For those of us who have dealt with depression, anxiety, PTSD, or any other mental illness, working with a therapist is pretty much a necessity in order to address our symptoms and develop coping strategies that will allow us to live our lives. However, there are plenty of times when you could benefit from seeing a therapist even if you don't have a diagnosed mental illness. We're all human and life isn't always a picnic, so it can never hurt to talk with a professional when you're going through a rough patch, such as a tough job situation, a stressful life transition, or the realization that you need help kicking an unhealthy habit. Plus, mental illnesses run the gamut from "mild" to "severe" — so it's possible that you have a mild case of anxiety or depression and don't realize it because society and the media tend to register these disorders only at their most dire.
Our friends, family, and significant others can offer an amazing support system and going to therapy doesn't change that — you won't feel any less close to them if you start getting professional help. But a therapist is in a unique position to provide advice and direction. First of all, it's literally their job to give solid advice and help patients navigate difficult situations in a healthy, proactive manner. Furthermore, seeing a therapist is the perfect way to have a safe space where an unbiased, nonjudgemental person can listen and give you a fresh, honest perspective about any problem you're dealing with.
Here are eight times when seeing a therapist can be a huge help.
1. You've Exhibited Signs Of Depression, Anxiety, Or Another Mental Illness
People develop mental illnesses at all ages — so just because you haven't experienced one before, doesn't mean you should discount the possibility that you're suffering from one now. We all get sad and stressed sometimes, but if these feelings have become intense, pervasive, and overwhelming, it's definitely time to see a therapist and have them assess your mental health. These feelings may be linked to certain circumstances in your life, or they may not have a concrete cause you can pinpoint. Either way, a therapist will be able to diagnose you and help you come up with a treatment plan.
2. You've Experienced Something Traumatic
Although not everyone who experiences a trauma will develop PTSD, it's a good idea to speak with a therapist as soon as possible after a traumatic event, whether it's sexual assault, a car accident, the death of a loved one, or violence in a relationship. These experiences can leave us feeling shaken, unsafe, and distraught — and, depending on a variety of factors specific to the situation and our lives, we may blame ourselves. Although the support of loved ones is invaluable in this situation, therapists are trained to help us work through these feelings. Plus, PTSD can't be diagnosed until one month after the traumatic event — so a therapist will undoubtedly be on the lookout for warning signs that you've developed the condition, which means it can be treated sooner rather than later.
3. You Use Substances To Cope With Stress
If your first instinct after a rough day is to reach for a drink, a joint, or another substance, it's a red flag that you need new coping skills that are more than just a "quick fix." It can also be a sign that you're more depressed or anxious than you realize. Alcohol or drugs will take the edge off in the moment, but they will ultimately make you more stressed, anxious, and depressed in the long-term. (And, often, you'll feel the miserable effects by the next morning when you have to go to work hungover and exhausted.) Therapists will help you get to the root of why you're using substances to cope and they'll help you develop new, healthy coping strategies to use instead.
4. You Feel Dissatisfied & Stuck In A Rut
Lots of us have been there — we realize we're dissatisfied with many key aspects of our lives, such as our career paths, our city of choice, and our relationships. In short, we're in a rut and we know it's time for a significant change. This can be an incredibly overwhelming feeling and, as much as we want to move forward and follow a new path, it's easy to feel paralyzed and not know where to begin.
During my own quarter-life crisis, I knew I wanted to change my job and move across the country — but it all felt incredibly daunting and I couldn't figure out what my first step should be. Therapy can help us take a step back and figure out how to start turning things around — because the first step is often the hardest one. A therapist will help you figure out a game plan that involves tackling every aspect of your life methodically and they'll push you to be proactive.
5. Your Personal Relationships Are Suffering
It's part of life to experience tough breakups and have the occasional falling out with a friend or family member. It's always painful, but these can actually be positive developments in the end, because sometimes we need to disconnect ourselves from unhealthy relationships.
But if many of your relationships are suffering or you feel emotionally disconnected from the people closest to you, it's often a sign that something unhealthy is going on with you — especially if you can't really think of a reason why you're pulling away from friends, significant others, and family members.
6. You're Way Too Hard On Yourself
It's certainly not a bad thing to expect a lot from ourselves and to hold ourselves accountable when we make a mistake. It's healthy to accept responsibility rather than blame someone else, then learn from the experience and move on. But if you mentally berate yourself over every error or misstep you make in your personal or professional life, you're treating yourself unfairly and unreasonably. This can lead to unhealthy, irrational thinking — for example, if you think one mistake at work means you're terrible at your job and you mentally berate yourself for being "incompetent" or even "stupid," you may need help in adjusting your way of thinking.
Cognitive behavior therapy can help us look at these situations in a rational manner and therapists will assist us in challenging the unfair assumptions we make about ourselves. It's important to get help if you're struggling with these kinds of thoughts, because they can be damaging on many levels. They can lead to anxiety and self-loathing, and can make us fearful of venturing out of our comfort zones because we're so terrified of making a mistake.
7. You Feel Helpless Or Disempowered
If you consistently feel helpless when confronted with a problem or stressor, it's obviously going to make it pretty difficult to cope. Firstly, a therapist can help you identify why you feel disempowered — whether it's because of low self-esteem, anxiety, or the impact of past experiences, it's important to find the underlying reason and address it. And, secondly, they'll help you develop strategies that will enable you to feel confident enough to confront a situation and resolve it in an empowering way.
Another reason to seek therapy if you often feel helpless? Research shows that people who feel as though they have no control over their environment are at a greater risk of depression and they're less likely to reach their full potential because they may believe they have no control over their future, regardless of how hard they work. So, this is definitely a problem to nip in the bud with the help of a therapist.
8. You Have Unexplained Physical Ailments
Our mental and physical health are extremely connected, and individuals who are under a great deal of stress frequently experience headaches, stomaches, sleep disturbances, and muscle pain, among other physical symptoms. If you consistently feel physically unwell and your medical doctor can't find a reason why, your body may be telling you that you're way more stressed out and unhappy than you realize. If your mental health is suffering so much that it causes physical symptoms, it's definitely time to talk with a therapist and get to the bottom of what's making you feel so unwell.