This post is written in honor of National Psychotherapy Day, “a day when clinicians, clients, and therapy advocates will unite to promote the profession, fight stigma, educate the public, and draw attention to the needs of community mental health.” I hope you’ll join us!
Therapy isn’t only for people with a diagnosis — or in crisis. Therapy is a great way to enhance your happiness (or what psychologists call “well-being”).
As Alison Thayer, LCPC, CEAP, a psychotherapist at Urban Balance, said, “We focus on eating healthy and exercising to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but we often do not apply the same principles to our mind and mental health. Consider therapy sessions to be the equivalent of providing our bodies with a nutritious meal.”
In fact, therapy is nourishing in many different ways. Below, clinicians share some of the well-known, and not-so well-known, benefits of seeking professional help.
Therapy provides perspective. “At times of high stress, even the most highly functioning among us loses perspective on the issues we suffer. Talking these issues through with a caring, attentive professional can provide immediate perspective,” according to John Duffy, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and author of the book The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens.
Therapy sparks self-awareness. Therapy helps you better understand your behaviors, thoughts and feelings. According to Thayer, “If you find yourself wondering why you keep on engaging in the same, dysfunctional behaviors or why you can’t find the strength to make changes in your life, therapy can help you identify patterns and triggers to your behavior, and what you would like to experience instead.” It’s also empowering to realize the connection between your thoughts and actions – and just how much agency you can exert, Duffy said.
Therapy is objective. A therapist can help you see your blind spots without the bias of being part of your life. “Your therapist, like a football coach on the sidelines, isn’t actually playing in your game of life,” according to Julie Hanks, LCSW, a therapist and blogger at Psych Central. “Family and friends are still playing on your field, but your therapist isn’t and has a different view.”
Therapy helps you change patterns. “Therapy helps you recognize and modify your relationship patterns and attachment styles,” Hanks said. While it sounds cliché, our childhoods do affect our relationships, she said. Take the example of a woman whose father was volatile and abused alcohol, she said. Those experiences may color her current world, making her anxious about romantic relationships. Understanding how your early attachment experiences function today can be a huge help in pinpointing and fixing problematic patterns.
Therapy gives you “me” time. “Therapy is a place where you can focus on yourself for an uninterrupted hour,” Thayer said. That means that you don’t have to listen to anyone else’s problems or worry whether your conversation is balanced, she said. In other words, “It’s all about you.”
Therapy lets you unplug. Most of the day we’re glued to our many devices: cell phone, computer, e-reader. In therapy, however, you unplug. And this pause provides many perks. “This pause can help us take note of how we spend our time, what our priorities are, and what might be an unnecessary or unhealthy distraction,” according to Ryan Howes, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and professor in Pasadena, Calif.
Therapy cultivates connection. Digging deep and discussing your innermost thoughts and feelings in a safe space with a therapist helps you face any fears of intimacy, Howes said. This isn’t just rewarding. It’s also good practice for your relationships. “Many times, clients will talk with me about a difficult thought or feeling, feel the relief and reward of opening up in that way, and then go tell the same thing to their loved ones,” Howes said.
Therapy lets you unload – minus the hard feelings. Talking to a loved one is incredibly helpful. But when the issue involves them, it can get tricky. In therapy, however, “you can unload and vent to someone who isn’t going to be directly impacted by your rant,” Hanks said.
Therapy is a place to be completely candid. Everyone has bizarre dreams or strange thoughts or impulses from time to time, Howes said. “One of the best parts of therapy is being able to share and explore the ‘crazy’ thoughts with someone who won’t judge, who is a legally-bound secret keeper, and who may have some insight into these incidents,” he said.
Therapy is an opportunity for a positive ending. According to Howes, “Most of our relational endings in life come in the form of breakups, divorces, deaths, feuds, or drifting away.” The termination phase of therapy occurs when both you and your therapist feel that you’ve worked through your issues. “[This phase] is a time to reflect on the work you’ve done together, process the feelings about the ending, say everything you want to say to one another, and have a good, clean goodbye,” he said.
Therapy teaches effective coping skills. “[Therapy] add[s] additional options and tools to [your] coping toolbox,” Hanks said. Having healthy strategies at your disposal helps you successfully process emotions, cope with stress and lead a satisfying and fulfilling life.