"Do I need therapy?" When it's time to seek help

Medically reviewed by April Justice
Updated January 17, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Wondering if you may need therapy? Life can come with different stressors and challenges. Some can be handled alone, and others may need support beyond your usual coping strategies. If you're going through a period in your life where you're experiencing relationship challenges or you're feeling overwhelmed, you may be wondering if the situation is something you can work through on your own or if you may benefit from professional therapy.

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Wondering if therapy can make a difference in your life?

Seeking support from a therapist about mental health concerns and life complications can be helpful, even if you don't attend therapy for long or have a diagnosed mental health condition. There are several ways you can determine whether you might benefit from therapy, which we'll cover in this article.

Do you have a mental health condition?

If you’re going through a tough stretch and having a difficult time coping, you may be wondering if you need therapy. People seek therapy for various reasons, including emotional, cognitive, and behavioral concerns, as well as challenges associated with the stresses of daily life. Some examples of mental health challenges that a therapist can help to assist you with can include:

  • Emotional challenges: mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc.

  • Behavioral challenges: needing help to stop smoking, anger management issues, addictions, etc. 

  • Cognitive challenges: low self esteem, excessive worry, repeated negative thoughts, distractibility, feeling suicidal, etc.

  • Daily life challenges: social anxiety, family conflicts, sleepless nights, workplace stress, concerns related to romantic relationships/marriage, etc.

While emotional challenges are sometimes more easily associated with a mental health condition, that doesn't mean that other categories of these life challenges cannot indicate mental health disorders. Behaviors such as drinking more than one could indicate a substance use disorder, for example, and cognitive challenges with self-esteem or obsessive thoughts about one's weight might indicate the potential for eating disorders.

Should I seek out therapy?

Experiencing one of the above life challenges may not necessarily indicate needing professional mental health services. Engaging with life stressors is expected and sometimes even the healthy way to live, as they may push us to grow and develop into fuller versions of ourselves. So, how do you know when the challenging situation or certain life experiences may require mental health therapy?

One of the most effective ways to assess whether you need therapy to assist with a life challenge is to ask yourself if the challenge is causing you significant distress or interfering with your day-to-day life. If the answer is "yes," mental health care may be beneficial. According to the American Psychological Association, a "yes" answer to any of the following questions might also indicate that you are at a point where effective therapy can help: 


  • Do you spend a lot of time thinking about the life challenge?

  • Is the life challenge causing you shame or embarrassment or making you want to hide from others or withdraw from your relationships?

  • Is someone close to you negatively impacted by the situation related to the life challenge?

  • Does addressing or thinking about the challenge take up a significant portion of your time, i.e., more than one hour a day?

  • Is the life challenge having a negative impact on the overall quality of your life?

  • Are you changing aspects of your life because of the challenge?

  • Is the challenge negatively impacting your work, school, physical health, or relationships? 

  • Are the people close to you worried about you, regardless of how much they do or do not know about the life challenge?

Signs of mental health conditions

While your answers to the above questions may help give you a clearer sense of whether you may benefit from checking in with a therapist, they are not the only self-diagnostic tool. There are additional signs that might indicate therapy could be helpful for you. 

Losing interest in parts of your life

One significant sign that you may be experiencing a mental health condition is losing interest in parts of your life that once brought you joy, like hobbies such as playing video games, spending time with friends and family, etc. You may also feel a lack of motivation or purpose in general. You might have a sense of apathy about the basic functions of human life – you may not care about getting out of the bed, showering, or what kind of food you eat. This lack of interest could be a sign of a mental illness.

Lack of motivation

If you find yourself becoming easily annoyed, irritated, or resentful about the parts of your life that you used to find meaning in, like your job or your children, it may be time to consult a therapist and start talking about therapy. Such feelings can indicate there is a deeper mental health concern affecting you.

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Experiencing intrusive thoughts

Intrusive thoughts are upsetting, disturbing, or anxiety-provoking thoughts that may pop into your head at any time and for no clear reason. Intrusive thoughts can be difficult to ignore or get rid of, and they may feel all-consuming. Oftentimes, intrusive thoughts can be an indication that the person is experiencing anxiety or extreme levels of stress.

Such stress can take a toll on multiple parts of your life and may even cause a variety of physical symptoms including headaches, digestive issues, and increased susceptibility to colds and viruses due to reduced immune functioning. If you're stressed or worried to the point of experiencing intrusive thoughts, you may want to see a therapist who can help you moderate your anxiety and manage these symptoms.

Engaging in social withdrawal

If you are going through an intense period in your life, it may not necessarily be a sign of a larger concern if you pull back from your relationships with other people for a time. However, social withdrawal for an extended period could indicate a mental health challenge that may need to be addressed with therapy.

If you feel severe distress at the thought of being around other people, particularly those you care about or whose presence you used to enjoy, it may be time to try talk therapy. You may try to avoid people who know you well out of fear that they will express concern or worry about you, and potentially lead you to confront something about yourself that you may have been avoiding (i.e., you have developed unhealthy coping mechanisms, your mood swings have taken a toll on your relationships, etc.). Talking to the therapist may help you start improving relationships and addressing the challenges at the root of your loved ones' concerns.

Need online therapy with a mental health professional?

A therapist can be an invaluable resource for anyone experiencing a life challenge or the symptoms of a mental health condition. You can find support for your situation from a trained, therapeutic professional whose understanding of human psychology and behavior can help you identify the solutions for your concerns. The right therapist can provide a judgement free space for you to work through your mental health concerns with self-awareness and help you identify the root causes of your symptoms. Many therapists are trained to address specific challenges and provide a judgment-free space to work through these emotional difficulties. For example, a marriage and family therapist might help couples working through stressful situations like divorce, while a clinical social worker might help people diagnosed with major psychiatric disorders work through their childhood trauma, depression, or other significant factors. 

Other factors to consider

However, if you are going through a turbulent time, it may feel stressful to go to therapy. Attending therapy in person can involve several factors that feel stressful, including complicated scheduling, lengthy commute times, and potentially high costs. If you hope to receive therapy in a more convenient way, you may want to consider online therapy through a platform such as BetterHelp. With online therapy, you can schedule sessions whenever you're available and meet with most therapists from anywhere you have a Wi-Fi connection. Online therapy also has many benefits including lower therapy cost, saving you money and time as you get the support you need.

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Wondering if therapy can make a difference in your life?

The efficacy of online therapy

Scientific research has demonstrated that online therapy can be as effective as traditional in-person therapy. One study found that participating in online cognitive behavioral therapy reduced symptoms of various mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, mood disorders, bipolar disorder, and different kinds of phobias, among others. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a method of therapy that can help by teaching people how to think more constructively. By creating newer, healthier thinking patterns in therapy, individuals can understand how their thoughts influence their actions and allow their more positive thoughts to help them choose healthier behaviors. 

Takeaway

It can be difficult to know when to attend therapy. While it may be tempting to cope with life's challenges on your own, sometimes having a supportive individual or therapist in your corner can help you move through different struggles with more ease. If you're experiencing a life challenge that is causing you to change aspects of your day-to-day life, it may be time to seek professional support in the form of a therapist. Online therapy provides convenient, low-cost options to fit therapy into your life. If you think you may benefit from therapy, consider connecting with potential therapists via an online therapist page such as BetterHelp.

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The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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