Psychotherapy is a wonderful treatment for many of life’s problems, with thousands of studies backing up its use as an evidence-based treatment. But sometimes a person doesn’t know when to go see a therapist. How bad should you let things get before you seek out help?
Psychologists know a secret that the research has shown — and one that I’ll share here with you. The sooner you seek out treatment, the faster you’ll feel better. It may sound obvious, but far too often people let their problems overwhelm them before getting help.
So here are 5 sure signs that it may be time to see a therapist.
1. It causes significant distress in your life.
Nearly every diagnosis listed in the DSM-5, the mental health diagnostic manual, has a requirement that a problem cause significant problems in your everyday life functioning, whether it be at work, at home, at school, or some place else. Maybe your concentration is shot, or your enthusiasm and drive for getting things done is simply not there any more. Maybe you avoid any interaction with your classmates or coworkers. Or maybe you’re just feeling plain overwhelmed.
2. Nothing you’ve done seems to have helped.
Few people feel anxious for weeks on end and do nothing to try and help calm their anxiety. Few people suffer from the symptoms of depression without having tried to reverse the lethargy, sadness, or hopelessness feelings.
Sometimes our own coping skills fail us. They simply stop working, or become far less effective than they were in the past. If you’ve tried a half dozen different things already — talk to a friend, exercise more, seek out support online, read up on various self-help techniques online — and nothing has made much of a difference, that may be a sign it’s time to talk to a therapist.
3. Your friends (or family) are tired of listening to you.
Friends and family members are usually pretty great. They are there for us when times are good, and they are there for us when times are bad. If you need to bend someone’s ear about the feelings or thoughts you’re having, a friend is often close at hand.
But sometimes a friend can also feel overwhelmed by your problems. They start to pull away from seeing you. They don’t answer your texts or don’t take your call. They stop returning emails, or spend days before you hear a reply (with no explanation).
These may be signs that you’ve overwhelmed your own social support system. It’s time to reach out and talk to someone who’s job it is is to listen, and offer tools and techniques to improve your life.
We risk adding another disorder to our existing problems in an effort to self-medicate.
4. You start overusing or abusing something (or someone) to try and help alleviate your symptoms.
When the going gets tough, many people turn to their trusted mood-altering substance of choice — such as alcohol, cigarettes, or some drug. There’s nothing wrong with that1 when done in moderation.
But when we’re feeling overwhelmed, sometimes we look to one of those helpers and start over-using it. We risk adding another disorder to our existing problems in an effort to self-medicate.
And it’s not just drugs that people will abuse to help alleviate their symptoms. Spending all of your free time online, engaging in non-stop pornography or gambling, or constantly checking your Facebook updates may all be efforts to block out your other problems.
Worse is when we turn our angst or anger toward another person in our lives, such as a loved one. Some people lash out or make their loved one’s life miserable as a way of trying to feel better about themselves.
5. People have noticed and said something to you.
This one is obvious — but sometimes we simply ignore the most obvious signs in our lives. Maybe it was a friend who pulled you aside one day and said, “Hey, is everything okay? I notice you seem to be really struggling lately… maybe you should talk to someone?” Or a partner who’s said, “Look, you need help. You haven’t been yourself in weeks. Nothing I do seems to help, and in fact, we just seem to be getting worse.”
Even coworkers and classmates may have noticed and made a small attempt to let you know they think you may need someone to talk to.
- Outside of the ordinary health concerns of smoking, for instance. [↩]