How to evaluate if you need psychotherapy?

Do I need therapy?

Therapy: a badge of honor or a badge of shame? According to 2010 statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in the United States there is an estimated 30 million adults diagnosed with mentally disorders. You might think that receiving therapy would be a priority. Not so, for many the question, do I need therapy remains a highly emotional topic.

There are several reasons for this reluctance to participate in therapy, among them are:

  1. Social stigma: In the US and Canada being labeled as mentally ill carries a social stigma. This stigma is the result of the public perception that being diagnosed and treated for a mental illness somehow makes the patient crazy.
  2. Cost: Yes, therapy can be expensive. The cost will depend on where the treatment is provided. A thorough check on local resources often can result in treatment options at very reasonable cost
  3. Availability: While mental health treatment is widely available there are some locales where services are limited or even non-existent.
  4. Knowing how to access service: Obtaining mental health treatment can be a challenge. Many questions arise like where do you start your search, what is available, how can you be sure that your choice of a service provider is the right one? Many communities have non-profit agencies that offer information and referrals for mental health treatment.
  5. A lack of knowledge about the process of therapy.

Certainly there are others reasons as well, including the focus this article, the question, do I need therapy? While a seemingly simple question, there are several underlying reasons why this question comes up. The main one is denial. Denial is our defense mechanism and it is often associated with comments like:

“They have always acted that way,”

“They will get over it,”

Just give them some time.”

“That’s just who they are.”

Everyone experiences times of sadness, stress, conflict, or any number of other troubling events. This is normal and in and of itself does not constitute a reason to seek therapy. It is when these events overwhelm you, become possessive of your life, and lead to poor decision making that therapy must be considered as an option.

Yet, there are those people who seem to have a higher tolerance for dealing with negative life events than others. Most of us know someone whose life appears to be lived on the edge.

This article is not intended to convince you either way, but to lay out a straightforward approach to honestly answering that question.

Therapy, Yes or No; a Personal Choice

The answer to our question can be quickly found by you with a simple yes or no. Do you think you need therapy?  No one can force you into therapy. Even if therapy is court mandated you always have the option of not participating.

With all of the tragic events of the past few years, especially those involving children there is an ever increasing public outcry almost demanding mental health treatment.  But, until or if this outcry is addressed the status quo remains in place. Study after study has indicated that if the person in therapy does not want to be there the benefits of therapy are almost non-existent. Participation in therapy should not be something we should do, but something we want to do.

While there are may be some legitimate reasons for not seeking therapy, you really should make an honest assessment of your own situation. For some, not being in therapy has more to do with personal beliefs than with anything else. Yet, there are many examples where personal and public safety plays an important role. There is no better judge of your current mental health status than yourself.

Warning Signs

Here are some very important reasons why you should choose to participate in therapy, or if you have quit, maybe it’s time to reconsider your decision.

Check out the following behaviors or reactions. Are any of them interfering in your life?

  • Exhibiting behaviors that are hurtful, even dangerous.
  • Poor medication management
  • Increased depression
  • Significant relationship issues
  • Isolation
  • Out of control anger
  • An inability to control your behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Psychotic episodes
  • Personal feelings of poor self-worth and self-esteem

Psychology Today offers a short 10 minutes mental health evaluation test designed to help people in the decision making process regarding therapy. It can be accessed here. Perhaps the most compelling reason for being in therapy is your motivation.

Do I Really Need Therapy?

Let me be clear, NO! Therapy is not the end all for solving everyone’s issues. The decision begins with your own honest self-assessment. Here are a few examples of situations where therapy may not be your first choice.

  1. Is your issue one that is transitory? That is, will it resolve itself without any action? Examples include a breakup, a loss, or other significant disappointment or other event that time will resolve. Therapy can still help you cope with the situation, yet time will eventually heal.
  1. You have overwhelming legitimate reasons why you cannot participate in therapy. Don’t laugh, but I once had a client who believed in Scientology and considered every psychologist evil. According to him, I was an exception 🙂
  1. Do you have a meaningful support system? Many people rely on friends, family, or clergy for support and encouragement. Again, if the issue you are dealing with is not life threatening, dangerous, or destructive your personal support system may be what you need.

You can always opt for therapy if you find that your issues are not resolving.

The Decision

In the final analysis, the answer to this question lies in determining the severity of your issues, the impact of your issues on your ability function, any risks to yourself or others as a result of not seeking therapy, and your willingness to be a participant in therapy.