Do I need a problem to start therapy?

Bonnie Evie Gifford
By Bonnie Evie Gifford,
updated on Jan 8, 2023

Do I need a problem to start therapy?

We’ve all heard of the benefits of therapy. But do you need to wait for a big, specific problem to start working with a therapist? We answer your most asked questions about therapy, why people work with a counsellor, and what you should know before starting therapy

Therapy. Our perception of what therapy is – and who it’s for – has changed drastically over the years. According to the Mental Health Foundation, around one in eight adults (12.1%) in the UK receives some kind of mental health treatment – just 3% of which is some form of psychological therapy. In the US, one in five adults (21.6%) are seeking out treatment for mental health issues. Yet many of us don’t realise that talking therapy isn’t just for when you are experiencing ill mental health.

Talk therapies can be helpful for anyone who is experiencing a tough time or who has emotional problems. Therapy can help you to reach specific goals in your life, reflect on your past, and to better understand who you are, what you want, and where you want to go. But you don’t need to have a specific problem, diagnosis, or even be struggling in order to see real benefits from working with a counsellor, therapist, psychotherapist, or psychologist.

Here, we answer some of your top questions on therapy and how working with a therapist can help you (even when you don’t have a specific problem).

Do you need problems to go to therapy?

You don’t have to have a specific problem, issue, or diagnosable mental health problem to go to (or benefit from) therapy. While many of us will wait until a major life crisis hits or we feel like we are struggling before we seek help, it is never too early to speak with someone.

You can work with a mental health professional like a counsellor or therapist to talk in general. Many people find that this can help them to sort out their feelings, release pent-up emotions, or even to discover underlying issues that they didn’t know were weighing in on their minds or actions. Speaking with a therapist can feel freeing, as you can talk about issues, events, experiences, or thoughts you haven’t felt able to share with anyone before.

We asked people what they think counselling is and why people seek therapy

Can happy people go to therapy?

It’s important to note that not only unhappy people seek therapy. Many people who would classify themselves as happy or in a good place mentally still work with a counsellor or therapist to learn new, healthy habits, to have an outlet to talk without worrying about burdening or upsetting friends or family, as well as to just act as a way of getting an emotional wellbeing check-up.

Not everyone has a clear idea of what they want to say or talk about during therapy – and that’s ok. You can talk about just about anything with your therapist. If you truly feel stuck, a therapist is often able to help prompt you to help you get started in figuring out what you want to talk about, what you don’t want to talk about (but may benefit from exploring), or any goals you wish to aim for.

While you don’t need a specific problem to go to therapy, you may need to be experiencing specific mental health problems to access free NHS talking therapy.

IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) services can mainly help with common mental health problems like stress, anxiety, depression, struggling with day-to-day life, and feeling low or hopeless amongst other issues, and can be accessed through GP or self-referral.

Depending on your problem and symptoms, you may be offered guided self-help, counselling, or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Find out more about the cost of private therapy and employee assistance programmes (EAP) and health insurance providers.

What are the most common reasons why people get therapy?

The reasons why people work with a therapist vary greatly from person to person. Some people may seek help for a specific problem like a phobia or addiction, while others may be struggling to cope with day-to-day stress or worries.

Some of the most common reasons why people seek out counselling can include:

  • Addiction and substance use. This can include alcohol, tobacco, prescription medication, illegal drugs, sexual addictions, or problems with gambling. Working with a therapist can help to change problematic behaviours, instil new habits, and break binge-purge cycles that addicts may struggle with.
  • Anxiety, depression, worry and stress. This can include general anxiety, specific kinds of anxiety (health, eco, phobias, PTSD, separation, or social), feelings of being anxious or worried, and short or long-term stress. A therapist can help you to identify sources and root causes of stress, worry, anxiety and depression, helping you to build healthier coping mechanisms and addressing underlying issues that may be causing other problems (such as sleep or eating problems).
  • Bereavement, grief and loss. Working through the feelings associated with the death of a friend, family member, or loved one can be difficult. We each grieve differently, working at our own pace with no set timeline. When we feel we don’t have the space or time to prioritise working through these feelings, it can cause future problems. Speaking with a therapist can help you to better understand how you are feeling and work through these feelings.
  • Illness, chronic illness, accidents or surgery. Serious, ongoing, or chronic illness, accidents, or surgeries for yourself or someone close to you can cause a myriad of emotions that can be tricky to work through without help and support. A therapist can help you to recognise, understand, and deal with these big emotional reactions caused by experiencing or supporting a loved one through illness or injury.  
  • Low confidence and self-esteem. You may have trouble recognising your strengths and weaknesses, believing in yourself or your abilities, or finding the motivation to keep going past initial stumbling blocks. A therapist may be able to help you better recognise your full potential, improve communication skills, recognise your problems more easily, and start taking action.
  • Relationship problems. Our relationships (romantic, family, friendships, and work-related) can significantly impact how we feel, causing worry, anxiety, stress, or self-doubt. Working with a therapist can help you better understand your relationships, recognise unhealthy patterns, learn to implement boundaries, and help you to focus on nurturing the relationships that are most important to you.

Why do I think I need a therapist?

Many people consider therapy when there is something in their life causing them distress or taking up their thoughts each day. Not everyone is aware of a specific issue or worry that underpins their desire to work with a therapist. For some, the idea of getting to speak openly or explore their thoughts and feelings in a safe, judgement-free zone motivates them to seek out therapy.

Should I go to therapy?

Only you can answer the question: Should I go to therapy? There are lots of different reasons to start therapy – all of them equally as valid. But only you can decide if giving therapy a try is the right option for you.

Not everyone knows why they want to go to therapy, who they want to work with, or if counselling will be the right option for them. And that is ok. Part of the therapeutic process can be figuring out what is and isn’t right for you. Trying different types of therapy (therapeutic approaches) and working with different professionals (counsellors, therapists, psychotherapists) can be a helpful part of the process of discovering what works best for you and your unique situation.

By looking after your mental health before you reach crisis point and need to work with a professional, you can experience a number of different benefits. You may:

  • Feel more comfortable in a traditional therapy setting or less awkward raising topics of concern.
  • Be able to figure out which types of therapy you feel work best for you.
  • Lay the foundations for healthier, sustainable habits to help you cope with everyday worries, stress, and life events before they can feel overwhelming or out of control.
  • Feel comfortable, confident or able to seek help and support before reaching crisis point.
  • Develop a better understanding of your emotions and how you cope with them.
  • Decrease feelings of anxiety, guilt, or shame that may otherwise have held you back from seeking help.

Counselling Directory member and Counsellor Canse Karatas (MBACP), explains how many of us find it easier to recognise when others, rather than we ourselves, are struggling.

“I honestly believe that everyone would benefit from therapy as growth is key to our happiness.”

“There are lots of ways to recognise when someone else is struggling. But, when it comes to ourselves, we keep pushing, quite often until the point of burnout. A lot of people let years or even a lifetime of issues get on top of them.

“I would recommend doing a little research on what type of therapy you feel you can relate to the most. There are lots of approaches. Reflect on what will work for you: Would you prefer a male or female? How frequently is best for you in your current emotional and financial situation? Are you in a position to commit? What would you like to achieve?

“I honestly believe that everyone would benefit from therapy as growth is key to our happiness.”

What do I need to know before starting therapy?

If you are considering starting therapy, there are a number of different things that can be really helpful to keep in mind.

  • Be honest. You’re paying to speak with a therapist, so if you aren’t being completely honest, you are only hurting yourself by spending your time and money in unhelpful ways. Therapists aren’t there to judge you. You’ll get a lot more out of your sessions if you try to be as honest as possible.
  • Therapy is an investment. Working with a counsellor or therapist is a way of investing in you – both now and in the future. You’ll learn skills and gain insight that can help you in your current situation, as well as help to build your resilience and ability to recognise future issues that may arise. Therapy can also help you to uncover and address past issues (that you may or may not be aware of) to help you cope better moving forward.
  • Therapy is a process. It takes time and commitment. Being on time, keeping appointments, and consistently putting in work will help you to stay on track and make progress.
  • If something isn’t working for you, speak up. Not every type of therapy is for everyone. Not everyone clicks with the first therapist they work with. The therapeutic relationship (the bond between counsellor and client) is a key part of therapy - without trust, and feeling comfortable being open and honest, you may end up holding back and consequently not get the most out of therapy.

Here are some questions you can ask potential counsellors before you begin working with them.

Does therapy work for everyone?

Research shows that psychotherapy is effective in reducing our need for other health services, as well as helping us to see long-term health improvements. Therapy can help to give an emotional outlet without creating additional worries about burdening or oversharing with friends, family or loved ones.

While many people can benefit from therapy, it’s important to remember that working with a therapist isn’t a magical quick fix. Whether you want to try therapy for a specific or unspecified reason, it can take time before you start to see any changes. Therapy isn’t always right for everyone. If you find a certain type of therapy or working with a specific therapist isn’t working for you, it’s important not to blame yourself. Trying another kind of therapy or reaching out to a different therapist could be the right answer for you.

Ready to reach out to a therapist? Connect with a professional using the Counselling Directory.

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