From life transitions to health concerns, these are the times when talking to a professional might be exactly what you need.
Therapy doesn’t have to be something other people get. Or something that you only need when a situation turns dire.
“Life throws us various unexpected twists and turns,” says Erica Wilkins, Ph.D., L.M.F.T., program director of the Couple and Family Therapy Program at Thomas Jefferson University. “I take the position that we all deserve therapy.”
The past two years of the pandemic has certainly proved that—and it’s weighing on us across the board. More than one-third of adults ages 65 and older say that the pandemic has affected their mental health negatively, according to a 2021 survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
For many people, says Wilson, living through the pandemic has made problems or overwhelming feelings even more difficult to process.
If you’ve been considering therapy but aren’t sure if it’s right for you, here are six situations when a counseling session can serve you well—no matter your age:
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Consider Therapy if You: Need Someone Unbiased to Talk To
Talking to a therapist is distinctly different than talking to a friend or family member who’ll probably interject with their two cents—that you may or may not appreciate.
“A therapist is a neutral and unbiased professional who’s trained to listen and offer an alternative perspective,” says Natalie Dattilo, Ph.D., a clinical health psychologist and mental health educator with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
A therapist will help guide you to gain clarity through difficult situations and help in decision making, she explains. Rather than telling you what to do to solve your problems, a therapist will help you come to conclusions about what is best for you to do on your own.
Consider Therapy if You: Have a Health Goal in Mind
One of the more surprising roles of a psychologist is that they can also help you set health-related goals and hold you accountable to them, says Dattilo. For example, perhaps in the past you’ve wanted to start exercising or eat healthier, but it’s been tough to stick with the changes.
“There might be psychological reasons why you’ve struggled to create healthier habits or stick with goals,” she says.
Talking to a therapist can help you uncover those reasons and come up with a plan to change your thinking and enact new habits that you may be more likely to maintain in the long haul.
Consider Therapy if You: Experience Ongoing Symptoms of Anxiety or Depression
You don’t have to wait until you have clinically diagnosed anxiety or depression to seek help from a therapist. Even if you experience some sadness or worry sometimes, a few sessions with a therapist can help you begin to feel more at peace.
“If you get into therapy early on, the prognosis is better,” says Wilkins. “When folks sit in their symptoms, sadness can become depression, which can become immobilizing depression. It’s much more difficult for someone to draw back from at that point,” she says.
Consider Therapy if You: Want to Ease the Burden on Loved Ones
Your friends, family, or partner want to support you, no doubt. While support and openness with those you love is crucial, their role is, however, not to solve your problems.
“Unloading on someone you’re close with may create additional strain in the relationship,” says Dattilo. What does that mean for you? She says you can continue to open up — being vulnerable in a relationship is an asset — but consider saving the real “work” for your session with a therapist.
This approach can take some of the burden off them if they have acted as your emotional caretaker in the past while opening up space for you two to spend better quality time together, she says.
If you’re on the other side of this and you think your loved one could benefit from therapy, Dattilo recommends dropping a gentle hint. You might say something like “have you thought about talking to someone about that?” or, “I’ve talked to people who have gone to therapy, and they say it was really helpful. Have you ever thought about that?”
Consider Therapy if You: Face a Life Transition
Even life transitions that are considered positive, such as retirement, adult children moving out, or moving to a new home can be profoundly stressful.
“Life cycle changes can be really difficult,” says Wilkins. “We have a natural tendency to not want change because it disrupts our current way of life, and that may cause some distress.”
When a big event prompts a change in your routine, don’t hesitate to reach out to a therapist. They can help you process the emotions that tag along.
Consider Therapy if You: Have a Serious Medical Condition
It surprises many people to hear that grief counseling isn’t just for those who’ve recently lost a loved one, says Dattilo. Adjusting to a new medical diagnosis — yours or that of a partner, child, or friend — can be overwhelming and downright difficult.
After all, one moment you might be feeling “I’ve got this!” and a beat later the complexity of what’s ahead hits you and you might be devastated again, she says.
“Seeing a therapist who specializes in grief counseling can help you process your emotions in a way that feels safe,” notes Dattilo. A therapist can also help you figure out if lifestyle changes are called for — and how to best implement them in your life.
How to Find Help
Ready to take that first step and call a therapist? Your primary care physician will be able to give you a referral or recommendation.
You can also ask a friend for the name of someone they trust. Or try the American Psychological Association’s Psychologist Locator tool.
Once you have a few names of therapists in hand, call each of them and ask:
- What experience they have helping people address concerns similar to yours
- Do they use evidence–based treatments
- When they see patients — and how (e.g., one-on-one in person, one-on-one through telemedicine, group therapy)
- How many sessions to expect; contrary to what you’ve seen in movies, effective therapy can be had short-term
It’s common to set up initial, “get-to-know-you,” appointments with two or three therapists. You want to find someone who is a good fit for you.
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