of life,” writes psychiatrist, David Sack, MD, for Psychology Today. “If these feelings escalate to the point that you question whether life is worth living or you have thoughts of death or suicide, reach out for help right away.
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You no longer enjoy things you used to love doing
If you don’t feel like participating in your favorite activities, a therapist can help you figure out why, says Marisa Alter, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in private practice in New York City. You could be experiencing re-entry anxiety, a common (but generally temporary) barrier to getting back to hobbies and passions you enjoyed before the pandemic. But something more serious could be at play. “[Losing interest in activities]This may be a sign of someone who is stuck in a rut,” explainssays Dr. Alter, “or it could be a sign of a deeper depression.” A therapist can help you assess the situation, figure out what is holding you back, and create a plan to move forward.
You avoid social situations
People often seek out therapy when being around other people makes them nervous. “If you find yourself avoiding parties, work gatherings, or even your own friends and family, there may be a fear of judgment or underlying feelings of inadequacy,” says Dr. Alter. When anxiety affects your everyday activities and interactions, therapy is a good first step toward working through it. These words and phrases could also signal depression, according to experts.
You notice unhealthy behaviors
While it’s fun to be spontaneous once in a while, it could be dangerous to let impulses consistently dictate your behavior. “When you find yourself spending more than you can afford, drinking or using drugs often, making knee-jerk relationship choices, or having overblown reactions to others, it could be a sign of deeper problems,” says Ryan Howes, PhD, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Pasadena, California. You may be using these behaviors to cope with or avoid dealing with difficult situations or emotions. Talking to a professional can help you identify triggers and understand underlying issues—like if impulsive decision-making points to a condition like ADHD.
Relationships are difficult for you
If you find it hard to keep friends; or you frequently find yourself in conflict with others, therapy can help. When romantic relationships feel hard to manage feel hard to manage or not worth the effort, that is another sign you may want to speak with a professional. “Reasons for this often originate early in life,” says Dr. Alter. “A discussion with a therapist about your relationship history can usually shed some light on current conflicts.” In therapy, you may strategize ways to communicate with others, or even role-play difficult conversations with the therapist as a stand-in for your friend, boss, or loved one, according to Dr. Howes. And if your partner seems down, here are 10 easy ways to help make them feel loved
You’ve experienced a trauma
“Many people seek therapy after a recent trauma, like the death of a loved one, an abusive relationship, a miscarriage, being unfairly treated or discriminated against at work,” says Dr. Alter. “Or you may seek therapy to work through a past trauma, such as being the victim of sexual abuse as a child.” If you can’t seem to put an experience behind you, and it’s affecting your work, sleep, or relationships, consider talking to a professional. You might consider finding an EMDR-trained therapist. Research shows that this technique, short for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), can help people manage and overcome their trauma.
You want to understand yourself better
“For some people, therapy is an opportunity to study themselves,” says Dr. Howes. Why did you enter your chosen career? Why do you pursue relationships with unavailable people? Why do you procrastinate? Why do loud people bother you? “Understanding why we think, act, and feel the way we do can be extremely empowering,” he adds. And working with a therapist offers an opportunity to build these five skills that science says are at the root of success in life
You want more support
Sometimes people seek therapy even if they don’t need an assessment, diagnosis, and treatment plan. You may feel exhausted from recent events around the world or simply want the perspective of someone outside of your usual circle. “Whether you’re dealing with a divorce, a job loss, a new relationship, or a death, therapy is a great place to find the support of someone who won’t judge or lecture you, or focus on their own needs,” says Dr. Howes.
Nothing you’ve tried seems to have helped
Self-care techniques like exercise, meditation, and turning to friends and family can work a charm when it comes to maintaining great mental health. But if you continue to feel overwhelmed, under pressure, stuck, or living with a shorter fuse than normal, your standard coping mechanisms may need some reinforcement.
Seeing a therapist can help you understand what’s causing you to feel less-than-at-your-best and learn new ways to work through life’s challenges. And research continues to show us that therapy works. A recent study from JMIR mHealth and uHealth surveyed patients using the digital therapy platform BetterHelp—and the researchers found that, across the board, people’s depression symptoms were significantly reduced after talking with a therapist.