We all experience problems in life. Often, we can work through them by taking care of ourselves — eating well, exercising, sleeping well, and practicing relaxation techniques — and maybe reading self-help books or talking with a supportive family member or a friend.
But sometimes problems can be too difficult to deal with on our own. They persist and interfere with our ability to function or fully enjoy our lives. In those cases you need something more to get your life back on track. You may benefit from seeing a therapist.
How serious is the struggle?
Therapists say two factors can determine when it might be time to get help — level of distress and impairment in function. In other words, how much are you suffering and how much are those feelings interfering with your ability to do the things you want and need to do?
To better assess the seriousness of the problem you are facing, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I spend a considerable amount of time each day thinking about the problem?
- Am I embarrassed by the problem? Do I hide it from others?
- Over the past few months, has the problem reduced my quality of life?
- Has my problem caused me to abandon work or educational goals?
- Am I rearranging my lifestyle to accommodate the problem?
- Have I been feeling down most of the time for two weeks or more?
- Am I withdrawing from the people I love or giving up activities I enjoy?
- Is fear or anxiety causing physical symptoms such as stomachaches, headaches, or a racing heart?
Alternatively, you may not be able to identify a problem. Maybe you just feel down or anxious most of the time. Maybe you are not sleeping well or you’re sleeping too much. Maybe you suffer from fatigue or difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
You may have felt this way for so long that it just feels “normal” to you, but it’s not. For some people, these symptoms may be related to a condition called dysthymia or persistent depressive disorder (PDD). In these cases, professional care from a therapist can help you. If you’re ready to take the first step in starting therapy, use this resource to help find the right therapist for you.
When others see a problem
Sometimes it’s hard to recognize a problem in yourself or judge its severity. Sometimes you may realize there is a problem but you are hesitant to seek therapy. In those cases, a loved one may be the one who urges you to go to therapy.
This could be because:
- You are experiencing problems in your marriage or relationship
- You seem anxious or depressed much of the time
- You are missing excessive work or school
- Problems with alcohol or other substances are interfering with your relationships or responsibilities
- You no longer want to go out or enjoy activities with them you once did
When is the best time?
There is no perfect time to seek therapy. The best time to go is when you recognize you need help and you are ready to do your part in making therapy work.
It is never too soon to seek therapy. Addressing a problem with a therapist early on can keep it from interfering with your life and can make the process of resolving the problem go more quickly.
It is also never too late. If you have been living with a problem for some time, resolving it can take more time, but it is possible. Seeking therapy is a sign of strength and can help you function at your best.