Breaking the Stigma How and When to Ask for Therapeutic Help

Breaking the Stigma: How and When to Ask for Therapeutic Help

In our society, silence often shrouds the topic of mental health, creating an atmosphere of discomfort and misunderstanding. This can create barriers to seeking life changing and life saving treatment for anyone experiencing high levels of distress, and can otherwise cause many disruptions to the quality of life that could be improved with the help of a caring, experienced therapist.

After well over twenty five years of providing and teaching about therapy, I want to share ways we can overcome misinformation and fear around what therapy can offer. Unfortunately, across generations and around the world, many people who have bravely acknowledged their difficulties have been met with unhelpful perceptions and treatment. 

The purpose of this article is to unveil the silence and expose the reality of mental health issues, encouraging open dialogue and acceptance. It is crucial to address and underscore the importance of mental health, as it forms an integral part of our overall well-being. 

Gone are the days when we think mental health issues affect only a select few. Modern brain science has shown that each of us are likely to vacillate in and out of varied episodes across our lifespan. There are times we may experience mood dysregulation, anxiety, depression, and challenges that impact the quality of our lives and functioning. It is not a moral failing when this happens. It is simply part of being human.

This article aims to break the stigma surrounding therapeutic help, shedding light on when, how, and why to seek professional guidance. It also is built on the recognition that many who live with serious mental illness have faced not only stigma but discrimination and disenfranchisement. 

Let’s examine basic tenets of how to ask for help, and foster ways of reimagining mental health. Where asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, but a testament to personal courage and self-awareness.

Understanding Therapeutic Help

Therapeutic help is a broad term that encompasses various types of support, each designed to aid individuals in coping with mental health issues, emotional distress, or life challenges. This support ranges from individual counseling to psychotherapy and group therapy.

Types of Therapeutic Support


First, psychotherapy is a confidential relationship to honestly look at your struggles without facing judgment. There are a wide range of practitioners who can provide treatment to help evaluate a person’s needs and develop an appropriate treatment plan. In general, the intake will last an hour, with follow up sessions for about forty-five minutes. In today’s world, there are a variety of formats for therapy, including in person, hybrid, entirely virtually, and by chat. 

Often, therapists explicitly list their specialties, and describe their credentials and approaches in their work. Careful research can help you pair with an individual to meet your unique needs. 

While some psychodynamic approaches take many sessions over a longer period of time, often, therapists are also trained in helping make gains in shorter times. Solution focused therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy are examples of targeted approaches that specify goals and track progress in a time efficient way. 

Therapy should focus not only on your struggles and concerns, but also help you build upon your strengths and resources. It can help you develop a more expansive approach to helping you understand your behavior within your context and to develop additional coping tools and strategies. A therapist can offer a non-judgmental, empathetic approach to helping you face your stressors, meet your goals, and improve the quality of your life.

Psychotherapy can be individual, as a couple, or for a family. After over twenty-five years in the field, I always recommend that even if you choose to do individual work, inviting a close partner, friend, or family member to at least one session can provide the therapist with valuable insights and also help enlist someone to support treatment progress. 

Group Therapy Benefits

Group therapy is another powerful form of therapeutic assistance where individuals with similar experiences or issues come together under the guidance of a professional. 

The benefits of group therapy are myriad. It provides a sense of community and understanding that is often therapeutic in itself. It also allows individuals to gain different perspectives on their issues, learn from the experiences of others, and practice new ways of relating to people.

Peer support, whether in group therapy or in other forms that one seeks is overwhelmingly cited as a protective factor for our mental health. We need people who get us and are in the same boat. Knowing we are not alone is a vital aspect of recovery. For example, you may have a child on the autism spectrum and struggle to find the time to take care of yourself well. A support group with other parents in the same boat can yield powerful insights and strategies along with emotional support that is priceless. Those parents are likely to get it, and the therapist leading the group can help provide valuable guidance to leverage the collective wisdom and aid each person to extend their resources and support network, key to tending to mental health. Or perhaps you are a person with severe social anxiety and you are highly self conscious. Joining a support group can be a safe place to slowly become more comfortable interacting, and to eventually transfer those communication skills to new situations. Many communities have access to hotlines with a 1-1 ending, along with a United Way, a non-profit that widely broadcasts services. You may be pleased to know there are support groups on a wide range of topics and circumstances. 

When considering trying group therapy, it’s important to remember that the biggest lie that anxiety and depression and other forms of suffering induced by mental health issues is that we are alone. Loneliness is even being cited as “the new smoking” as a health risk. Mental health issues can often alienate us and cause us to avoid people. Social anxiety is on the rise. But pushing through this and seeking trusting relationships and support can be a tremendous aid towards healing. As I discuss in my Psychology Today column, we all need the right “TEAM”, people who are trusted, energizing, and mentoring relationships in our lives that cheer us on and seek to bring out the best in us. 

Choosing the Right Therapist

Selecting the most suitable therapist for your needs is an essential step in the therapeutic journey. This decision significantly impacts the process and the effectiveness of therapy. 

It’s easy to be discouraged in the middle of a global mental health crisis. Finding a good therapist is like trying to find a wrinkle on Kim Kardashian. It takes resilience to identify someone who takes your insurance, or offers a sliding scale if you don’t have insurance, and who matches your needs, including scheduling. This can be daunting and overwhelming, particularly if you are like most people, who might not be aware that once deciding to try therapy, the sense of urgency may be met with longer wait times than you’d hoped for. 

There are no simple answers to the well-documented critical shortage of mental health practitioners. It’s been on the radar of the World Health Organization and varied entities for many years, even pre-pandemic. It can be highly frustrating to have to go on a goose chase for help, but don’t give up before you try. 

First, if your company offers EAP assistance, this can expedite potential wait times. There are also many therapy referral programs from reputable entities such as the National Association of Social Workers or the American Psychological Association that can make the process less cumbersome. If you know of friends or family who have had luck in finding a good fit therapist, ask them who or what approaches aided their process. If you have insurance or a primary care physician, enlist their support. Similarly, it’s worth asking loved ones to help you while you wait for the right help. It’s critical to remember that if you are in a state of crisis and need help immediately, the best approach is to contact your local crisis team to discuss your situation and get trained recommendations on your best course of action.

Otherwise, in your research, consider the type of training and expertise that will be beneficial. Therapists come from diverse educational backgrounds and specializations. Many therapists also specialize in certain areas such as trauma, anxiety disorders, depression, or substance abuse. 

If you already know how to ask for help and are keen on finding a therapist, it’s crucial to choose one with the appropriate credentials and a specialization that aligns with your specific needs. This ensures that they have the necessary training and competence to provide effective care.

At the same time, therapeutic progress relies heavily on the rapport between the therapist and the client. A strong therapeutic alliance can foster trust, facilitate open communication, and enhance the therapeutic process. 

It’s important to feel comfortable with your therapist and feel a sense of understanding and acceptance. If something makes you uncomfortable, while counterintuitive, it’s essential to speak up and bring it to the attention of the therapist. They are there to help you and want to know what you are grappling with and how to make your experience as supportive as possible.

Doing the right research and proactive communication can help make for an optimal therapy experience. However, there are times when it becomes clear that finding someone new is prudent.

For example, the therapist may acknowledge that a different therapist with more specialization may be warranted. Or despite repeated attempts, your therapist seems to be unskilled in responding to your needs. Or in an extreme situation, the therapist violates their code of conduct by treating you inappropriately. 

It is important to realize that states of depression and anxiety can put us in a vulnerable and sensitive place, and that sometimes when a therapist pushes us out of our comfort zone it’s because they see a need for us to develop insight and needed behavioral change. Thus, before making a rash decision about changing therapists, or reacting to anxiety that is often natural in the early stages of therapy, it is wise to take the time to try and discuss it with them and people you are close with to decipher best approaches. Consider a scenario in which a therapist points out something that is sensitive for you. This is an opportunity to get support on developing the coping skills and communication tools to work through it. Most therapists have your best interest in mind. This doesn’t mean it will always be a good fit, but before closing the door on their capacity to help you, give them the opportunity to understand your concerns.

Signs it’s Time to Seek Help

Recognizing when it’s time to reach out for therapeutic help is the first step toward healing and recovery. While historically, we think that the reasons we need help might be dramatic or intense, it may also be that there are a host of smaller issues piling up that you are trying to be proactive around. Here are some signs that indicate you might need guidance, ranging from clinically worrisome symptoms to everyday issues that could be assisted through the care of a knowledgeable, astute therapist:

  • You are going through a major transition or loss such as a job change, relationship end, death, illness, or other tragedy that warrants help
  • You are not capitalizing on your strengths and talents because your emotions, procrastination, sense of self worth, or drive are preventing you
  • You don’t feel yourself and aren’t sure how to restore your prior capacities 
  • You’ve lost motivation and interest in things that previously engaged you
  • The quality of your life is compromised because you are sad, worried, disoriented, disconnected, or withdrawn
  • You notice physical signs of stress such as heart palpitations, falling hair, weight loss or gain, restlessness, poor sleep, trouble with hygiene, shakiness
  • You are having trouble with procrastination, follow through and intended behavioral change and need guidance and accountability to meet your goals
  • People in your life that care about you express concern over your well-being. Either through forthright suggestions you should try therapy, or hinting that they are worried and want you to be okay.
  • You have a long standing pattern of fractured relationships and abrupt endings to jobs and connections. Your impulsivity and reactivity have cost you and you want to learn skills to help you stop engaging in self-destructive behavior.
  • You find yourself engaging in addictive behavior such as excessive technology use, overeating, compulsive thinking, drinking, drugs, vaping, shopping, people pleasing, overwork to escape your struggles or attempt to find relief.
  • You have a family history of anxiety and or depression and want to tap into the resources available to unhook from chronic familial patterns.

Recognizing Emotional Struggles

Emotional struggles can manifest in various ways, some of which can be quite subtle. Based on the list above, consider which aspects of your situation might be connected with emotional upheaval or dysregulation. You may notice feeling okay one moment, and quite upset soon after. Or overwhelmed by a flooding of emotions that feel pervasive and damning. 

Fortunately, there are myriad ways to foster emotional regulation and improve the quality of life when we are inundated with responses that prevent us from enjoying and engaging with life. It’s vital to realize this isn’t a failing on our part, and that the right blend of help and action can help us learn to tolerate difficult emotions and to build coping skills that assist us in living with more peace and joy.

Persistent Sadness

If you’re experiencing a constant feeling of sadness that lingers for more than a couple of weeks, it could be a sign that you’re dealing with more than just temporary blues. 

Persistent sadness is a hallmark of conditions such as clinical depression, and it’s vital to seek help if you’re feeling this way. With the help of an expert, you will undergo a proper assessment to understand what might be clinically significant, and what types of adjustments and support can help restore your sense of hope and well-being. 

Changes in Sleep Patterns

Alterations in your sleep can be a significant indicator of emotional problems. This could be insomnia (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep), or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping). 

Persistent changes in sleep patterns can suggest an underlying issue that needs addressing, such as anxiety or depression. 

There are a wide range of excellent resources on ways to improve sleep. In today’s high tech world, screen time and night time phone usage can wreak havoc. So can excessive caffeine, alcohol, poor eating, and lack of exercise and time in nature. Paying attention to the quality of our sleep is essential for well-being, and can further be improved through the guidance of a therapist.

Loss of Interest

Losing interest in activities that previously brought you joy or fulfillment can be a sign of emotional distress. If you find yourself feeling unmotivated, uninterested, or unable to engage in activities that used to bring you pleasure, it’s worth seeking help to evaluate the causes and help you restore your zest for living.

Identifying Behavioral Changes

Behavioral changes can often point toward underlying mental health issues. Here are a few to look out for:

Avoidance or Isolation

If you notice yourself avoiding social situations, limiting contact with friends and family, or withdrawing from activities that were previously of interest, it could be a sign of emotional distress.

Changes in Appetite

Emotional struggles can cause changes in appetite, leading to weight gain or loss. Extreme changes in appetite can indicate underlying conditions such as eating disorders or depression.

Substance Use

Increased reliance on substances like alcohol, drugs, or food to cope with emotional distress is a concerning sign that needs attention.

Other Triggering Factors

Certain life events and circumstances can also act as triggers for seeking therapeutic help:

Traumatic Experiences

Traumatic events, whether recent or in the past, can have a profound impact on mental health. If you’re struggling to cope with trauma and its effects, seeking therapeutic help can provide much-needed support. It’s important to note the growing interventions demonstrating promise in assisting with trauma related issues. Having trauma doesn’t necessarily mean an inevitable diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is why it’s important to have a proper evaluation and skilled treatment plan to help you in your healing process.

Life Transitions

Significant life changes such as the loss of a loved one, job loss, divorce, or relocation can cause emotional upheaval. Seeking therapeutic support can help navigate these changes more effectively.

Chronic Stress 

Prolonged and overwhelming stress can take a toll on mental health, leading to anxiety, depression, and other issues. Seeking therapeutic assistance can equip you with coping mechanisms to manage stress better.

Overall, recognizing the need for and seeking therapeutic help is a brave and crucial step toward healing and self-improvement. 

There is no shame in asking for help, and it can make a significant positive impact on your well-being and overall quality of life. Remember to choose the right therapist for you, trust your instincts, and don’t hesitate to reach out when needed.  

Impact on Daily Life

Emotional and mental health struggles have personal and far-reaching implications, affecting relationships and work performance. 

Strained Relationships

Mental health issues often strain relationships, leading to isolation, withdrawal, or irritability. This can cause conflicts, reduced empathy, and social withdrawal, straining relationships with family, friends, and colleagues.

Seeking help and therapy can provide tools to navigate these challenges and foster healthier relationships.

Decline in Work Performance

Mental health struggles can also impact work performance, causing a lack of concentration, difficulty making decisions, and decreased motivation. 

This directly affects productivity and efficiency, potentially leading to excessive sick days or job loss. Recognizing these signs and seeking therapeutic intervention can improve work performance.

Overcoming the Fear

Despite recognizing the need for therapy, many individuals hesitate to seek help due to fear, which is often precipitated by societal stigma and personal misconceptions. 

Overcoming this fear involves understanding and addressing the societal stigma and dispelling myths about therapy.

Cultural perspectives often play a significant role in shaping societal attitudes toward mental health. In many cultures, mental health issues are either minimized or stigmatized, making it difficult for individuals to seek help without feeling judged or misunderstood. 

It’s essential to challenge these cultural narratives, promote dialogue about mental health, and advocate for the normalization of mental health care.

Misconceptions about therapy can also fuel fear and resistance. Common myths include the notion that only severely mentally ill individuals need therapy, or that seeking therapy is a sign of weakness. 

Dispelling these myths involves understanding that therapy is a valuable tool for anyone seeking emotional well-being and personal growth and that seeking help is a sign of strength and self-awareness rather than weakness.

Different Therapeutic Approaches

While therapy can take many forms, here are a couple of popular therapeutic approaches that have proven effective in treating a range of mental health conditions:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy that focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns that lead to harmful behaviors and emotions. 

It’s based on the understanding that our thoughts, rather than external events, determine how we feel and behave. 

In CBT, the therapist helps the individual identify negative or irrational thoughts, challenge them, and replace them with more positive, accurate thoughts. This approach has been widely used to treat conditions such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness and meditation are therapeutic techniques that involve focusing one’s awareness on the present moment and calmly acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. 

These approaches aim to cultivate a non-judgmental awareness of the self and the environment, promoting relaxation, stress reduction, and a greater sense of well-being.

Techniques for Everyday Use

Practices such as mindful breathing, body scan meditation, and mindful eating can be incorporated into daily life to promote mindfulness. 

These techniques encourage individuals to focus their attention on various aspects of their experience in the present moment, fostering a sense of calmness, focus, and self-acceptance.

Incorporating Mindfulness into Therapy

Incorporating mindfulness into therapy can enhance therapeutic outcomes by helping individuals become more aware of their thoughts and feelings without getting wrapped up in them. 

This can reduce the influence of negative thought patterns and enhance the ability to manage and reduce stress, ultimately improving mental well-being. Therapies such as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) combine mindfulness techniques and cognitive behavioral approaches to help prevent recurrent depression.

When to Approach Loved Ones

Recognizing when and how to approach loved ones for support is an essential aspect of the therapeutic journey. It can be challenging, but the right approach can make a significant difference.

The first step in reaching out for help is identifying a supportive network. This includes individuals in your life who you feel comfortable talking to about your mental health struggles and who can provide emotional support, understanding, and encouragement. 

This network could comprise family members, close friends, mentors, or even supportive colleagues. Remember, the quality of the relationship is more important than the quantity. Having a few trusted individuals who are willing to empathize with your situation and provide non-judgmental support is golden.

Once you’ve identified your supportive network, the next step is effectively communicating your need for help. Start by choosing an appropriate time and setting – quiet, private, and free from distractions. 

Then, express your feelings honestly. Explain the challenges you’re facing, the emotions you’re experiencing, and how it’s impacting your life. You don’t have to have all the answers or even fully understand what you’re going through. 

The goal is to share your experience to the best of your ability and express your need for support. Be open to their responses and suggestions, and convey your intention to seek professional help if you’ve made that decision. 

This conversation can be a significant step toward overcoming barriers to seeking therapy and fostering understanding among your loved ones.Therapeutic Journey: Setting Realistic Expectations

Embarking on the therapeutic journey is a significant step towards personal growth and mental well-being

However, it’s crucial to set realistic expectations to navigate this process effectively. Understanding that therapy is not a quick fix but an ongoing process of self-discovery, healing, and growth can help foster patience, resilience, and a positive mindset.

While the pace and trajectory of therapeutic progress can vary greatly among individuals, setting and acknowledging progress milestones can be a helpful way to measure growth. 

These milestones can be as simple as identifying and challenging a negative thought, expressing an emotion openly, or implementing a coping strategy during a stressful situation. 

Celebrating these small victories can boost confidence, reinforce positive changes, and motivate continued growth.

Setbacks are a natural part of the therapeutic journey. There may be times when old patterns resurface, or progress seems to stall. Instead of viewing these experiences as failures, it’s important to embrace them as opportunities for learning and growth. 

At the same time, setbacks can reveal areas that need more attention and help fine-tune therapeutic goals and strategies. Remember, therapy is a journey, not a destination, and each step—forward or backward—provides valuable insights and contributes to overall growth and healing.


In order to break the chains of stigma and discriminatory behaviors around mental health, it is crucial to start wondering how to ask for help, foster open conversation, spread awareness, and educate ourselves and others about the importance of mental well-being. 

Remember, seeking therapeutic help is not a sign of weakness, but a testament to your strength and commitment to optimizing your health. As we collectively challenge and dismantle the stigma, we create a society that is more understanding, supportive, and conducive to mental health and healing.

Embracing the transformative power of asking for help can catalyze profound changes in our lives. It is an act of courage that can truly be a game changer, whether a process of self-discovery, healing, and personal growth, or a path to removing barriers that have robbed you of living life with peace and presence.

When we ask for help, we not only open ourselves up to the benefits of therapeutic intervention but also foster empathy and understanding in our relationships. In doing so, we set the stage for our own healing and inspire others on their own paths to mental health and well-being.

If you or someone you know needs help, please read this article from NAMI:

This article isn’t meant to be a substitute for medical advice or therapeutic assistance. Please seek support to determine the best course of action for you and your loved ones.

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