Ask anyone how to get in good physical shape and they’ll have a pretty similar answer: start by walking or running, get a gym membership, consider changes to your diet, and when you want a little more guidance, hire a personal trainer. But what about getting in good mental shape?
A lot of advice for mental health care serves as a temporary salve: take a day off, talk to a loved one, treat yourself to something you enjoy. Turns out, one of the best things you can do for your mental health is pretty similar to hiring a personal trainer: find a therapist.
Having a coach or a trainer for physical fitness has been part of the zeitgeist for a while, but it’s only recently that culture has begun to move away from the idea of “just tough it out” for mental fitness and move on to the idea that going to regular therapy sessions can not only be helpful, it can change your whole outlook. According to research done by Barna, 21% of Gen Y and 16% of Gen X are currently working with a therapist. In fact, 42% of all U.S. adults have seen a counselor at some point.
As the stigma against caring for our mental health is slowly lifted, it’s becoming clear to many people that therapy can not only help pull us out of a hole, but it can also make a good life even better.
What is the purpose of therapy?
Let’s start what with therapy is and isn’t. Therapy is not something reserved only for people with a severe mental illness. That stigma is old-fashioned and belongs in the past.
Therapy is also not something you need to do four times a week. If you’re wondering, “how often should I go to therapy?” The answer is really however often you want, though many people attend sessions at a weekly cadence for the best clinical outcomes. Other people see a therapist once a month, and some only a few times a year. It all depends on your individual needs, goals, and lifestyle.
Therapy is, at its core, a safe place to be yourself, ask questions, and learn the tools to cope with problems and live a life that feels safe and fulfilling. As the American Psychological Association puts it, “psychologists help people of all ages live happier, healthier and more productive lives.”
Mental health professionals offer many benefits for improving your daily life. Maybe you’re interested in therapy for depression, or therapy for an anxiety disorder, or any number of other diagnoses, conditions, and feelings. Therapists can help with overcoming defeating thoughts, managing addiction, and changing destructive behavior, but there are many other perks of therapy outside of dealing with specific mental health issues.
One of the benefits is pure catharsis. Just the act of putting our feelings into words alone can have therapeutic effects. A therapist can be a valuable sounding board, especially when you don’t feel comfortable telling anyone else what’s going on.
Therapy can also help you think things through. Discussing your problems with a qualified counselor can help you work through what to do next, whether you’re unsure of your next career step, having trouble with communication in a relationship, or even just struggling to make connections in a new place.
A therapist or counselor can also act as an unbiased third party for relationships. In the confines of a therapist’s office, it can feel safer to discuss how you’re feeling with a partner when there’s someone there to help keep the conversation healthy and on track.
Therapy can even act as a time for self-improvement. You can work with a therapist to practice standing your ground, speaking up, making new friends, improving relationships with your family members, or even just getting to know yourself a little bit better—all of which will improve your overall quality of life.
Reasons to start therapy
There are lots of benefits to therapy, but how do you know if it’s right for you? There are lots of reasons to start seeing a therapist, so let’s break some down:
1. Your emotions are getting in the way of your life.
If being sad or anxious or angry or apathetic has caused you to miss opportunities, slack at work, or hurt your relationships, you might consider talking to a therapist about it. We all have passing moods, but if the moods don’t pass, there are tools that can help us cope with them so they don’t impact our well-being.
2. You’re crippled by fear of something.
Most of our fears don’t get in the way of our day-to-day lives. We can all carry on being afraid of spiders and cliffs and snakes. But fears of driving, social engagements, flying, failing, and others can dramatically affect how you live your life. If your fear is dictating how you live, therapy can help.
3. You’ve suffered from trauma.
Many people assume that a person needs to have PTSD to warrant therapy for trauma, but this isn’t true. Any trauma, whether recent or long ago, can be worked through with a therapist. If the idea of even remembering your trauma is painful, telling your therapist in advance will help them create a plan for moving past that trauma.
4. You’re experiencing grief.
Grief can be an excruciatingly lonely experience, but therapy can help. It’s also important to remember we experience grief for many more reasons than just illness and death. Grief applies to the end of a friendship, a divorce, losing your home, a lost pet, and more. Having someone to talk to, who will listen for as long as you need, can be incredibly valuable.
5. You’re feeling regularly fatigued.
Fatigue can be due to many issues, so see a doctor to rule out physical concerns, but often regular fatigue can be a symptom of depression. If life has lost its luster, and you’re regularly more interested in staying in bed, talk to a therapist.
6. You no longer look forward to hobbies.
Similar to fatigue, if you feel disconnected from the activities that used to bring you joy, it might be more than just getting bored — it could be related to depression. And, if this symptom turns out to be unrelated to depression, a therapist can help you think through what hobbies might be worth a shot next.
7. You’re having regular headaches and stomach issues.
Stress often can be seen in physical symptoms in the body. It’s known to cause headaches, neck and shoulder pain, stomachaches, nausea, and other gastrointestinal health problems. If your medical doctor can’t find anything wrong, and usual pain medicine and antacids aren’t doing the trick, a therapist can help get to the bottom of what’s bothering you and create a plan to manage it.
8. You’re using substances to cope with feelings.
If your relationship with substances like drugs, alcohol, or even food has a reached a point where you use them regularly to numb feelings, or you are often looking forward to the next time you can, a therapist can help. Numbing feelings is a temporary and usually unhealthy solution. Addressing feelings and learning the tools to cope with them is a safer long-term plan.
9. Your performance is falling at work.
If the quality of your work is suffering, or you’re having difficulty focusing, it could be an emotional or mental issue. If the issue is that you hate your job, a therapist can be the support you need to figure out what to do next to make short term and long term positive changes.
10. You’re struggling in your relationships.
All relationships experience ups and downs, and while we often rely on our friends or family to help us navigate these issues, sometimes these issues are with those people. Sometimes, we’d just prefer an outside opinion. And sometimes, we just want to complain. That’s okay! Therapy can be a great solution for dealing with intimacy problems, communication breakdowns, and more.
11. You want to strengthen your marriage.
A relationship doesn’t need to be falling apart to benefit from therapy. Across a lifetime, many things change in a marriage from careers to kids to homes to finances. Building an arsenal of tools to help you communicate during times of change can help make a great marriage even better.
12. You want to be a better parent.
Parenting is hard! And there’s no shame in wanting to be a better parent to your child. It’s very common for parents to struggle with new parenthood, deal with their child being bullied or bullying, or to relate to a teen. A therapist can help assure you that these things are normal and give you a safe place to vent.
13. You want to prepare for a career change.
Not everyone has the luxury of having an incredible mentor. Sometimes, when we want to make a big shift, or even just go for the big promotion, it helps to have someone to talk to. We can experience fear about putting ourselves out there and taking financial risks, but getting better acquainted with those fears can help us overcome them.
14. You want to have a better relationship with yourself.
Therapy can just be an hour a week for yourself. Improving our self-awareness can improve everything in our lives. Just having someone to talk to about your life, your choices, and your feelings can be a revelatory experience. It can help you be more courageous, more thoughtful, and more authentically you.
15. You could just use someone to talk to.
At the end of the day, you don’t need to fit into a check-box of “reasons you should go to therapy.” If you’re interested in seeing a therapist, even if for no obvious reason at all, it is totally okay to do so.
Do I need to go to therapy?
All of the reasons above are perfectly good reasons to seek professional help through therapy. It’s easy to slip into a rabbit hole of questions before booking an appointment: what type of therapy is effective for anxiety? Or what kind of therapy do I need for depression? What if I just want to talk about my job? How do I know if I've found a good therapist?
Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is a great place to start, but consult our guide on how to find the right therapist for you. Most therapists will have a website that details the areas they work on, or you can use a service like Two Chairs that matches you to a therapist based on your needs and wants.
Therapy can be valuable to anyone who is open to it. It’s not about whether you “should” go to therapy, but rather if you want to explore talking to someone who might be able to give you tools that make life easier to manage.
So when you ask yourself, “Do I need therapy?” consider changing your thinking to “How can therapy help me?”
We all need someone to talk to. Make your mental health as important as your physical health.
If you or someone you know is seeking mental health care, you can reach out to our Care Coordination team at [email protected] or by phone at 415.202.5159.
If you or someone you know is experiencing an emergency or crisis and needs immediate help, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. Additional resources can be found here.