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“Should I Go to a Therapist?” When to Seek Counseling

Are you wondering if you should seek help from a therapist?

“If you’ve considered seeing a therapist, you probably should,” says Jack Cahalane, PhD, senior director for integrated clinics, telehealth, and community liaison at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital. “Many people experience symptoms for months or even years before seeking therapy.”

Should I Go to a Therapist?

If you suffer from clinical depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorders, substance abuse issues, or suicidal thoughts — yes, you should see a therapist. Even people who experience milder depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem may find therapy helpful.

“You don’t have to have a severe psychiatric disorder to see a therapist,” says Dr. Cahalane. “People who feel ‘stuck in life’ or are dissatisfied with their relationships can benefit greatly from a few therapy sessions.”

A short period of counseling also can be helpful if you’re going through a life-changing event (like retirement or the loss of a loved one), he adds.

Is There a Stigma Associated With Receiving Therapy?

Thankfully, people discuss mental health issues more openly these days. Talking to a therapist should never be embarrassing, but making that first appointment can feel intimidating because you’re making yourself vulnerable, says Dr. Cahalane.

Go ahead and make the call. A therapist can give you clear-eyed feedback that friends and family cannot. “We can talk to our friends and partners about our concerns,” says Dr. Cahalane. “We want their advice, but we usually know what they’re going to say, or we phrase things to get the answer we’re looking for. With a therapist we can be more honest.”

What Can I Expect When Seeing a Therapist?

Forget the old movie scene where the patient lies on a couch while a psychiatrist listens silently. “The old-style therapists didn’t say much,” says Dr. Cahalane. “It’s much more interactive today.”

Therapists now set goals that are concrete and action-oriented. “The sessions are relatively short-term and more focused,” notes Dr. Cahalane. “You should notice results within the first few visits.” Many people start with weekly sessions, and then move to less frequent visits.

Expect the first session to include questions about your background. “The therapist needs to understand where you’re coming from. You’re basically telling your story,” says Dr. Cahalane. Follow-up appointments should include goal-setting and strategies for attaining those goals.

How Can I Find a Good Therapist?

Whether you’re looking for family, couples, or individual therapy, ask friends, family, or your primary care doctor for recommendations. Many UPMC primary care groups have a therapist in the practice.

If you don’t feel like you’re making progress after about three sessions, don’t hesitate to switch therapists, says Dr. Cahalane. A therapist highly recommended by someone you know may not be the right fit for you.

“Ultimately, you need to feel comfortable talking to the therapist,” he says. “If your gut tells you it’s not a good fit, don’t hesitate to find a different therapist. No matter how well-qualified, not everyone is going to mesh.”

For locations and more information about counseling services at UPMC, please visit Counseling Services at the Department of Family Medicine. To ask questions or to schedule an appointment at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital, call 1-877-624-4100.