When Should You See a Therapist?

The various levels of Emotional Debt

Over the past two weeks, we’ve talked about some practical steps on how to see a therapist. But when exactly should you see one?

When I’ve suggested seeing a therapist to people in the past who I thought could really benefit from it, some of the reactions I got included:

Oh my problem isn’t that serious. I don’t need it.

Therapy is for other people, but not for me.

Why should I see one? I don’t have a disorder.

But therapy isn’t just those who are struggling mental illness. I’m a firm believer that people at any stage in their lives could benefit from it. Whether you want to get a mental health check up or just talk through something that happened earlier in the week, it can be really helpful.

In order to understand how therapy can be useful, here is a framework for how I think about the different levels of Emotional Debt:

  • Mild

  • Moderate

  • Severe

Different Levels of Emotional Debt

In order to make this discussion really concrete, let’s use an example and pretend that my pet dog El Chapo just passed away and I’m grieving.


This level Emotional Debt affects me but doesn’t really disrupt my life.

How I’m reacting

I’m sad at work. It’s hard to focus on my tasks but I still complete them. I think about El Chapo a lot and post pictures of him on Facebook. I chat with my friends about how much I miss my dog. Sadness sticks with me but doesn’t overwhelm me.

How therapy can help

Therapy can help me process the loss of El Chapo in a judgement free zone. It’ll give me the space I need to truly grieve and express everything I might be going through. I can also receive the comfort and care that I may not get through my friends or family. I don’t need a therapist, but it could help accelerate the process of me coming to terms with my dog’s death.



This level of Emotional Debt disrupts my life but doesn’t completely stop me from functioning.

How I’m reacting

I feel sad, maybe even depressed. It’s really hard for me to finish my tasks and I’m even late on a few of them. My boss ends up asking if I’m doing okay because she notices that my work is being affected. I don’t want to hang out with my friends even though they ask me to get dinner. There are times when I’m overwhelmed by my sadness. At night, I cry before I go to bed.

How therapy can help

Therapy can help me understand the process of grief. It can help me explore the deeper themes that El Chapo is bringing up. I’ll be able to receive not only the compassion and care that I need, but some tools to not get stuck in the sadness. In this way, it can even prevent depression from setting in. Therapy isn’t required, but is highly recommended.


This level of Emotional Debt completely disrupts my life and prevents me from functioning.

How I’m reacting

I can’t get out of bed. I can’t go to work. I stay in my room and don’t want to talk to anyone. I barely eat and I sleep 16 hours a day. I don’t have the energy to do anything and it’s been like this for months.

How therapy can help

At this point, professional help is strongly recommended. My sadness has gotten to the point where it has completely overwhelmed me and I can’t do the basic things such as eating or sleeping. I need someone to help guide me through my grief and to help process it in a healthy way. I may even need some medication.

Discussion Questions

The different levels of Emotional Debt can be applied to almost anything you are going through. Next week, we are going to use this framework to explore anxiety, something many of us are dealing with in the midst of this pandemic.

  • What was something you recently have been bothered by?

  • Was it mild, moderate, or severe?

  • How did you process or attempt to pay down that Emotional Debt?