While navigating the ups and downs of life, it’s crucial that we have a strong support system in place. This is especially true during times of uncertainty, like living in a pandemic. If you’re craving an emotional outlet, positive support, or simply someone to talk to, seeking therapy has been a solid option.
The American Psychiatric Association defines therapy as a method for treating a broad range of mental health conditions through open and honest dialogue. Professional therapists are able to empower their clients to make positive changes in their lives — whether it’s by strengthening their emotional stability, bolstering their self-esteem, or more.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with questioning the efficacy of therapy. However, it’s important to know that it takes patience and dedication to realize the full value of treatment.
“Therapy is a collaborative relationship,” says licensed therapist Cecille Ahrens, owner and clinical director of San Diego-based Transcend Therapy. “We don’t have a magic wand. There’s a saying in our field that [the therapist] shouldn’t be working harder than the client.”
The micro-level benefits that an individual will see from therapy will differ depending on the person. However, Ahrens notes that there are some more immediate macro-level pluses to be had, regardless of the situation.
“Just being validated, having somebody listening to you, being present with you, and validating your experience is really freeing and healing for people,” she says.
15 general benefits of therapy
- lowered emotional reactivity
- raised self-esteem
- greater confidence in your abilities
- a feeling of empowerment
- an ability to make healthier life choices
- insight to set healthier social boundaries
- an increased sense of hope
- a new perspective on current problems
- greater self-understanding
- healthy strategies to deal with stress
- tools for improved communication skills
- feelings of relief and validation
- different context to navigate past struggles
- a deeper understanding of your thought patterns
- stronger and healthier personal relationships
This is in addition to the potential relief from a variety of mental health conditions, like depression, anxiety, and trauma.
Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need to have a mental health condition to benefit from therapy. Nor is seeking therapy a sign of failure. As long as you have areas you’d like support in navigating, it’s never a bad idea to speak to a professional.
That being said, therapy is also a good treatment option for a variety of mental illnesses and conditions.
“We have interventions for pretty much most of the diagnoses in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual,” said Ahrens.
This includes depression, anxiety, stress-related disorders like PTSD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and personality disorders among others.
There’s a large pool of research that showcases the efficacy of therapy as treatment. For example, a 2010 review of 39 different studies featuring 1,140 participants found that mindfulness-based therapy generally improved symptoms of depression and anxiety across a wide spectrum of severities.
A similar review of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) published in 2012 found the treatment effective in a huge range of conditions, from substance use disorders to insomnia.
CBT helped in lowering the chance of relapse in some drugs, reduced hallucinations and delusions in schizophrenia, was a “reliable first-line approach” in treating anxiety, effective in lengthening sleep times, and much more.
When it comes to depression and anxiety CBT by itself has been shown to be effective in 50 to 75 percent of cases after 5 to 15 modules.
It’s important to note that not all types of therapy will be equally effective in treating specific mental health disorders. If you’re seeking treatment, when in doubt, ask your prospective therapist what type of therapy they specialize in and whether it could help you thrive.
It can sometimes feel overwhelming when confronted by the sheer amount of different approaches there are to therapy. Here are the main types that tend to be utilized most often.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
CBT practitioners believe that the way we perceive ourselves and events in our lives could cause us distress. Therapists specializing in this method can help you recognize negative thought patterns and teach you how to replace them with more positive beliefs.
This is the approach with the idea that all behaviors are learned — and in the same vein, unhealthy behaviors can be unlearned. A behavioral therapist would help you rewire your behaviors by changing the associations behind those behaviors. CBT falls under this category.
This method works on the assumption that your worldview impacts the choices you make, for better or for worse. You are the best at understanding your own experiences and needs — it’s your therapist’s job to help you become your true self, and to accept who you are.
This type of therapy believes your actions are driven by your unconscious mind. Treatment involves examining your thoughts for trends that might lead to distress — otherwise known as psychoanalysis.
According to Ahrens, “Psychoanalysis is not widely utilized anymore because there’s a lot of other new interventions that have popped up that are what we call evidence-based.”
Another possible issue is cost. Companies may not want to pay for psychoanalysis as readily as in the past, so patients may be encouraged to try other methods of therapy first.
While these are the very general umbrella categories that many types of therapy fall under, in most cases, a therapist would tailor their methods to best suit your needs.
“It’s really important for therapists to have a few more tricks in their toolbox so [they] can be more flexible with a client,” said Ahrens. “It’s not one-size-fits-all.”
Starting out on your therapy journey doesn’t have to be hard. You don’t even need to leave your home.
“COVID-19 has changed the whole therapy landscape,” said Ahrens. “Now, online [therapy] is definitely more socially acceptable. And we’re figuring out that it’s actually effective.”
As for finding therapists near you, there are a ton of options. You can go through your workplace or school — many jobs offer Employment Assistance Programs, which offer free access to mental health programs and counseling.
Similarly, many universities now offer in-house counseling and therapy resources.
“If you have insurance, you can call your insurance company,” said Ahrens. “Insurance companies will give you [therapist] referrals based on your zip code of preference.”
Otherwise, you can always ask your family or friends for recommendations or do a quick Google search for recommended therapists in your area.
Treatment doesn’t have to be expensive either. If your insurance doesn’t cover therapy and you don’t have EAP, Ahrens notes you can always ask your therapist if they offer sliding scale fees — prices that are lowered depending on your income level.
“And, if all else fails and you really don’t have the funds, see if you qualify to receive services from your local county,” she said.
“There’s no wrong way in therapy,” said Ahrens. “If you’re a client, all you need to do is show up and we will figure out the rest of it together.”