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 building skills to handle stress, 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.
This is in addition to the potential relief from a variety of mental health conditions, like depression, anxiety, and trauma, as well as learning skills and strategies to address stressors.
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.
Remember, too, that the results you see from counseling may depend in part on the relationship you develop with your therapist.
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.
Benefits of 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 build the ability to have more objective and realistic beliefs, rather than having negative thoughts.
Some of CBT’s benefits include:
- Shifting negative thoughts and beliefs. Negative self-talk bringing you down? CBT might help transform your internal chatter into something more uplifting. “Cognitive behavioral therapy helps individuals understand and adapt their thought patterns (or cognitions) to ultimately change them,” explains Lauren Taveras, PhD, of Coral Valley Psychological Services in Phoenix.
- Coping with grief or loss. Working through your emotions after loss is never easy, but CBT shows promise for people struggling to cope with these difficult situations. Research has found that even people who suffer from prolonged grief often see improvement in symptoms like emotional numbing and intrusive memories with CBT treatment.
- Improving overall view of self. In a 2013 study, people with social anxiety disorder reported more positive views of themselves after undergoing 16 CBT sessions.
- Managing anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. CBT works well for general emotional well-being, but really shines for its effectiveness at managing many specific mental health conditions. Decades of research have shown that anxiety, panic disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other disorders can all be successfully treated by addressing the interplay between thoughts and behaviors.
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.
If you’d like to overcome undesirable behaviors, this may be the therapy you’re seeking. “The list of behaviors that can be changed with this therapy is virtually endless,” says Taveras.
Some outcomes of behavioral therapy may include:
- Getting rid of depression and grief. Behavioral activation, which is a type of behavioral therapy that’s known to be good at helping with depression and grief.
- Getting rid of phobias. Exposure therapy is a type of behavioral therapy often used to help people unravel phobias. According to the American Psychological Association, being exposed to the thing you fear (whether spiders, heights, or clowns — no judgment!) in a safe environment eventually helps release feelings of fright and decrease avoidance.
- Treating behavioral issues in children. Every parent knows that just yelling at your kids doesn’t change their behavior. Instead, behavioral therapy from a trained professional can help kids work through ADHD and disruptive behavior disorders.
- Managing eating disorders. Eating is, of course, a behavior, so it’s no surprise that eating disorders fall under the umbrella of conditions that can be improved with behavioral therapy. In fact, CBT is often the first-line treatment for bulimia nervosa.
- Overcoming addiction. When you’d like to get an issue like problem drinking or online gambling under control, behavioral therapy offers hope. This form of therapy teaches real-world coping skills that can keep you from slipping back into addiction even after treatment ends.
Benefits of humanistic therapy
This method works on the assumption that your worldview impacts the choices you make, for better or for worse. You’re 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.
“Humanistic therapy emphasizes the whole person, rather than honing in on unwanted behaviors, thoughts, or emotions, and is based on the premise that human beings are inherently good,” explains Taveras. “The healing process tends to be more organic and free-flowing, which may take more time than a traditional CBT or behavioral approach.”
Humanistic therapy may help with:
- Boosting confidence. As you work with your therapist to gain a better understanding of yourself and your worldview, you may begin to feel more comfortable in your own skin, leading to more confidence.
- Treating anxiety and depression. Although humanistic therapy views anxiety and depression through a different lens than CBT, it can also be effective for treating these conditions. Some people may prefer it for its empathetic, person-centered approach.
- Resolving relationship issues. Gaining better insight into your own motivations might help you see your relationships more clearly.
- Increasing self-worth. Other people’s criticisms and judgements can affect the way we think of ourselves. Humanistic therapy aims to help individuals see themselves for who they really are — and feel more self-worth as a result.
Benefits of psychodynamic and psychoanalytic therapies
Psychoanalytic therapy believes your actions are driven by your unconscious mind, while psychodynamic therapy involves looking at the way your relationships with close friends and family has an impact on how you respond to stress. Treatment involves examining your thoughts for trends that might lead to distress.
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.”
Considering psychodynamic therapy? You may see benefits such as:
- Reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Let’s give Freud some credit, shall we? Research from 2010 found that this form of therapy (which, yes, originated with the famous Austrian psychologist) was effective for treating anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. Und… how does zat make you feel?
- Gaining understanding of yourself. If you find yourself frequently asking, “Why do I do that?” psychoanalysis might help you find the answers. Psychoanalytic therapy is ideal for individuals who want to find healing and also understanding why they feel what they feel.
- Creating more satisfying relationships. Once you’ve gained insight into the “whys” from your past, you may be better equipped to make positive changes in your future. Many people find psychoanalysis enables them to create new, healthier patterns — especially in relationships.
Starting out on your therapy journey doesn’t have to be hard. You don’t even need to leave your home.
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 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.”