If you’re struggling right now but still on the fence about therapy—assuming that it’s for people with more serious problems, symptoms, or mental health conditions than you’re dealing with—I’d like to challenge you to throw out that assumption.
Even as a health editor who wrote about mental health for a living, I was under the impression that therapy was for other people, like people who were having trouble functioning in their daily lives, missing work, not getting out of bed, or otherwise sidelined by symptoms. So, I waited until things got to that point before I finally sought out therapy, and I really wish I hadn’t.
“A lot of psychotherapy is about helping people come out of a crisis or deal with trauma or deal with significant mental illness,” licensed psychologist Ryan Howes, Ph.D., tells SELF. “But what a lot of people don’t realize is that we’re also trained not just to make a bad life good but to make a good life great.”
While the stigma around mental health seems to have mostly lifted in recent years (who on social media isn’t talking about their anxiety or ADHD?), this misconception that therapy is reserved for certain people or certain levels of suffering persists. But the research, the experts, and real patients like me tell a different story: You don’t need to pass any imaginary threshold in order to justify and benefit from therapy. And it certainly isn’t silly or self-indulgent to go to therapy to help yourself deal with anything that feels like too much in your life—whether it’s your family, your job, your relationship, your health, your stress levels, or that inexplicable feeling that you can’t quite shake.
So, if you’re looking for a reason to finally try out therapy yourself, here are a few that might help.
For starters, therapy works.
I know that the enthusiasm with which therapy-goers suggest therapy to everyone around them (like it’s as unmissable as Succession) can be…a lot. But there’s real evidence to back up its effectiveness. In 2012, the American Psychological Association published a resolution on the effectiveness of psychotherapy, which pulled together the breadth of research on the topic and concluded that therapy is beneficial for treating a range of mental and behavioral concerns, and that those effects last well beyond your time on the couch.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most evidence-based types of therapy, focused on helping people identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors. A 2021 meta-review published in the journal Psychological Medicine looked at the wealth of randomized control trials on CBT across various populations and conditions, concluding: “CBT works [and] it improves the quality of life for people living with many different mental and physical conditions.”
And the evidence for therapy goes beyond just treating mental health conditions. There’s research on the effectiveness of CBT for chronic pain, low self-esteem, and burnout, among many other mental and behavioral concerns that don’t necessarily include a condition.
There are lots of reasons to go to therapy that have nothing to do with mental illness.
I often hear people dismiss the idea of therapy with a comment like, “It’s not like I’m depressed or anything.” So, let’s unpack that. Comments like this imply that therapy is only for people with a diagnosed mental health condition.
Now, let’s first recognize that, unless you’re a licensed mental health professional, you wouldn’t necessarily know whether or not you had a mental health condition unless you sought treatment. “I think it’s safe to assume that the majority of us at some point in our lives will meet criteria for a mental health diagnosis,” Monica Johnson, Psy.D., licensed psychologist and host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast, tells SELF. The lifetime prevalence rates of the most common mental health conditions back that up: According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 31% of U.S. adults will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives while an estimated 21% will experience a mood disorder. “The same way that you can be physically sick and not know it until it’s too late, you can have mental health issues that are brewing,” Dr. Johnson says.
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