By Stacy Mosel, LMSW
Talking to a counselor or therapist might not sound like your cup of tea, especially if you prefer to handle things on your own or you don’t like talking about or sharing your feelings. But everyone needs a compassionate ear sometimes. When things feel like they’re too much to handle, you might benefit from counseling or psychotherapy. The two are basically the same thing but with different time frames—counseling is usually short-term, while psychotherapy often takes place over the course of several months or even years).
Not only can a counselor or therapist provide an open and objective ear, but they can also help you develop deeper insight into your problems, help you work through issues, and even diagnose certain mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression, if that’s relevant to your situation. If you’re still not convinced, keep reading about the top 6 signs that you could benefit from talking to someone.
Let’s face it—life is not always easy, and everyone struggles with different issues from time to time. When responsibilities pile up or you start to feel overwhelmed by circumstances that seem out of your control (such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, job burnout, family strife, other health issues, or job loss), it could be a good idea to see a counselor or therapist to vent your feelings, obtain a different perspective, and get some advice on how to best cope with the circumstances, even if there’s nothing you can do to change external events.
We’re all tempted to do this from time to time, but it’s honestly never a good idea to try to self-diagnose mental health conditions. Knowledge is power, but obsessively searching online for your symptoms may only make matters worse and even give you the impression that you’re suffering from a mental health disorder you may not even have. By visiting a mental health professional (meaning a licensed counselor, social worker, psychiatrist, or other qualified therapist), you can talk about your symptoms and concerns and discuss whether you may have a diagnosable condition and what treatments might be best suited for your needs.
All relationships have their ups and downs. Most of the time, we think we’re able to handle things on our own and work through difficulties or struggles, which occur in even the best of relationships. When things get to be too much to handle on your own and you’re fighting all the time or you’ve lost a sense of intimacy with your partner, you might feel like throwing in the towel or imagining that things would be better with someone else. While this may or may not be the case, it’s often a good idea to get an outside perspective and talk things through with a nonjudgmental third party (i.e., counselor), who can listen objectively to both sides and help you see each other’s point of view.
You can also learn better communication methods, which is often the real struggle in many relationships. Consider seeking a therapist who offers Imago therapy, a specific type of couples therapy developed by psychologist and relationship expert Harville Hendrix, which is effective for helping couples work through issues, gain deeper insight, and learn how childhood issues affect present-day relationships.
Family life can be challenging, to say the least. Regardless of how you define family, any relationship situation that involves two or more people can present problems and struggles at times. When issues and challenges prevent your family from functioning in an optimal and healthy way, it could be a good idea to consult a family therapist. We all learn how to function in the world and operate in relationships through our primary relationships with our families, and when something is “off” or when your family experiences a setback or loss, it can be a strain on everyone. Family therapy can help you learn to communicate with each other in a more functional way, give everyone’s voice a chance to be heard, help you work through problems, and help you better understand each other.
Using drugs or alcohol might seem to take the edge off when life gets difficult, but this can be a dangerous and slippery slope. Hiding from your feelings, masking them with substances, or using drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with stress can lead to addiction, which is a brain disease that can leave you powerless over drugs or alcohol. It’s better to nip the problem in the bud early on rather than let it progress to the point where things are no longer under control. A counselor can help identify the underlying issues, help you work through your feelings, teach you healthier coping skills, and refer you to a substance abuse treatment facility if necessary.
Whether positive or negative, life changes are almost always accompanied by a certain level of stress. Life changes can involve anything from marriage to divorce, expecting a new baby, the loss of a loved one, undergoing a career change or retirement, moving to a new state (or country), or anything else that feels like an important or challenging step in your life. A therapist can listen to your concerns and feelings, help you develop goals and a plan of attack (if applicable to your situation), and provide feedback to help you more easily navigate the waters of change.
These six reasons are not exhaustive, but rather are some of the most common reasons that people visit counselors or therapists. Suffice it to say that it’s generally a good idea to talk to someone anytime you feel you need support and a different perspective. You also don’t have to make a long-term commitment to therapy if you don’t want to; many types of counseling can provide at least some benefit after just a few sessions. Also keep in mind that it’s smart to research therapists and talk to them beforehand to ensure that you’re a good match because a positive therapeutic relationship is one of the most crucial factors for successful therapy.
Stacy Mosel, LMSW, is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, and substance abuse specialist. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in music from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, she continued her studies at New York University, earning a Master of Social Work degree in 2002. She has extensive training in child and family therapy and in the identification and treatment of substance abuse and mental health disorders. Currently, she is focusing on writing in the fields of mental health and addictions, drawing on her prior experiences as an Employee Assistance Program counselor, individual and family therapist, and assistant director of a child and family services agency.