If you're still using the phrase "you need therapy" as an insult, please wake up and join the 21st century. Ever since Freud first set up his practice (by the way, did you know he owned chow dogs that he used in his sessions? Adorable), therapy of one kind or another has been growing in popularity. Blame it on our high-stress environment, the pressures of capitalism, the difficulties of being Generation iPhone, but chances are pretty strong that your friends will have tried therapy of some kind at some point. Do you need to join them? There are some signs you could benefit from therapy to look out for — just in case you need to make the jump.
There's often one particular stumbling-block among many people who've been encouraged to seek therapy, and it's not a legit one. Kate Winslet talked about it just this week. She said she realized she could "outsmart" her therapist, and that it meant she was outta there before you could count to five. If that's a feeling you've experienced — or you just believe no stranger could help you through your tangled psyche, know that it's just not true. You may also be smarter than your plumber, but you probably don't go off to do your own plumbing. Nobody's "too smart" to seek help, and the range of therapeutic options available — from talking therapy to CBT to psychiatry — are sure to contain something that may help you cope.
So what's a relatively reliable signal that therapy of some sort could help with your problems? The most obvious one is when your doctor recommends it. GPs are perfectly willing to talk about your therapy options with you, or to point you in the right direction. But there are other signs that might indicate therapy could give you some benefit. Here are nine to begin with.
1. You Have Low Mood Over Extended Periods
A bit of the old blues is natural and normal in human experience; there is no point in an entirely happy life. But if you've noticed a really prolonged period (beyond a week) in which you felt down-in-the-dumps, whether there's a clear reason for it or no apparent real cause, a therapist may be a good point to start figuring out why that is. Remember, it's also perfectly valid to seek out the therapist after the sadness or rawness has gone away. There are no requirements for "needing" therapy.
2. You've Suffered A Trauma At Any Point In Your Life
Common misconception about therapy: it has to happen just after something terrible occurred to actually help. Nope. Whether you had a rough childhood, a bad relationship, a seriously horrifying car accident, went through grief over a miscarriage or whatever else, the time frame for seeking therapy is essentially endless. It continues to be real and valid, and may be affecting your life in ways you don't yet see. It's never too late to talk about it.
3. Your Emotional Life Exhausts Or Scares You
If everything is very dramatic and intense, and you don't seem to be able to control the roller coaster that your emotions are on, therapy may help. Being an "impulsive" or "sensitive" person is all very well, but feeling completely out of control of your own emotional sensations and causes can be a bit scary and very tiring.
4. You're Finding It Hard To Cope With Daily Life
Therapy is, at root, a thoroughly practical activity. For some people it is, genuinely, a survival guide. Therapists don't often provide solutions — they give you the tools to work them out for yourself — but if you're seriously struggling to cope with workloads, emotional requirements, social burdens, or other aspects of your life, those tools may be very useful.
It's also not necessary to suffer in silence if you're in a high-pressure environment. Law grad? Working insane hours? Juggling an illness or a tricky relationship? Get help.
5. You've Stopped Enjoying Stuff You Once Loved
Some of this is just part of growing up. You no longer want to play with Pokemon? That's fine. But if it's something that, up until recently, you absolutely adored and put energy into, like hanging out with friends or making art, and you just can't seem to muster the motivation to it any more, therapy may be a good option — because it can diagnose what may be standing in the way of that spark.
6. You Struggle With Uncontrollable Thoughts
When we think of "uncontrollable" thoughts, we usually go straight to impulse-driven disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder or Tourette's Syndrome. However, a particular kind of therapy — cognitive behavioral therapy — is also designed to focus on other kinds of uncontrollable thoughts.
If you can't ever seem to let yourself be praised, but always need to criticize yourself; if you find your "cautious" anxiety about situations is causing problems; if, in other words, perfectly normal or ordinary-seeming measures have started to become obviously problematic, get a therapist.
7. Your Relationships Follow Patterns You Don't Understand
This is one of the big ones. And I mean relationships in every sense — with lovers, siblings, family, coworkers, all of it. Therapists are a particular kind of birds-eye view on your life's problems, and may be able to pick out patterns you can't, and how you may be contributing to them.
8. You Act In Self-Defeating, Abusive, Or Damaging Ways
This is tied into the above point. If you're acting in ways that you know you shouldn't, but don't seem to be able to stop or understand where the impulses come from — particularly if you're hurting yourself or others — a therapist should be an important port of call. Good ones can help a lot with intervention and understanding destructive patterns of behavior.
9. You're Using Drugs And/Or Alcohol To Make Life Bearable
Noticed that you start reaching for the beer when you get home just to get through the evening? Getting high on the weekends because it's too horrible not to be numb for a few days? This is sometimes called self-medication, and it may point to underlying issues that you need to address but are blanking out. Using drugs and alcohol to avoid things rather than have a good time is a fairly good indicator that therapeutic work may be of use to you.
And ain't no shame in that.
Images: Hey Paul Studios/Flickr, Giphy