People see therapists or counsellors for all sorts of reasons. Some are dealing with events that have pushed them off their normal life trajectory; others want to get to the bottom of long-term problems, and understanding their behaviour becomes their goal. Some are encouraged by their doctors, families or loved ones to seek professional help. 

Is therapy effective?

Research into the effectiveness of talking therapies is wide-ranging and ongoing; there will always be people who are sceptical, but many people find therapy genuinely helps them, even with serious mental illness. In 2018 a study from Kings College London and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust showed that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) strengthens connections in the brains of people suffering with the serious problem of psychosis, greatly improving recovery in the long-term.

CBT encourages people to change the way they think and respond to their thoughts and experiences, but it is only one of hundreds of different types of therapy, ranging from the styles that dig into past experience and childhood through to therapy linked to body treatments and mindfulness meditation. With this sort of choice, it can be hugely confusing to know which type of therapist you should opt for. Our paid-for personalised matching service is designed to help you make the difficult choice of who to see.  

Below are some of the issues and worries that might bring you to the therapist’s door, though it is by no means conclusive. Psychotherapists, psychologists and counsellors have expertise in different areas, so it’s always wise to take a good look that your potential therapist’s website, or ask them if this is something they have worked with in the past. It is also part of the matching process on our free questionnaire.

1. Repeating patterns

A very common trigger is the realisation that over a long period of time you are repeating the same patterns of behaviour. Therapy can help you understand where this may have originated, and what is compelling you to repeat it. This can be anything from choosing unsuitable partners to work stresses.

2. Unresolved family issues

One problem with family issues is that everyone feels they are in the right. Hurts and slights from childhood can last a long time, and communication can break down when children reach adulthood. Therapists always ask about family history. It can seem intrusive, but many people eventually believe that being heard by a neutral observer can bring valuable insights.

3. Feeling “stuck”

Feeling alienated and out of contact with your purpose can be exhausting and demotivating. Sometimes this is related to work, or it could be a relationship. Therapists, especially CBT practitioners, can enable you to see how to change your situation, set goals and promote coping techniques that can shift you out of being "stuck".

4. Nothing seems to make you feel happy any more

Don’t let depressive thoughts bring you down. Many people wait a little too long, hoping that their mood will lift – and for many it will – but others get into a dark place before they reach out, leading to a full blown depression that feels impossible to shift. Talking to your GP is a good place to start, and if you are having thoughts of suicide, you can always phone or text Samaritans. Depression is one of the main reasons why people see therapists or counsellors.

5. Mounting anxiety

Anxiety is also a big problem these days – and on our questionnaire, it is the issue most mentioned by people searching for a therapist. Anxious feelings can be helped by using mindfulness apps and a variety of other techniques, but if anxiety is becoming overwhelming, then therapy can be useful. NICE recommends CBT for anxiety, but all therapists can help you deal with this problem which is particularly common with younger people. 

Zoe Hassid is a therapist who sees many such clients and has written that 20s is a good age to try therapy. “Therapy offers a space to look at your patterns of feeling, thinking and behaving, and at what may be underlying them. Your therapist can support you to be with and learn to tolerate what’s painful rather than having to rely on less helpful coping strategies. In doing so, she/he can offer you a new experience of relationship and the freedom to try out new ways of being – with yourself and with others.”

6. Post-traumatic stress disorder

PTSD is caused by very frightening or distressing events. Some cases surface quickly after the stressful incident, but others may take months – even years – to develop. Lots of people come through stressful times — bereavement, divorce or revelation of an affair, bankruptcy, job loss – without PTSD, but if flashbacks and panic attacks are increasing, a therapist will be able to help. Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) is particularly suitable.

7. Addiction to alcohol, drugs, porn, gaming

If these are your problems, look for a therapist who specialises in treating addiction. You may not consider you are an addict, but if there is something you cannot stop returning to, finding an expert to talk to may be a good move.

8. Eating disorders

Eating disorders are complex, sometimes a symptom of underlying distress, but also bring in genetics, the environment, life events and modern-day culture. Therapists say that people who develop eating disorders often have low-self esteem and perfectionist tendencies; if this sounds like you, remember too that eating disorders can cause major health problems, and even lead to premature death.

9. You have lost someone close to you

Until it happens to us, most of us don’t really understand how hard bereavement can be. Losing a partner, parent, sibling, even a close friend, can have a deep and lasting impact on your life. It’s not always necessary to see someone to talk about your feelings – time does, eventually, heal the pain – but if, after several months you’re still feeling undone by the weight of loss, seeing a bereavement counsellor can be consoling and useful.

10. Relationships – or none

Lots of people – women and men – see therapists to talk about interpersonal relationships. One of our therapists describes himself as a sort of dating coach to his male clients! Sometimes clients have therapy because they are not happy with the relationship they are in, but can’t quite commit to leaving. Or perhaps they crave one, but they do not work out for them. Understanding yourself is a great advantage when it comes to working out your relationships with others.

Couples counselling can also be very effective. As therapist Selena Doggett-Jones says: "Most people have anxieties about relationships, intimacy and sexual difficulties at some point in their lives. Relationship and psychosexual therapy offers the opportunity to discuss your concerns with a therapist specially trained in this area of work in a safe, supportive and confidential environment."

And if you do decide that you need to see a therapist, remember — if you see someone but decide they’re not right for you, they will understand. It’s not uncommon to see several for initial consultations before choosing to go ahead with one. And we're on hand to help, with our questionnaire and personalised matching service

Good luck!

Further reading:

Does psychotherapy really work?

How CBT helped me overcome anxiety at work

When I discovered I had complex-PTSD

My therapist was my secret weapon's personalised matching service