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Do You Need Therapy & Will it Work For You?

Medically Reviewed and Edited by 
Olga Kyrychenko, Psychologist

Last year, TIME Magazine published an article about the disparity between the growing popularity of therapy and the data regarding mental health decline: suicide rates, numbers on anxiety and depression, and overall life satisfaction. 

Similarly, in The Therapy Issue of The New York Times, one of the write-ups questioned whether therapy actually works or not. After reading both articles – despite the skepticism surrounding the titles and parts of their content – they encouraged me to address a question you might have: What could I gain by going to therapy? 

Throughout this article, I will guide you in coming up with your answer to the overarching question, “Why should I go to therapy?”. Towards the end, you can expect to have a solid insight about the matter as well as your other questions about mental health treatment and its benefits answered.

Why Go to Therapy?

I have mentioned that the articles I have read inspired me to write about seeking therapy. While the latter one leans more towards anecdotal insight, the writer was able to highlight that the effectiveness of therapy depends on three important factors. She recognized that therapy has made her more self-aware (individual factors). Still, she felt that the sessions were too time-consuming for her lifestyle (patient expectations) and that her therapist didn’t focus on the things that mattered to her the most (therapist qualities).

Let us briefly examine the factors that play their part in therapy separately:

  • Individual Factors: The most important thing to remember before therapy is to know yourself. You may argue that that is your reason for going to see a therapist in the first place – congratulations on knowing what you need, you know yourself enough after all. You should try and help your therapist in choosing the most beneficial therapeutic approach for your problems.
  • Patient Expectations: Did you know that even just the belief that you will get better through therapy is sometimes enough to improve your wellbeing? That is called the placebo effect. but, how do you build that belief or even acquire it in the first place? It depends on a lot of things – some as complex as expectations about medication (if you are seeing a psychiatrist too). Still, there are simpler expectations like how the therapy clinic looks.
  • Therapist Qualities: I cannot stress enough the importance of the quality of the therapeutic relationship. Much like how you would not go to an ENT doctor for your skin problems, you would not settle for just talk therapy and expect that your phobia will be extinguished. However, it does not necessarily mean that the therapist’s choice of mental health treatment is the only thing you should consider. Your therapist’s manner of speaking can matter – if their choice of words or tone does not sit right with you, it is a valid concern. Even a Harvard psychologist would not be effective if you are unable to connect and trust them.

The first answer to the question “Why go to therapy?” is that you have a choice to pick whatever benefits you the most. You can choose to go to the nearest clinic or be in the comfort of your own home through an online therapy platform. You also have the option to go for long-term therapy or a short-term one. Soon, single-session interventions (SSIs) may even be practiced by most, if not all, therapists if even the short-term options are too costly or time-consuming.

However, I recognize that we cannot ignore the other points from the article TIME published – mainly about the stigma and the access barriers that have been ever-so-present in discussions regarding therapy. 

Concerning stigma, it is quite ironic that if you are an avid user of the internet, mental health and therapy are sensationalized when the problems lie in real life: being perceived as weak by your family, peers, and colleagues, for example. Nonetheless, steps are continuously being taken by the community and practitioners alike to reduce such stigma.

A notable takeaway from the report is the shift in perspective of the public towards people with schizophrenia and depression – both being seen as valid concerns resulting in more improvements in managing such conditions due to the number of individuals being less reluctant to seek help.

If you are part of a marginalized group or community, you might find yourself doubting whether there are culturally competent therapists who can understand that most of your mental health problems are rooted in your cultural identity. This also goes for low-income individuals. Just like with stigma, steps are also being taken to extend help to those belonging to marginalized populations including the expansion of payment options and pushing for online therapy options to be covered by insurance.

Now, the second answer to the question “Why go to therapy?” is that therapy is for everyone. Going back to individual factors, there is an applicable therapy for you regardless of your demographic profile and other relevant features that have a bearing on your therapeutic experience.

Online therapy platforms with large directories such as BetterHelp or Talkspace can accommodate your needs considering they have therapists with different specializations and backgrounds as well. Whatever purpose, whether you are seeking therapy for stress or a more intricate one like gender-affirming therapy, therapy has a modality that addresses your concern.

That said, the therapeutic relationship would only be complete with a therapist. Before you look into therapist directories to find the “perfect” mental health provider, you should have a grasp of your expectations: what kind of therapist you should look for, how they conduct the therapy, and what kind of problems you are hoping they help you with, among many others factors. 

Most Common Reasons to See a Therapist

Statistics from as early as 2004 state that more and more Americans are recognizing the importance of therapy and are then more inclined to receive counseling. In the past year, the number has gone up by 23%, and here are the reasons as to why that is the case.

1. Dealing with life transitions and adjustments: Regardless of whether it is a positive change in your life like career growth or a negative one like divorce or separation, both can be equally overwhelming. Seeing a therapist can help you reflect and if needed, set goals or address any mental distress symptoms that were triggered by life changes.

2. Coping with stress and burnout: You probably have your way of managing stress and recovering from burnout. However, there may come a time wherein life can become so demanding that you find it hard to deal with the mental and emotional exhaustion. When you seek help from a therapist, they can help you develop or hone your skills that you can use or continue using in the long run.

3. Improving relationships and communication: Maintaining and building healthy and long-lasting relationships is important. These relationships be they with your family, friends, colleagues, or a significant other, can crumble without proper communication and maintenance. Besides individual therapy, therapists also stress the importance of collaborative types of therapy like group therapy, family therapy, and couples therapy.

4. Enhancing self-esteem and self-confidence: At times, you may feel unsure about yourself which can be challenging especially when it affects various aspects of your life. Seeking therapy can offer a supportive environment to explore these feelings and develop strategies. Consider interventions like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and reminiscence-based techniques. Therapists who practice such approaches can help you identify negative thought patterns and build a more positive self-image.

5. Managing anger and frustration: When you are angry and frustrated, it can get overwhelming. Through therapy, you will be able to address such emotions constructively and prevent your relationships and well-being from being at risk. From cognitive restructuring to problem-solving techniques, your therapist can help you regain control when your emotions escalate.

6. Processing grief and loss: Therapists tend to apply techniques of a therapeutic approach almost to a dot to maximize efficiency and ensure effectiveness. However, since you experience emotions like grief differently from others, they can also tailor those techniques according to your individual needs. Some types of therapy like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) stress the importance of your values to establish psychological distance from distressing feelings and ensure you have a supportive space to navigate through those feelings.

7. Enhancing personal growth and self-awareness: Your therapist can help you develop a deeper sense of self-awareness and cultivate a growth mindset. Most client-centered therapeutic approaches and interventions are based on humanistic approach or positive psychology and regard the exploration of values, emotions, and perspectives as important to promoting holistic well-being. Frameworks of such therapies like the Positive Growth Process (PGP) model make use of your autonomy and self-compassion as drivers of personal growth.

Now that we have answered another question of ‘Why?’, we can move towards answering the question of ‘How do I know if I need it?’. Anchored on the reasons I have just given and lists provided by the American Psychiatric Association and Mental Health America, I was able to come up with a brief list of signs you should not miss since ignoring such indicators may lead to worsening symptoms, increased distress, and difficulty in managing daily life.

10 Signs You Might Need Therapy

1. Drastic changes in routine and habits: If you often find yourself unable to stick to a routine or have been neglecting self-care habits (i.e., taking a bath, brushing your teeth, etc.) then I encourage you to see a therapist. Regardless of whether your reason is because you are busy and preoccupied and not really because you feel down, time management is an essential life skill.

Also, high-functioning anxiety exists – just because self-neglect is more often seen in people with depression, does not mean it is not of concern even when you are still seemingly able to perform.

2. Difficulty coping with daily activities: Similar to the situation above but more on what is expected of you – work activities, school activities, social activities, and the likes. Besides time management, therapy can also help you develop your resilience. Additionally, if you are someone with a physical condition that affects your ability to perform day-to-day tasks, psychological therapy can also benefit you alongside the physical rehabilitation you may be undergoing and medications you are taking.

3. Overwhelming anxiety or excessive worry: It is normal to worry about numerous things but if it becomes trivial to the point that when a single strand of hair looks out of place to you, it hinders your capability to show up to work or gatherings, then seeing a therapist can help ease your mind.

Beside the effectiveness of approaches used to treat different types of anxiety disorders, studies have also looked into their accessibility. This means that helping professionals are continuously making sure that regardless of your status in life, you are able to receive the care and help that you need.

4. Strained relationships with family or friends: Now, this goes beyond a falling out or a big fight – even if you are constantly speaking to your friends or family, strains can occur. An article talks about how important it is to seek professional help if you need it instead of simply relying on a support system like your peers and loved ones.

Although having support is just as important as therapy, you should not take the risk that because of what you are going through, those people will also suffer and in turn, may not be as supportive as they want to or you expect them to be.

5. Feeling isolated or disconnected from others despite efforts to connect: There is nothing wrong with not clicking with everyone you meet but if you have noticed that social interactions are becoming uncomfortable and unbearable, then there are skills that counselors can teach you or help you develop.

Social Skills Training (SST) may be more common in children and adolescents because they are at a stage wherein their environment is expanding beyond home and school, but if you are an adult, SST can still benefit you in a way that you can learn more about your emotional intelligence and the proper ways to improve it or make use of whatever you have already.

6. Persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness: These are a common reason why a lot of people consider going to therapy but in the end, they become reluctant to do so. If you are one of those people and you are trying to find a good reason to act upon the urge, then take the time to consider that continuous advancements are not only being observed in psychotherapy but also in psychiatry.

7. Substance abuse or dependency issues: There are substances that should be consumed in moderation and some that should not be consumed at all. If you know someone or if you is someone who turns to substances for relief or in worst case scenarios, to function, then you should seek professional help. Not only are you putting yourself at risk but also others. You can prevent the devastating effects of substance abuse or dependency by undergoing addiction treatment which comes in many forms (i.e., REBT, EMDR, DBT, etc.) to ensure that it works for you.

8. Sudden loss of interest in activities once enjoyed: It is a common experience to drop a hobby or become uninterested in things but usually, it is a gradual process: not having time for it anymore, replacing it with something more interesting. If you find yourself not wanting to immerse yourself in anything that can provide you with an enjoyable leisure time, you might be experiencing anhedonia which is a common symptom shared by a lot of mental disorders. Thus, it is advisable to see a therapist in order for it not to fully develop into a condition.

9. Persistent anger or irritability: There are instances wherein we have outbursts and that is normal – you are a human being, there are things that will definitely make you tick. However, if these outbursts become more frequent and the reasons for such are becoming more and more trivial, then therapy can help you with preventing further outbursts. You are not only helping yourself in doing so but also, you can avoid hurting others because of uncontrollable emotions.

10. Chronic physical symptoms without a clear medical explanation: You may have been finding yourself going to your doctor for chest pains and physical test results coming back as normal. Well, chest pains are common symptoms of anxiety – other chronic pains and symptoms may be indicative of somatic symptom disorder. There is nothing wrong with seeing a physician because of these since they are physical manifestations after all. However, you can also check in with a therapist to be sure of what exactly is causing those symptoms.

Whether it is you or a loved one, who is exhibiting these signs, it is important to know that professional help is available. Seeking therapy at the onset of these signs can provide valuable support and guidance.

Self-harm and suicidal ideation were not mentioned because it is IMPERATIVE for people who are exhibiting those behaviors to SEEK IMMEDIATE HELP. If you or someone you know is experiencing extreme distress and in need of immediate support, reach out to 988 – the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

What Are The Benefits of Therapy?

Different types of therapies have different benefits: behavioral therapy has long-term effects compared to talk therapy, humanistic therapy can better benefit those who have a more positive outlook about therapy and its outcomes. However, all therapies have benefits they generally share regardless of techniques used:

  • You will develop skills for managing life transitions and challenges
  • You will learn about effective stress management and coping strategies
  • You will notice improvement in your mood and emotional regulation
  • You will have access to a safe and nonjudgmental space for self-exploration
  • You will gain better communication and relationship skills

To further elaborate on these points, I want to share with you an article about how much of a demand there is for therapy in recent years. It highlighted the public’s view of the country being in a state of a mental health crisis and how therapists and other experts in the field of psychology are trying to accommodate everyone regardless of their reasons for going to therapy. 

This goes to show that US citizens are recognizing that the solution to a lot of problems is therapy as well as realizing that therapy is also preventive and not just for those who are already diagnosed with a mental health condition.

So, Do I Actually Need Therapy or Not?

The short answer is probably. With online therapy and brief therapy being promoted as much as their counterparts, you now have the option to gauge. There is no harm in seeing a counselor and figuring out whether further intervention is needed or not. Additionally, as I have mentioned,  therapy is not solely reserved for those who are diagnosed with a mental health condition. You are encouraged to go to therapy for something as simple as guidance.

I continuously advocate for therapy because no matter your background, identity, or circumstances, there is a therapeutic approach suited to your unique needs and goals. That alone is enough of a reason to consider therapy and gain valuable insights for personal growth and self-discovery. You can also be an example to your friends, colleagues, or loved ones to seek therapy as well especially if they are reluctant and would want the encouragement to come from someone whom they trust.