“You need therapy.”
This is a phrase used far too often as an insult, a punishment, or even a bad joke. We say it to the partner we are mad at (or dumping), to the politician or anonymous person on Twitter we disagree with, or to the friend we feel is in the wrong yet doesn’t understand why.
As a psychiatrist, I cringe when I hear therapy discussed like this. Not only is this the wrong way to think about when we should be going to therapy, but it’s also a deeply stigmatizing view. Instead, we should be thinking of therapy’s many potential benefits to, well, really any of our lives.
Because we so often talk like this, I’ve noticed that many people don’t actually know the various reasons you might consider going to therapy in the first place. They may be skeptical of it, see it as self-indulgent, or not think they need it at all because they have loved ones to talk to or think it’s reserved for only extreme circumstances.
To help clear up these misconceptions, I asked therapists what signs they think about when they recommend therapy to people and why. Here are 13 very good reasons you might consider going to therapy—none of which are an indictment of you as a person.
1. You’re having trouble processing something in your life.
Have you ever felt like you can’t quite articulate what you’re feeling or struggling with? Chase T. M. Anderson, M.D., M.S., child and adolescent fellow in the UCSF Department of Psychiatry, says one of his first cues someone might benefit from therapy is that they continue to say, “I wish I had the words for this,” or “I need to talk this out more.” Therapy can help with both. It does this by being a place for a patient to work through feelings, thoughts, and challenging situations, according to Marcia McCabe, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine. In doing so, “Sometimes something truly valuable comes from this process—becoming a more aware and better version of ourselves,” Dr. McCabe tells SELF.
Brit Barkholtz, M.S.W., L.I.C.S.W., a clinical therapist in St. Paul Minnesota, agrees, adding, “Therapy can be a mirror to hold up to help you see yourself a little more accurately through the eyes of someone trained to see you comprehensively.” This can be particularly helpful for breaking through our limited, tunnel-vision perspective of who we are and what we’re going through.
2. You seem to have a shorter fuse than usual, and it’s affecting your mood, relationships, or other areas of your life.
Are you more easily annoyed with your friends or family over the “little things”? Are you becoming more enraged by your inbox with every passing day? Paying attention to how you’re reacting to everyday stressors—and how that’s changed over time—can be helpful when considering if therapy might be right for you, explains Maia Wise, L.I.C.S.W., founder of Wise Therapeutic Solutions LLC in Washington, D.C.
This includes taking note of any major changes in your mood, behaviors, sleep, relationships, and decision-making, as well as your relationship with food, alcohol, or drugs, among other things. Some of these may be symptoms of actual mental health disorders like anxiety or depression, but they don’t have to reach that level of severity for therapy to be helpful. Therapy can help sort out some of the root causes of these reactions by getting at the thoughts or feelings behind them, as well as the patterns causing them. You may also learn to incorporate more adaptive coping skills so that you’re not always turning to a drink at the end of a stressful workday, for instance.
3. You don’t feel like you’re functioning at 100%…or anywhere close to it.
All of us can feel sad or angry or tired, but it doesn’t always interfere with our life, relationships, or goals. According to psychologist Riana Elyse Anderson, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, a change in our optimal functioning is a red flag that we need help. “If it typically is a breeze for you to get up in the mornings or complete your to-dos throughout the day, but now it feels like a ton of bricks are lying on you when getting out of bed, or you’re agitated at everybody while you’re completing your errands, it means you’re functioning differently than your baseline,” she tells SELF. “That’s data right there. It helps you to say, ‘Hmmm, I’m not feeling the same way I used to or doing the things I used to love with joy or ease.’”
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