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Deciding When to Seek Treatment

Should I seek treatment for an emotional or behavioral problem?

There are several important factors to consider when deciding if you should seek treatment for emotional and behavioral problems. Some of these factors include your level of subjective distress, your functioning at home and work, and your symptoms. Below are some guidelines to assist you in this decision-making process.

Subjective distress

Questions to ask yourself:

  • If you were to be honest with yourself, how would you answer the question “How are you doing right now?”
  • 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 types of 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. Some people are more able to recognize their unhappiness or dissatisfaction with their life, and so it can be helpful to get the input of close family and friends when making the decision to see a mental health professional. They may have another perspective and be able to see changes in your level of happiness and life satisfaction.

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 may indicate that you might benefit from speaking with a mental health professional. You may anticipate that you will begin to feel better once the stressful life event passes. This is the case for many people and not others. Regardless, mental health professionals can offer consultation and strategies for effectively coping with stressful life events that may reduce the likelihood of experiencing depression and anxiety now or down the road.


Daily life: It is important to take a close look at your day-to-day life to see how you are doing.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Take a moment and reflect on what you currently do at home and work. How well have you been fulfilling your responsibilities at home and work?
  • What do you currently do on a day-to-day basis?
  • 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?
  • How are you doing in your job?
  • 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 on your work performance from coworkers or supervisor?

Social relationships: Our social relationships can also be affected by emotional and behavioral problems.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • How much time do you spend with family and friends?
  • What do you do with them?
  • Is this different from before you were experiencing problems?
  • How much does being with friends and family make you feel uncomfortable or seem exhausting?

Behavioral and emotional problems have negative consequences for individuals, their families, their friends, and their places of work. You may find that these problems are keeping you from taking care of your daily responsibilities. Often people experiencing these types of problems also find themselves more isolated and withdrawn from friends and family.

If the questions above suggest that you are not functioning well in your daily life, it may be time to speak with a mental health professional. Family, friends, and coworkers may also notice changes that you miss, so it is important to get their perspective as well.

It is normal to have short-term disruptions in how you are functioning at home and work; however, if this has been going on for some time and the change is significant, it may indicate that you could benefit from the strategies and consultation provided by mental health professionals. It is better to take action now rather than wait until you can no longer get anything done at home or work.


Behavioral and emotional problems are associated with a wide range of physical sensations, behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. These are called symptoms by mental health professionals. To get an idea of which symptoms you may be experiencing, ask yourself these questions:

  • What changes have you noticed in your body and mind?
  • What changes are you seeing in your body? Think about your energy, appetite, and sleep? Are there times when your heart rate, breathing, and sweating are unusual?
  • How has your mood and interest in activities been over the last couple weeks?
  • How much do you think about bad things that have happened or worry about things you can or cannot control?

Symptoms can vary in how much they affect you and how long they last. Below is a list of some symptoms that are associated with anxiety and depression. It is important to note that some of these symptoms may be related to other emotional and behavioral problems besides anxiety and depression. There are also other behavioral and emotional problems that include very different types of symptoms. You should always speak with a mental health professional to better understand your symptoms.

Common symptoms of Depression:

  • Loss of pleasure and enjoyment in your activities
  • Feeling depressed or down, most of the day
  • Irritability
  • Change in appetite, more or less
  • Changes in sleep, more or less
  • Thoughts and feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Reduced interest in sex
  • Loss of energy, tiredness, or fatigue
  • Crying more than usual
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Common symptoms of Anxiety:

  • Nervous or anxious
  • Heart pounding
  • Difficulty relaxing
  • Feeling on edge or keyed up
  • Worrying about things you can and cannot control
  • Feeling unsteady
  • Indigestion
  • Diarrhea
  • Thoughts that don’t make sense and keep coming back to you
  • Doing things over and over again, perhaps more than makes sense or more than other people
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Feeling Faint
  • Feeling Shaky

The symptoms listed above are general and cover different types of anxiety and depression. Take a moment and compare your answers to the questions above with the list of symptoms for depression and anxiety. People experiencing emotional and behavioral problems like depression and anxiety usually have some, but not all of the symptoms listed above. There are very strong research findings showing that treatment by a mental health professional can alleviate many of these symptoms. If you have been experiencing these symptoms for several weeks, months, or years, it is recommended that you speak with a mental health professional for a more thorough evaluation and treatment recommendations. If your symptoms are not listed above, you could be experiencing another emotional or behavioral problem, it is also recommended that you speak with a mental health professional for a thorough evaluation and treatment recommendations.

Making a Decision

Take a moment and reflect on your responses to the questions listed above. Moderate to high levels of distress, low levels of functioning, and moderate to severe symptoms 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.

It is better to act now, rather than wait for things to get worse. These types of problems can do a lot of damage to your life, your family members, and your career. At the same time, these problems can be effectively treated by a mental health professional. Most people that complete treatment have significant reductions in their symptoms, live a more fulfilling and satisfied life, and function better at work and home. After completing treatment, people report feeling happier, more in control of their life, and being a better family member and friend.

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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