Home | Contact Us

  About JFS   Services Volunteer Contact Us Support JFS News    

About JFS

Why See a Therapist

By Karen Forman, L.C.S.W., Clinician, Parent Communication Coaching Program Coordinator at Jewish Family Services

Your alarm goes off. Your first thought is: “Please not another day of misery."

You've been working full time while parenting your twin boys and taking care of your aging mother. You feel like the stress is killing you.

You panic when standing in line at the grocery store or waiting in traffic. You find yourself looking for the seat closest to the door at weddings and movies.

Is it time to see a mental health professional?

It all depends…

Here are a few questions to consider:

Are you at risk of harming yourself or others? Of course, a positive answer to this one always requires immediate help.

When was your last medical work up? So many things, ranging from menopause to head injuries and thyroid problems can cause psychological symptoms. It’s always important to rule out medical issues first.

How much is the problem bothering you? Only you can know the answer to this one. If it hasn’t interfered with your overall functioning, and, most of the time, you really don’t think about it, you may be able to get by with other means of support.

How much is the problem bothering others? Is your employer giving you an ultimatum, like, “Harry, either you seek help for your drinking or your fired!”? Is your husband saying, “You’re bringing down the whole family…do something!” If the answer is yes, you might want to take some action.

Are there other ways to get relief? Sometimes, simple answers help, such as exercise, alternative therapies, self-help books and videos, yoga or support groups. Have you talked to a friend or clergy?

In the end, if you determine you have a problem that’s interfering with daily life and not improving with self-help, it’s probably time to get professional help.

The Fit

A less than positive experience with therapy in the past may have left you with a “been there, done that” attitude. However, know that the right fit with a therapist can make all the difference. Take time to consider the following when seeking help:

Rapport: Hands down, studies have shown that THE MOST IMPORTANT element in psychotherapy is the human connection. Sometimes you can tell after the first session if this person really “gets” you. Does speaking with them make you feel more comfortable or more uptight? Are they saying things that are interesting, but really don’t address the heart of the problem? Go with what your gut tells you.

Referrals: Other than a referral from another professional, ask for a name from a friend or a person you respect and trust. They can tell you a very important answer to a really simple question: has their therapist really been able to help them overcome their problem?

Area of Expertise: In addition to knowledge and technical skills, does the therapist have experience treating your particular issue? For example, consider someone who specializes in eating disorders, addictions, marital problems, domestic violence, etc. when facing any of these areas before you go with a jack-of-all-trades.

Experience: : Nothing takes the place of experience. Period.

Values: For some, having a therapist who shares similar values is crucial, and it certainly can facilitate a sense of connection. Does it matter that your therapist is a Democrat? Male? Widow? Dog Lover? Vegetarian? Married? Young? Old? At first glance you may say none of these matters, but think about it. Consider how important these things are to you and whether any of these qualities will put you more at ease. Some therapists will not disclose any personal information. That's okay with respect to their preferences or professional boundaries, but it might not be okay with you.


Whether or not you decide to go to a therapist, try not to diagnose yourself. It’s tempting to stick your symptoms into a Google search and produce the perfect label for your brand of agony. Caution is necessary here. Depending on such factors as your developmental age, situation, biochemistry, and cultural values, you can look like you have every mental illness in the book (or Internet). A trained professional takes all these variables into account before making a diagnosis, and, even then, a good diagnostician will use symptoms as a guide to treatment rather than as a way to label or neatly file someone into a narrow diagnostic “corner.”