When Is The Right Time To See A Therapist? Experts Weigh In On How To Know & Why You'll Benefit
It's strange for me to think there was once a time in my life when I was resistant to going to therapy. I used to scoff at the very notion of lying back on the ol' therapist couch. But after being in therapy for a few years now, it's so clear to me how beneficial it really is, and it's pretty shocking that it took me so long to realize that. I guess, in the past, I just didn't know what it was I needed. Then again, when is the right time to see a therapist, exactly? How are you supposed to know?
Like most things, the decision to start going to therapy is kind of different for everyone. Whether you're thinking about it because you've been going through something really difficult lately, or because you simply need a sounding board for some changes you're thinking about making in your life, seeing a therapist can be incredibly beneficial for anyone, for a whole host of reasons.
Elite Daily spoke with a few therapists and mental health professionals who can help you understand how to know when the right time is to see a therapist, and why it'll benefit you in the long-term. Here are a few signs that it's time to give it a shot.
1. Something Has Been Bothering You For A Long Time
Amanda Stemen, MS, LCSW, creator and owner of FUNdaMENTALs Psychotherapy, Coaching, & Consulting, points out that the self-exploration therapy provides you with means that any time is a good time to see a therapist.
Having said that, most people do end up seeking help because a particular problem has been on their mind for a long, long time. Stemen tells Elite Daily,
The best time to see a therapist is when something has been bothering you for what seems to be far too long, and you've tried everything you can think of to "fix" or "improve" it without seeing any forward movement.
She adds that "sometimes, a fresh, unbiased, nonjudgmental point of view is necessary to see things in a different light."
Melody Li, licensed marriage and family therapist associate and relationship specialist, expands upon this idea, telling Elite Daily,
If you’re finding yourself repeating behavioral, thought, or relational patterns that are painful for you, a therapist may be able to help you shift and develop healthier patterns.
Chances are, Li says, this behavioral pattern shows up and interferes with different areas of life, such as your career, a romantic relationship or marriage, or your confidence and/or self-worth.
2. Your Behavior Just Feels Off Somehow
Kiaundra Jackson, marriage and family therapist and the author of Staying Sane in an Insane World: A Prescription for Even Better Mental Health, has a variety of examples of symptoms you might experience that could lead you to feel "off" in one way or another, and that may mean it's time to open yourself up to some extra support.
She tells Elite Daily some of these signs include feeling extreme anger or worry, sleeping too much or too little, engaging in reckless behaviors, believing that your mind is overly controlled or out of control, having major changes in appetite, or having no desire to go to work or school or engage in formerly enjoyable activities.
3. Anxiety Is Making Life More Difficult
Debilitating stress and anxiety can make life more difficult in several ways, from simply enjoying time with your friends, to getting tasks done and maintaining your usual responsibilities.
Sara Sedlik, licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Elite Daily that if your anxiety is making it difficult to work or be present in relationships, then it's probably a good time to see a therapist.
Li adds that, if a person has a pattern of withdrawing when they become anxious, they may miss out on certain opportunities in life:
It could be missing out on awesome ideas at work. At home, their spouse might feel abandoned at times of disagreement and grow to become resentful.
They may avoid social situations and feel disconnected from their community, and begin to believe that there is something “wrong” with them.
Of course, let's make it clear here that, if this sounds like you, nothing is wrong with you. In reality, Li says, you can learn different, helpful strategies to manage your anxious feelings instead of withdrawing, and that's exactly what a therapist can do: teach you about and guide you through those strategies.
Therapists can not only help you tackle what might be the root cause of your anxiety, but they can also help you figure out tools to make your day-to-day life easier and less stressful.
4. You've Experienced Something Traumatic
Sedlik tells Elite Daily, if there's been a significant stressor or event that has caused distress for you — including feelings of hopelessness or sadness to the point of not being able to function at work or at home — that indicates it's time to start seriously thinking about going to therapy.
Keep in mind, there's no "time limit" on going to therapy after experiencing something traumatic. Whether something happened to you last week that's still bothering you, or you find yourself currently battling with something that happened back in middle school, your struggle is still 100 percent real and deserving of the right attention and care.
Scott Dehorty, LCSW-C, executive director at Maryland House Detox, Delphi Behavioral Health, tells Elite Daily,
Past trauma needs to be addressed in some sort of therapeutic environment. Otherwise, one will find themselves repeatedly re-traumatized, or their behaviors, thoughts, and/or beliefs will be driven by their trauma.
My own therapist always tells me trauma is relative to the person, so an experience that has affected you deeply, might not affect someone else as much, and visa versa. That is totally 100 percent normal and OK. We all have our own demons to fight, and our own ways of doing so.
5. You're Feeling Confused And Directionless
Feeling discombobulated in life and unsure of yourself or what you want is absolutely normal, and it's definitely something a therapist can help you try to figure out.
One of the most common feelings people present with, which may be underneath a myriad of other symptoms, is a feeling of being lost or without direction.
He tells Elite Daily that speaking with someone about this can help you gain clarity of the goals you have and how you can work to achieve them.
6. You've Gone Through A Difficult Change
NYC-based therapist Elizabeth Cohen, PhD says that oftentimes, she sees first-time patients who have experienced difficult life changes, and that therapy can be a great way to process what has happened.
She tells Elite Daily,
Often clients come to my office after a breakup or after a termination at work.
These clients come in to change their current experience and often learn about their patterns of behaving and thinking as a result.
The outside opinion of a pro can be a great way to take a step back and recognize how you approach and process things right now, and how you can work to improve those strategies moving forward.
7. You're Leaning On Substances To Cope
While a glass of wine or two can often take the edge off of a stressful day, if you find yourself habitually drinking and using substances to cope with your feelings, or you find that your usage of these things has started to increase significantly, consider talking about these issues with a therapist.
"If you're suddenly drinking too much, or more than you normally do," says Sedlik, this can be a red flag that something is going on that needs to be addressed — including both the substance use itself, as well as the root causes of what that might be a coping mechanism for.
8. You Feel Consistently Low
Moods are like the weather: They change, and sometimes they change often.
Feeling sad or just blah inside happens to everyone. But, as Dr. Gilbert Chalepas, licensed clinical psychologist tells Elite Daily, "when feelings of profound sadness linger for an extended period," or "when you can’t see a way out, [or] feel that things will never get any better," it might be worth it to reach out to a therapist to talk these issues out.
As hard as it might be to see the hope or purpose in reaching out, it can, and does, get better when you do. Dehorty says as a reminder, "therapy does not have to be a 'deep-dive' into your personality and family of origin."
Dr. Chalepas adds that it's important not to just rely on googling things to identify your symptoms. Your emotional needs are likely way nuanced and personal than that, and you deserve more than what the internet alone has to offer you.
Trust me, these experts are totally right. While therapy did mean, for me, tackling a whole host of deeper issues, it also helped me with really practical things, like figuring out what I want to do with my life, and how to better manage my time.
So, if you feel like therapy might be helpful for you, or if you're even just curious as to what it's all about, go ahead and do some research. You might be really glad you did.