Posted on May 19, 2020
Wondering what therapy is for and if it would benefit you? Learn more about therapy and how it is used in various cases.
Though it’s extremely commonplace, many people remain skeptical of therapy. A big reason for this uncertainty is that there is still a general stigma attached to the practice. Many associate psychotherapy with a failure, or an inability to cope. Seeking psychological treatment can imply that there is something wrong. This is an unfortunate misconception.
Then, what is therapy and what is therapy for? Ultimately, it’s a treatment for a wide range of things, from severe medical issues to personal development.
Technically speaking, therapy (also called psychotherapy or counseling) is the process of meeting with a therapist to resolve problematic behaviors, beliefs, feelings, relationship issues, and/or somatic responses. Therapy can also be an effective solution for serious, life-threatening issues like self-destructive behaviors and habits, as a quest to resolve past pain points and improve relationships.
Though no two therapy processes look the same, all modes of therapy establish goals for psychological treatment and determine the steps it will take to get there. Whether in individual therapy, group therapy, or family therapy, your relationship with a therapist will remain confidential and focus on not only the topics brought up in session, but also the therapy session itself. This is because the therapeutic process is considered to be just as important as the specific issues or concerns you choose to share in therapy.
You should look for a therapist who will be supportive and does not judge. The best talk therapy treatment is tailored to your needs. If the relationship doesn’t feel completely comfortable and open, then it’s time to leave and find someone who does. Luckily, there are a variety of therapy matching service options available to help you find a therapist you feel comfortable with.
Psychotherapy is a tool that, like all tools, has been designed to help us repair and create. Thinking that there needs to be something seriously wrong to see a therapist is a myth.
While some therapists do specialize in severe emotional disturbances like schizophrenia, many focus on simply helping clients work through more typical, everyday challenges like navigating a career transition, adapting to life as a parent, strengthening stress management skills, or coping through a divorce. Just as some medical physicians specialize in different systems of the body, psychotherapists can serve a wide range of clients with a range of needs and goals, too.
If you’re wondering “how does therapy help?,” here’s a list of the various reasons people seek a therapist.
It might be surprising to learn that a large volume of clients are actually successful, high-achieving people who would be considered overall very healthy. Yet, even the most healthy person can have their own mental health problem or another type of issue going on. Most people in this category are usually challenged by a specific, personal goal: losing weight, creating a better work-life balance, finding ways to parent more effectively, or general feelings of anxiety. Some people just want to learn more about themselves and their behavior to self improve.
Everyone wants to love and accept themselves, just as they are, but many people struggle to achieve this seemingly simple act. Therapy can help you explore roadblocks to self-esteem and teach you practical ways to prioritize your happiness.
Another purpose of talk therapy is to improve and strengthen romantic relationships. Couples enter a marriage with every intention of making it great, but life happens. Many relationships are functional but are no longer fun. Marriage counseling can help improve communication and strategize ways to return passion and excitement to a marriage. Likewise, couples therapy can be a great way to reestablish trust after betrayal, or work through past transgressions. Figuring out what to talk about in therapy with your spouse can carry over to your home life, benefitting your relationship even more.
Just like a romantic relationship, other relationships in your life can benefit from strengthening. Anyone who has ever had a child knows that parenting is by far one of the hardest jobs you could ever have. There are so many expectations both internally and externally. Despite our best efforts, however, many of us end up reverting to parenting patterns we observed in our own childhood. Therapy can help you get out of this rut and become the parent you want to be. And of course, on top of being a parent, there is also your work. Everyone wants to thrive in their career, but many of us are held back from achieving our work goals. It could be fear, hard work, or interpersonal conflict. Therapy can be an invigorating catalyst for healthy change in your career.
The purpose of therapy could just be, well, to understand your own purpose in life. Many therapists are passionate about helping you find out who you are on a deep level anduncovering the true self buried under the busyness of life. Therapy is a course where you are the subject matter, and you have the time and space to really explore. Through your sessions, you’ll go deeper into your current thoughts and feelings. If your feelings are already at the surface and causing pain or disruption to your everyday life, another purpose of therapy is to help you let go and forgive. Holding onto past trauma and negative feelings can have serious physical, emotional, and relational consequences. Through therapy, you can learn to resolve these issues.
The purpose of therapy is to act as a laboratory for you to explore, experiment, and practice behaviors that are scary in the real world with your actual relationships. It’s where shy people can practice confrontation and, conversely, detached people can play with expressing emotion. When you’ve tried this out a few times in a session, you may be ready to take it out into the world.
While one in five American adults suffers from some form of mental illness, it’s estimated that only about 46-65 percent with moderate-to-severe impairment are in treatment. Therapy is important because it can help the majority of Americans. If you're one of them, therapy is important because it provides a game plan, providing different options to address your needs over time. If you want to deal with complex issues but aren’t ready yet, a therapist can help you develop a strategy to approach those challenges.
Starting therapy, even if you go very slowly and not consistently, can offer you a life-line in times of greater need. Establishing a strong therapeutic relationship with a mental health professional can pay dividends over time that outweigh the cost of therapy. If and when serious problems arise, you have a trusted mental health professional in which to seek support.
Unfortunately, therapy isn’t so black and white. If you go into therapy looking for a quick, easy solution, or with the hope your therapist will solve all your problems, you might be disappointed.
Therapy is hard work, and going into therapy with this in mind can help prepare you for the occasional tough individual therapy session. When you work with the right therapist, it won’t all be difficult and most of your sessions will probably feel rewarding, even when they’re a little difficult.
People who receive psychodynamic therapy continue to improve after therapy ends because it helps teach us about ourselves in such a deep and broad way that we can utilize this understanding in a variety of situations. The tools a therapist can give you will still be useful and accessible even when you are no longer in treatment.
That said, good therapy has an expiration date. Therapy can be temporary because it teaches you skills that last forever. In fact, a good therapist wants you to get better and actually leave therapy, and ultimately teach you to be your own therapist when you’re on your own. In order for therapy to help, it should have a clear goal in mind, even if it’s just to explore and see where sessions take you. When your therapy goal is met, you will naturally phase out of therapy. You might not know what that goal is when you first enter therapy and, in those cases, you and your therapist will figure out goals together.
Though you could be in treatment for months, or even years, you should start seeing progress, and feeling a sense of relief after just a handful of visits with your therapist. As you make progress, your therapist could decide to move you from weekly sessions to bi-weekly sessions to (eventually) sessions just once a month. It’s also important to consider that sometimes you feel worse before you feel better, and that’s totally normal. Always discuss any negative feelings about the treatment or processes itself with your therapist so they can make appropriate adjustments to help you get the most out of your sessions.
Now that you understand the purpose of therapy, why therapy is important, and confirm that therapy does help, it’s time to find your therapist. Finding the right therapist can often take some time and work, but it’s ultimately worth the effort. The connection you create with your therapist is essential, so it’s imperative to find someone you trust and are comfortable talking to about difficult subjects. Therapy won’t be effective unless you have this bond, so take some time at the beginning to find the right person. It’s okay to shop around and ask questions when interviewing potential therapists.
Bottom line, experience matters. Look for a therapist who is experienced in treating the types of issues you’re experiencing. Often, therapists have special areas of focus, such as depression or eating disorders. Experienced therapists have seen the problems you’re facing again and again, broadening their view and giving them more insight.
In doing your homework, you’ll need to learn about treatment options and orientations. Many therapists practice a blend of orientations, so educate yourself. Additionally, credentials aren’t everything, but make sure the therapist holds a current license and is in good standing with the state regulatory board. The most important factor in finding the right therapy is to trust your gut. Even if your therapist looks great on paper, you'll need to choose someone else if you don’t feel a connection. Services like Advekit are a great way to cut through the noise and find the right therapist faster.
Alison LaSov, LMFT
Alison LaSov is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with experience treating clients struggling with anxiety and depression. She predominantly focuses on mental health intervention for children and adolescents, particularly those who are in crisis. She has worked within the Los Angeles education system treating students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), as well as supervised a non-profit Teen Crisis Hotline out of Cedars-Sinai Hospital. Alison earned her B.A. from UCLA and M.A. from Pepperdine University. She is a native to Los Angeles and co-founder at Advekit.