I sometimes answer psychological questions on Quora, an online platform for asking and answering questions. Recently, I answered this question: “How do you know if you need psychological therapy?”
I responded that it is time to seek psychological help if you have had a psychological problem for several months and the problem causes you marked distress or significantly impairs you in functioning socially, academically, or at work.
I added that it is wise to seek help right away if you experience hallucinations or delusions, if you start thinking seriously about killing yourself or someone else, if you are engaging in self-harm (e.g., intentionally cutting yourself), or if you are harming or endangering others (e.g., drinking heavily while pregnant).
I told my Mind Matters Facebook group my response, and one of the psychologist members suggested that I add a statement that people can see psychologists to prevent difficulties from developing and also to grow as a person.
That psychologist is right but idealistic. In actuality, many people who have psychological problems do not seek therapy until they have suffered for years on end.
Why do they delay? They may hope that the difficulty will go away on its own. They may find seeing a psychologist or counselor too unusual because as far as they know, no one in their circles has ever gone.
Instead of seeking professional help, many troubled individuals self-medicate with alcohol. Drinking to create a better mood sometimes creates a problem on top of a problem.
Or they go to a physician seeking a solution in a pill. Sometimes the resulting treatment works well, but usually at a cost in side-effects.
I have treated and supervised the treatment of individuals who experienced a phobia for decades without seeking psychological help. It is a shame they waited so long. Most of these individuals overcame their problem in a few weeks.
Whenever I get a chance to treat a client for a TV show, I jump at it. I expect that every time I help someone beat a psychological problem on TV, many people with the same problem will seek help.
I don’t want to suggest that counseling solves every psychological problem. Health care is not that effective. I make my own health-care decisions on the basis of odds. Is treatment likely to help me, without causing any new problems? If I answer yes, I go.