Do I need to see a therapist? 6 signs you might

If our car breaks down or our radiators spring a leak, we go to the garage or call a plumber because the signs are obvious. Matters can be less apparent when our mental health and wellbeing suffers. While the signs are often there, many people fail to recognise them for what they are or even notice them at all, which is why it can take a crisis before they act. As a coach and therapist for over 16 years, I know that many people would have accessed therapy long before they reached a crisis point had they known which signs to look for. In my blog, ‘Do I need to see a therapist?’ I highlight six signs you can look out for that indicate you might need to see a therapist long before things get out of hand.

Smiling, friendly therapist, Mark Evans, who owns this website and business

Do I need to see a therapist? Sign one: conversations

When someone decides to see a therapist, they are effectively commenting on their existing conversations, and that is, they are not making the difference they are after. If they were, they wouldn’t be talking to a therapist. Understandably, when faced with challenges and difficulties, we turn to our existing support network to help us resolve them. If it can help, then great, but if it can’t or won’t, we need someone new to talk to. This realisation means accepting that the people in our lives are either causing our problems or sustaining them because they don’t know how to help.

So, the first sign to look out for that you might need to see a therapist is when your existing conversations make no difference at all or worse. If you act on this sign, tell your therapist that the reason you are talking to them is because your existing conversations are missing qualities and characteristics that are important to you. An effective therapist will know this anyway and work with you to create the conversation you need.

Sign two: meaning

Our difficulties and challenges do not always come with a flashing neon sign announcing their arrival, and even when they do, it isn’t always clear why we are experiencing them or how to resolve them. The result is that sometimes we can be a mystery to ourselves, and finding a solution can be hard, if not impossible. Therefore, the second sign that talking to a therapist might be a good idea is when your mental health and wellbeing are deteriorating because you cannot make sense of your situation or do anything about it. Therapists are used to clients presenting in various states of puzzlement and trained to help them find clarity and solutions.

Luckily, human beings have an inbuilt system that alerts us when we haven’t a clue what is going on – our emotions. Emotions such as anxiety and depression are messages informing us that we are not thriving and surviving in critical areas of our lives. An effective therapist will connect your emotions to your critical areas to understand why you are experiencing them.

Sign three: patterns

If you were to examine your life under a microscope, what would you see? I think you would see patterns of thinking, behaving, feeling and relating. And if you adjusted your microscope further to see into the finer detail of your patterns, would you see:

  1. more positive patterns than negative ones?
  2. equal numbers of positive and negative patterns?
  3. more negative patterns than positive ones?

If you answered c) or even b), then this is sign number 3 that talking to a therapist might be a good idea. The problematic patterns that make up our difficulties and challenges can be hard to see clearly by ourselves, and therapy can create the necessary distance and objectivity. A therapist can help you set about weakening and replacing any negative ones with a clear picture of your patterns while strengthening any positive ones. In this way, therapy performs the same role as the microscope.

Sign four: acceptance

Striving to get where we want in life can stretch, challenge and reward us. However, if our goals and expectations are unrealistic, we can become demoralised, exhausted or even burned out. When this happens, we have opened up what I call a Fantasy-Reality Gap, which is the difference between:

  • who we think we are (the fantasy) and who we actually are (the reality).
  • what we think we are doing (fantasy) and what we are actually doing (reality)
  • the life we think we are leading (fantasy) and the life we are actually leading (reality)

FRGs can be hard to spot because fantasy selves, actions and lives can appear to offer us a path to success and fulfilment in life. However, because FRGs are bad for our mental health and wellbeing, they always come with identifiable characteristics, which we can become aware of. Examples include

  • intrusive thoughts
  • problematic behaviours such as avoidance
  • difficult emotions such as anxiety and depression
  • unhealthy relationships, for instance, with food or alcohol

So the fourth sign that you might need to see a therapist is if you think you might be living with an FRG. Therapy helps close FRGs by encouraging people to accept themselves, what they do, and how they live. Acceptance is hard because it can feel like we are giving in, but acceptance is not resignation but the first stage in our transformation.

Sign five: challenge

All of us have goals and objectives, dreams and ambitions we would like to achieve. Sometimes though, despite our best efforts, we grind to a halt when adversity, crises, or a lack of inspiration strikes. How we respond at such moments of challenge is crucial, so the fifth sign that therapy might be worth considering is if you are stuck, avoidant or procrastinating. A skilled therapist will show you that it is not your goal that is the issue but your strategy to achieve it. They will reconnect you to your strengths and help you find the resources you need to realign your goal and strategy. Or, if you no longer wish to pursue your original aims, tap into your powers of curiosity and creativity so you can find new ones.

Sign six: transformation

As human beings, we all go through a transformational process, whether we like it or not, otherwise known as the ageing process. Ideally, we will be in control of this process, and our progression through life will, notwithstanding the usual ups and downs, be a relatively smooth one as we embark on the right journey for our desired destination. Sometimes though, life is far from ideal. Personal and professional setbacks such as divorce, illness and redundancy can knock us off course and obscure our destination or make it impossible to reach. As a result, we can find ourselves adrift without a clear sense of direction, meaning or purpose. So the sixth sign that seeing a therapist could be a good investment is if you find yourself struggling to hold on to something or someone. They will give you the confidence to pause and reflect, and once sure to recommence your journey, excited to reach your destination.

Do I need to see a therapist? Getting support

If you recognise any or all of the six signs in my blog and would like further information on how therapy can help you, then I’d love to hear from you. My IMPACT Model and IMPACT Transformation Programmes have enabled many people to overcome their difficulties and flourish in life. To read what some of my clients say about me, visit my Testimonials page.

For more information, the Counselling Directory has some great articles and resources.