“Do I need counselling?” There could have been different ways of looking at this question. This post discussed 7 aspects of our lives that we could observe internally or externally and questions to ask ourselves to determine if we should go for counselling.

The better we can describe our difficulties, the better we can get help for it. Perhaps a treatment path is clearer for a persistent pain in the knee than a headache that doesn’t go away. We are better able to talk around a body part than around a physical sensation that we can’t pinpoint. “I have a pain in my knee when I run” versus “I just feel tired, no matter how much I sleep?” I have heard from so many people when they go to see a GP with some ailments (like sleeplessness or a dull nagging headache), they receive an advice like this: “Manage your stress level”.   

Most of the time, we are able to cope. We know what we need to when we are tired, when we are angry or when we are sad. But what if we are starting to see signs that we are not coping well? Whether our mental or emotional state was triggered by life challenges like a breakup, a death of a closed one, a job loss? Or a deterioration in our health and immunity? Or an observation or acceptance that the things that we have tried are not working anymore or helpful enough.  What can we do? 

Benefits of seeking counselling/ therapy 

(I will be using “counselling” and “therapy interchangeably”, as I do in my blog and social media posts.) 

Often, when speaking to friends, I suggest that everyone should see a therapist at least one time in their life. Perhaps, it reflects how therapy has helped me in building my resilience, on top of how it has helped me work on resolving difficulties I faced in the past. But this article is not for that conversation.  

Counselling can help us manage our stress. Therapy can provide relief through emotional support. We could be more empowered through counselling as we acquire more coping strategies and build on our repertoire of skills and techniques – that we can access when we need, outside of therapy. Counselling can help us understand ourselves better, amidst the noise and busyness of our daily lives and help us lead more congruent and authentic lives, aligned with our values. 

How do we know when we need counselling? 

From the perspective of overall wellness, a counsellor/ therapist would be able to assist us on different aspects of our lives where we feel stuck. Mental health crisis may trigger help-seeking behaviour but if we are able to become more aware of our own mental and emotional health state, we may be able to seek help before we end up in overwhelming distress. 

Unlike a physical ailment that we can focus consultation on, we may not have the language around communicating our needs or wishes to speak to a counsellor/ therapist. So, here are some factors that we could build on our case (for ourselves or others) when considering therapy: 

1) Our daily life and functioning are affected. 

When speaking with people about this, especially individuals who begin to notice coping difficulties in themselves or others, I often ask about the impact on work, school or relationships. These are usually indicative behaviours that warrant help-seeking – not to discount the fact that there are individuals who can function very well but still struggle internally with mental and emotional issues. 

Questions to ask ourselves: Are we having difficulties going about with our daily lives? Do we have problems with performance or motivation? Are we experiencing more difficulties in our relationships? 

2) Our quality of life has deteriorated. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has a holistic view of health: “Health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” If we want to be healthy, we are looking at a good quality of life in terms of our body, our mind and our relationships.  

Questions to ask ourselves: Do we feel just “off”? Do the things we used to like no longer seem enjoyable? Have we lost interest in the things or people we usually care about? 

3) We feel overwhelmed by our problems. 

We may think that there are just too many things going on at the same time and we don’t know where to start. We may feel powerless or helpless to deal with our problems. Or, we may feel like the problems have accumulated over a long time and we feel overwhelmed by a long history of troubles that we have not been able to change. Within couples, we may be having the same fights over and over again, and we just don’t see a way out. 

Questions to ask ourselves: Do we feel stuck and helpless about our situations? Is it time to accept help, now that we have tried? Would we do better with help? 

4) We ignore our problems. 

We try to get by but really, we are stuck. We hope our problems go away but they don’t.  

Questions to ask ourselves: Are we actually not feeling good but not avoiding our problems? Are we drinking, smoking, eating or play games more? Do people around us say we are avoiding the real issues? 

5) We rely on family and friends for support and encouragement, but we are not being able to reciprocate.  

Our loved ones are big contributors for our social wellbeing, and experiencing support and encouragement are key to overall wellness. When, however, we bring up the same problems and issues repeatedly, while not being able to be there for them, the relationships may become strained.  

Whether because we feel bad about not being a good friend or being a burden to our family, a perception of lop-sidedness can affect the relationship. Or, we tire from repeating the same things to the same people. We might end up withdrawing from the very support we need.  

Questions to ask ourselves: Do we have difficulty telling people our problems? Do we often think that we are a burden to others but actually didn’t want it to be that way?  

6) We are troubled by something that we are too embarrassed or too ashamed to speak about. 

Shame can be alienating. With the ongoing movement for self-love and self-kindness, some of us may feel alienated because of our darkest secrets. When we do not know who we can trust with our vulnerabilities, we may withdraw and we may end up spiralling.  

Questions to ask ourselves: Are we struggling with things that we can’t speak about with our loved ones, even people we thought we trust? Are we so scared of being judged because of what we have, feel, do? Is this issue eating me from within?

To conclude:  

Most of us would benefit from counselling at some point in our lives, when our mental and emotional health are impacted by life’s challenges. We may lack the words to understand or communicate our mental and emotional health needs so I hope this post has been able to help you understand them better. If you feel that you are willing to take the next step in seeking therapy, you could also check out my post “What’s next after deciding you want therapy” that could guide you on that process.  

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