Therapy is so much more than sitting on a couch.
Misconceptions abound about what it means to talk to a mental health professional. The need to talk about your emotions is seen as something to poke fun at, weak or shameful. That stigma is often why people don’t seek help in the first place.
But here’s the reality: Therapy is an incredibly useful tool that helps with a range of issues, from anxiety to sleep to relationships to trauma. Research shows that it’s incredibly effective in helping people manage mental health conditions and experts say that it’s worth it even if you don’t have a medical problem.
If you still need convincing, here are a few reasons why you should give the practice a try:
1. You’re experiencing unexpected mood swings.
If you’re noticing you’ve taken on a more negative mood or thought process ― and it’s persistent ― it might be worth talking to someone. This is typically a sign of a mental health issue. A therapist can help you get to the root of the problem, according to clinical social worker Rachel Fogelberg, who works with the University of Michigan’s department of psychiatry.
“You have the opportunity to open up about your thoughts, feelings and circumstances in a confidential environment,” Fogelberg told The Huffington Post. “Within the safety of this secure environment, individuals can feel comfortable to explore areas of themselves or their lives that they are struggling or unhappy with.”
2. You’re undergoing a big change.
This could be a new career, a new family or moving to a different city. New ventures are challenging and it’s normal to need assistance with that.
“You can work with someone with a neutral perspective to identify goals and to develop a plan to achieve them,” Folgelberg said. “Therapy often involves the development of skills and strategies to reduce or manage life stressors.”
3. You’re having harmful thoughts.
Suicide and self-harm are completely preventable with treatment by a licensed professional. If you’re thinking of hurting yourself immediately, seek help right away through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or the Crisis Text Line.
4. You’re withdrawing from things that used to bring you joy.
A loss of motivation could signal that something is up. If you’re normally a social butterfly and you’re suddenly pulling away from your weekly sports league, for example, you could be experiencing something deeper. A therapist is trained to help you uncover why this might occurring, Folgelberg explained.
“The truth is, therapy can be very helpful for many people and often helps individuals sustain their mental health,” she said.
5. You’re feeling isolated or alone.
Many people who deal with mental health issues feel like they’re singular in dealing with their experience, according to licensed master social worker Nancy McCorry, who works at the University of Michigan’s Addiction Treatment Services. Group therapy could help with this or even just having a medical professional recognizing the validity of your emotions.
“When you enter therapy ... you get the immediate sense of relief that you are not alone,” McCorry told HuffPost. “Your problem is well understood and shared by others. This can bring about a sense of both comfort and hope.”
6. You’re using a substance to cope with issues in your life.
If you find yourself turning to drugs or alcohol as a way to deal with what’s going on in your life, it might be time to reach out. Addiction and substance abuse are medical conditions ― not character flaws, McCorry stressed.
“There have been many breakthroughs in our understanding of the biology of addiction and evidenced based treatment to assist people in achieving their treatment goals,” she said. “Going to therapy allows a person to gain the knowledge needed to fully address their illness.”
7. You suspect you might have a serious mental health condition.
Serious mental illness affects almost 10 million adults in America in a given year. If you’ve been feeling off for a long period of time, reach out. Psychiatric conditions like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia rarely develop out of nowhere and people display signs for a while. Symptoms ― particularly ones like severe nervousness, apathy or intrusive thoughts ― should not be ignored. They’re treatable.
8. You feel like you’ve lost control.
This particular feeling arises when people are dealing with a substance abuse or addiction issue, McCorry said. This lack of control often keeps individuals in the in a repetitive circle of substance use.
“This can keep a person in the cycle of addiction ― using their substance in order to avoid painful feelings. Going to therapy can help to lift this heavy burden
9. Your relationships feel strained.
Relationships ― no matter what kind ― are hard work. You’re not expected to have all the answers. If you’re with a partner, therapy can help the two of you explore better ways to communicate and any other issues that seem to pop up. Couples therapy can even be beneficial if your partner is hesitant and doesn’t end up attending the session.
“The therapist can pinpoint how to help the spouse interpret misunderstandings and identify where they’re most at odds,” Debra Campbell, a psychologist and couple’s therapist in Melbourne, Australia, previously told HuffPost.
10. Your sleeping patterns are off.
A key symptom of depression includes a disruption in sleep, whether it be too little or too much. If you’ve noticed any significant change, it might be time to investigate the underlying issue (this even goes for insomnia, which also includes therapy as a method of treatment).
11. You just feel like you need to talk to someone.
Bottom line: There’s nothing wrong with seeking professional help for any health issue, including mental health. To put it as actress Kerry Washington once did, “I go to the dentist. So why wouldn’t I go to a shrink?”
If you have an inclination that you might need to speak with someone, do it. Therapy is a perfectly normal ― and valuable ― experience that works to many people’s benefit.