Docs say there’s one surefire sign it’s definitely time to go to therapy


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While making an appointment with your primary-care physician is a no-brainer when you’re not feeling well, deciding to go to therapy, especially for the first time, can feel like a big step, especially if you typically work through personal and emotional issues on your own or by talking them through with friends and family.

But sometimes, going at it alone or even calling in opinions of loved ones isn’t enough to resolve the issues completely. Sometimes, a specially trained, neutral third-party source may just be, well, what the doctor ordered. But even if you wonder whether you might benefit (or even really need) therapy, psychologist Simon Rego, PsyD, says many waffle about actually scheduling an appointment.

Here’s the thing: Mental-health experts say that if you think you might need therapy, you probably do. “If you have an inclination to see a therapist, it’s a good idea to give it a try,” says psychologist Paul Coleman, PsyD.

“If you have an inclination to see a therapist, it’s a good idea to give it a try.” —psychologist Paul Coleman, PsyD

And psychiatrist Cecilia Livesey, MD, agrees, adding that it’s been shown to be an effective method that poses few downsides: “Therapy is also a chance to have a healthy, non-judgmental, trusting relationship with someone who is completely focused on helping you understand yourself and realize your goals. In today’s busy world, it can feel like an oasis.”

Instead of wondering whether you’d benefit from therapy, instead assume that everyone can benefit from some form of therapy, says Dr. Rego. “What could be better than 45 minutes with someone who is solely focused on you, is on your side, and wants to see you have a healthier, more fulfilling, and balanced life?” he asks. “Why wouldn’t you want to go?”

Sure, there’s a stigma around mental-health that some people harbor, even if subconsciously, and that can be a barrier for getting necessary help. And though that stigma seems to be dissipating—thanks in large part to more and more people speaking openly about their personal struggles—Dr. Rego says many still hesitate to seek therapy for fear of what other others may think or what it might say about them.

Therapy is not one-size-fits-all and is more so a term nearly as broad and varied as “exercise.”

To push past the stigma, first realize that there’s no harm in trying out therapy. “You have nothing to lose,” Dr. Rego says. Furthermore, there are different forms available to try, and it’s important to choose the type that’s right for you. Understanding this component—that therapy is not one-size-fits-all and is a term nearly as broad and varied as “exercise”—may help you understand what it’s really like, and minimize any stigmas to which you may subscribe.

For instance, if you want to focus on solving current problems or on building skills to change concerning thoughts and behaviors, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) might be right for you, Dr. Livesey says. And if you want to understand your thought or behavior patterns, underlying motives, and needs that may have roots in earlier emotional experiences, psychodynamic psychotherapy may be your best bet. There are also specialized therapies for trauma, eating disorders, personality disorders, autism, and more, she adds. “Like physical health care, mental health care has a wide range of options, and you should feel comfortable both with your provider and with the course of treatment you choose.”

It’s important to remember that mental health professionals are there to help, and they have evidence-based tools to do just that. They can (and should) also clue you in about whether they think you can benefit from therapy, and how long they estimate the process might be for you, Dr. Rego says. “Together you can decide whether an ongoing relationship is important,” he says. “If not, it’s like getting a clean bill of health in a physical.”

Because you can really only benefit from trying therapy, even if you just go to one session to see what it’s like, simply being curious about trying it is the surefire sign that’s exactly what you should do. “Just engage in the process,” Dr. Rego says. “You might be surprised how much you get out of it.”

When it comes to couples therapy, it’s a smart idea to try it out before there’s a problem—here’s why. And here are some tips for finding an inclusive therapist.

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