Who benefits from therapy?
(For the sake of this article, I will be using “therapist” and “psychologist” interchangeably; however, it is important to note that there are other mental health fields such as counseling and social work. It is also important to note that not everyone who refers to themselves as a “therapist” actually has credentials and training—a topic to be covered in a future post.)
Well, this could be a very quick post—the answer is everyone! There is a misconception that being in therapy means you are “crazy” or there is something going on such as a recent trauma or past abuse. My biggest wish as a psychologist is that this myth would go away. Of course therapy is especially helpful if you have a mental health diagnosis or have been through a difficult event, but it is not required to fall into one of these categories to benefit from therapy. I often hear clients say things like “well I know other people have it worse” or “nothing’s really wrong with me so I feel guilty taking a spot from someone who needs it more.” To these clients, I always tell them that, first of all, suffering and pain are relative. If you are feeling worse than you used to, regardless of where you started, you can and deserve to go to therapy. Secondly, therapy is not just for emotional support or “fixing” something. It is also a way to get to know yourself better, sort through difficult decisions, or to simply have a space that is all for you.
“But I have close friends and family to talk to for that sort of thing!” I often hear. But let me ask you this: when was the last time a friend or family member gave you their undivided and focused attention for an hour straight? When they didn’t turn the conversation to themselves or their own problems at all the entire time? When they didn’t try to “fix it” by offering advice you maybe didn’t want or ask for? When they weren’t at all biased about the type of feedback they gave you because they have a personal stake in the situation? When you weren’t at all embarrassed or discouraged from sharing something for fear of judgment or that other people would find out? When you didn’t feel guilty or like a burden for bothering them or like you had to reciprocate by asking them about their own lives? Don’t get me wrong, friends and family are crucial for emotional support and they do help you learn things about yourself. But the biggest difference is it’s a two-way, reciprocal relationship.
Therapy is different. In therapy, the hour (or closer to 50 minutes depending on the therapist) is entirely about you. The therapist is a non-biased third-party observer who has no proverbial dog in the fight and therefore won’t be motivated to sway your opinion, actions, or feelings a certain way. You don’t have to worry about seeming “needy” or “self-centered.” You don’t have to worry about a topic being taboo or off-limits because of sensitivities to the other person’s values, beliefs, or history. Plus, psychologists are bound by law to keep everything you say completely confidential (with exceptions for risk to self or others, reportable abuse, subpoenas, or if you’re a minor) so there’s no need to worry that your personal information will be spread around the office or your group of friends. But perhaps the biggest, most important difference between a psychologist and a friend is that psychologists have special training. We spend many hours of coursework, fieldwork, and supervision learning not only how to listen but what to listen for and how to properly communicate to you. We learn how to draw certain parallels, to find connections, ways to help you navigate and mitigate various stressors and emotional reactions, theories that shape the way we view your situation, and how to help you come to your own conclusions rather than simply offering advice or instructions.
“But nothing’s really wrong in my life. It’s pretty normal and I feel pretty well adjusted so therapy would be too extreme for me,” is another comment I hear. And that’s terrific! I hope things stay relatively calm and “normal.” But any “normal” human can still deal with stress, interpersonal conflict, difficulty making big decisions, occasional changes in mood, loss of motivation, grief from deaths and breakups, and navigating new phases of life and responsibilities. Most everyone has periods of time where they feel a little unrooted whether from an actual geographical move, or something like a graduation and entry into the workforce, a shift in social circles, or a feeling of not knowing exactly who they are or what they want. These issues are not too small for therapy. In fact, therapy can be an excellent place to sort through these times and come out more centered and grounded. Again, how wonderful to have a space just for you to think out loud, explore, and get new perspective with someone is 100% devoted to assisting you without feeling like a burden.
It’s true that people seek different things and come for different reasons. But no reason is too small or incorrect to pursue therapy. When I said “everyone” I really meant “everyone!” Whether you’re looking to cope with a recent loss, learn to manage your stress better, adjust to a new phase of life, or simply to learn more about yourself and how you interact with the world around you, therapy can be an invaluable tool. I invite you to check out my website and contact me to find out how you can get started.
So, you’ve decided to pursue therapy! Check out the second article in this Therapy 101 series: How to Find a Therapist?