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Deciding When to Seek Treatment

Should I seek treatment for a problem?

Emotional and behavior problems are common, which can make it hard to decide whether the issue that you’re dealing with is one that rises to a level that you should be seeking treatment. There are several factors to think about when you consider whether or not you should reach out to a professional. These include:

  • What the specific behavioral or emotional problem you’re facing is (i.e., what are your symptoms?)
  • How much the symptoms are bothering you.
  • If the problem impacts your functioning.
  • Whether the problem is interfering with your life.

Below are some guidelines to assist you in this decision-making process.


What Are Your Specific Symptoms?

When you’re coping with a problem, you’re generally experiencing a range of symptoms. These may be:

  • Strong emotions that can feel out of control (i.e., sadness, constant anxiety, anger)
  • Physical symptoms (i.e., changes in your body, muscle tension, fatigue, etc.)
  • Thoughts (i.e., recurrent worries, hopelessness)
  • Behaviors (i.e., urges to avoid or escape a given situation, aggression towards others).


How Much Are You Bothered by Your Symptoms?

Now that you have more of an idea of the symptoms you’re experiencing, consider how much they’re bothering you. If you were to be completely honest with yourself, how would you answer the question “How are you doing right now?” Here are some other questions to consider:

  • Are you living the life you want to live?
  • How happy and content are you right now?
  • Is your current life what you hoped it would be?
  • What would you like to be different about yourself and your life?
  • Are you feeling overwhelmed by problems and stressful situations and events in your life?


Answering these questions can help you think about what’s most important to you, how satisfied you are with your life, and whether you are moving towards your life goals. Often, people will focus on whether an issue is manageable, but don’t stop to think about whether it’s worth managing by themselves. Treatment can be a way to ease some of the burden and get you to a place where you can be living a life that’s more in line with your values, even if things were ‘okay’ before.


Sometimes it can be difficult to answer the above questions – asking the advice of a friend or family member may also be helpful when deciding whether to seek therapy.  They may have another perspective and be able to see changes in your level of happiness when you don’t.


It is normal to have times when you are feeling dissatisfied with life and unhappy, particularly when under stress or during stressful life events like job loss, death of a family member, or divorce; however, if unhappiness and dissatisfaction have been the norm for you over weeks, months, or years, this indicates that you might benefit from speaking with a mental health professional. People often anticipate that they  will begin to feel better once the stressful life event passes. While this is sometimes true, often, people find that when a stressor gets better, they still don’t feel better. Mental health professionals can offer consultation and strategies for effectively coping with stressful life events.


Do Your Symptoms Affect Your Functioning?

In addition to what your symptoms look like, and how much they bother you, take some time to consider how they impact your functioning. Consider both your daily life as well as your relationships. Here’s some more information to consider:


Daily life: Take a moment and reflect on what you currently do at home and work. Consider what you are currently do on a day-to-day basis:

  • How well have you been fulfilling your responsibilities at home and work?
  • Is this different from what you did a few weeks, months, or years ago?
  • Have you noticed that it’s more difficult to do things that you once did?
  • If you are a parent, are you spending less time with your children or finding yourself less patient or engaged?
  • Are you avoiding things that you used to do?
  • Have you missed more days of work than usual?
  • Are you completing work tasks on time and as accurately as before?
  • Have you received negative feedback about your performance from people at work, family members, or friends?

Social relationships: Know that your social relationships can also be affected by your symptoms. Behavioral and emotional problems can impact not only individuals, but their families, friends, and their colleagues and work. If you find yourself withdrawn or changing your relationship with people you care about, this is a sign to seek treatment. Consider whether your relationships have been impacted by your symptoms:

  • Do you spend the same amount of time with family and friends as you always did?
  • Do you avoid social events, or specific interactions?
  • Do you rely on others to complete tasks for you?
  • Have people in your life expressed concern about you or your behavior?
  • Have you changed the amount of time you spend with certain people, even though your relationship with them has not changed?


If, in answering these questions, you notice many or significant changes to your daily life or relationships, this is a sign that it is time to speak with a mental health professional.


Making a Decision

Take a moment and reflect on your responses to the questions listed above. Significant symptoms, feeling bothered by the symptoms, and symptoms that affect your daily life and relationships are all signs that you may want to speak with a mental health professional. An initial consultation with a mental health professional will give you the information you need to determine whether you should receive treatment for an emotional or behavioral problem.

Related Information

What Is Cognitive Behavior Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a type of treatment that is based firmly on research findings.  It places emphasis on changing your cognitions (thoughts) or behaviors (actions) in order to effect change in how you feel. These approaches help people in achieving specific changes or goals.

Changes or goals might involve:

A way of acting: like smoking less or being more outgoing;
A way of feeling: like helping a person to be less scared, less depressed, or less anxious;
A way of thinking: like learning to problem-solve or get rid of self-defeating thoughts;
A way of dealing with physical or medical problems: like reducing back pain or helping a person stick to a doctor’s suggestions.

Cognitive behavioral therapists usually focus more on the current situation and its solution, rather than the past. They concentrate on a person’s views and beliefs about their life. CBT is an effective treatment for individuals, parents, children, couples, and families. The goal of CBT is to help people improve and gain more control over their lives by changing behaviors that don’t work well to ones that do.

How to Get Help

If you are looking for help, either for yourself or someone else, you may be tempted to call someone who advertises in a local publication or who comes up from a search of the Internet. You may, or may not, find a competent therapist in this manner. It is wise to check on the credentials of a psychotherapist. It is expected that competent therapists hold advanced academic degrees. They should be listed as members of professional organizations, such as the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies or the American Psychological Association. Of course, they should be licensed to practice in your state. You can find competent specialists who are affiliated with local universities or mental health facilities or who are listed on the websites of professional organizations. You may, of course, visit our website ( and click on “Find a CBT Therapist”

The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) is an interdisciplinary organization committed to the advancement of a scientific approach to the understanding and amelioration of problems of the human condition. These aims are achieved through the investigation and application of behavioral, cognitive, and other evidence-based principles to assessment, prevention, and treatment.

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My Account Info

Manage your Membership information, email preferences, and more.


Membership in ABCT grants you access to three journals.


We are now accepting Abstract submissions for Continuing Education Ticketed Sessions at the 2024 ABCT Convention in Philadelphia, PA.