On the Importance of Therapy

On the Importance of Therapy

Ishita Akula M.Phil (Clinical Psychology)

“The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.” - Carl Rogers

The world, a few decades ago, was focused solely on our physical health. With the dominance of the medical model, the importance of medicines, exercise, and a balanced diet was propagated regularly. But, the same attention was not given to mental health. Rather, mental health and disorders were shamed, stigmatized, or worse, they were dismissed. However, in recent times, Therapy has gained some momentum. Social media has become a catalyst for this propaganda. However, misconceptions are still present.

Therapy is a dreaded word by most of the population. Therapy is often mistaken as talking to someone about how you feel. However, psychologists and counselors know the depth of it. Our job as MHPs is to be an advocate for counseling and therapy as well as clear any myths and misconceptions about it.

The reason why therapy has not been popular could be that mental health is not tangible hence, working on it doesn’t really give the same effect that working out in the gym would. The utter dismissal of mental health and its disorders also works adversely.

Below, I list some reasons why therapy is important and useful.

Therapy can help you learn life-long coping skills.

What are coping skills? Coping skills are anything that helps you through difficult times, whether it’s not getting the promotion you deserve, anxiety about driving or the death of a loved one. Therapists are educated and trained to help foster the natural coping skills everyone has. Coping skills will look a little different from person to person because everyone is unique. For example, an athlete will want to work out as a means of coping; a writer would journal their thoughts, and someone might go to the spa. All these are effective ways of coping, there is no “one size fits all” way for coping.

Therapists can also teach coping skills that might not be as easy. For example, cognitive behavioral therapists will often teach their clients that what they think has an enormous influence on how they feel & how they respond to others. Attachment-focused therapists might evaluate how their clients interact with people in their lives. Person-centered therapists encourage their clients to treat themselves with unconditional positive regard and practice radical self-acceptance. Regardless of the modality of therapy, the idea is to come up with techniques that help one deal with the crisis at hand.  Psychologist Rob Winkler  says “better-coping leads to better responses and better responses lead to better experiences, which create more opportunity and prosperity in all aspects of our lives.” So, while it may not seem as exciting as getting six-pack abs, learning coping skills improves your life exponentially in the long run.

Therapy can change how you interact with people in your life – in a good way.

Sometimes we’re not aware of just how many ways we’re negatively impacting our relationships. People snap and call others names when they are angry and then forget about it after the fight, not realizing the effect that it has on other people. On the other side of things, maybe we’re so used to keeping our feelings bottled inside that we have a hard time being expressive with the people we love. A therapist can help balance the way we communicate with our loved ones to improve our relationships. For example, for a client who has a hard time being assertive, the therapist might teach “assertiveness skills” which help them express their feelings or say “no’’ without upsetting other people or getting hostile. Therapy also helps in improving our family relationships. A therapist, especially a therapist specialized in family and relationship counseling, can give you the tools and support you need to make changes that will positively impact your relationships. Increasing the positivity of your relationships builds to a more fruitful long-term future – because when it comes down to it, life is about having fulfilling relationships with the people you love and being able to successfully navigate relationships with people you don’t.

Therapy can make you feel happier.

True happiness is an intangible thing, and many times people chase the external – money, success, a fancy car – to try to achieve it. Even though it’s an old cliché, there’s truth to the statement that money can’t buy you happiness. Having too little money can cause unhappiness, but money doesn’t have an inherent value that makes our lives more fulfilled. Buying fancy things might give us a temporary thrill or a sense of satisfaction; however, these feelings don’t last and tend to scratch at the surface of true happiness. No one has ever claimed, for example, that the meaning of life is a car; the meaning of life is thought to have more breadth and importance than that.

True happiness is an intangible thing, and many times people chase the external – money, success, a fancy car – to try to achieve it. Even though it’s an old cliché, there’s truth to the statement that money can’t buy you happiness. Having too little money can cause unhappiness, but money doesn’t have an inherent value that makes our lives more fulfilled. Buying fancy things might give us a temporary thrill or a sense of satisfaction; however, these feelings don’t last and tend to scratch at the surface of true happiness. No one has ever claimed, for example, that the meaning of life is a car; the meaning of life is thought to have more breadth and importance than that.

So how does therapy help you feel happier on a deeper level? Talking over your past, present, and future with a therapist can lead to greater self-understanding. truly embracing who you are at the core is something that leads you to self-compassion. Greater self-compassion helps you handle the bumps in the road that inevitably happen in life without getting stuck in a swamp of negativity. Learning self-compassion in therapy has tangible benefits: High self-compassion has been found to lead to more health-promoting behaviors (Sirois, Hirsch, & Kitner, 2015), nurture well-being (Neely, Schallert, Mohammed, Roberts, & Chen, 2009), increase empathy and altruism (Neff & Pommier, 2012), and provide a buffer against anxiety (Neff, Kirkpatrick, & Rude, 2007).

Through its link to happiness, therapy leads to more productivity.

In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor explains how positive emotions lead to greater productivity: “Happiness gives us a real chemical edge…How? Positive emotions flood our brains with dopamine and serotonin, chemicals that not only make us feel good but dial up the learning centers of our brains to higher levels”. In other words, feeling positive emotions allows you to work harder and learn more because of the “feel good” chemicals in your brain. Increasing your levels of happiness—and with it, your productivity—not only helps you in your career but also helps you cope with the messiness and hectic pace of life.

Therapy can also help you discover obstacles blocking you from performing at your best. These types of roadblocks (e.g., perfectionism or overthinking) are challenges a therapist can help you work through to find an effective solution. You and your therapist can also discuss time-management skills and whether changing negative long-term habits—such as poor prioritization or inaccurate assessments—could help with your focus and productivity. These types of changes can lead to long-term benefits such as increased work performance, greater feelings of self-efficacy, and improved relationships.

Therapy can help improve chronic stress.

The ways that therapy can improve long-term stress are numerous. A therapist can teach you methods of calming your body and mind, which might include techniques such as guided visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, and deep breathing. Therapists can also help problem-solve the sources of your stress and teach you stress-reduction techniques. They can introduce you to new concepts such as radical acceptance – that many things in your life are beyond your control and acceptance is the key to reducing your suffering. Best of all, once you learn these techniques, you carry them with you for the rest of your life. In other words, stress relief in the short term can build into long-term patterns of stress management.

So, Therapy is quite helpful in a number of ways. It is useful not just for treating and managing mental health disorders but also works in enhancing our lives.

If we are okay with accepting working out, dieting, and cosmetic surgeries to enhance our physical appearance then why not accept therapy as a way of enhancing our mental health? Even though popular culture has begun to accept therapy as a useful modality, we still have a long long way to go!

References:

Achor, S. (2010). The Happiness Advantage. New York City, New York: Penguin Random House.

Berkman, L.F. (1995). “The Role of Social Relations in Health Promotion.” Psychosomatic Medicine 57, 245-54.

Chancellor, J., Layous, K., Margolis, S., & Lyubormirsky, S. (2017). “Clustering by Well-Being in Workplace Social Networks: Homophily and Social Contagion.” Emotion 17(8), 1166-1180.

Cohen, S., & Janicki-Deverts, D. (2009). “Can We Improve Our Physical Health by Altering our Social Networks?” Perspectives on Psychological Science 4, 375-78.

Neely, M.E., Schallert, D.L., Mohammed, S.S., Roberts, R.M., & Chen, Y. (2009). “Self-Kindness when Facing Stress: The Role of Self-Compassion, Goal Regulation, and Support in College Students’ Well-Being.” Motiv Emot 33, 88-97.

Neff, K.D., Kirkpatrick, K.L., Rude, S.S. (2007). “Self-Compassion and Adaptive Psychological Functioning.” Journal of Research in Personality 41, 139-154.

Neff, K.D., & Pommier, E. (2012). “The Relationship between Self-Compassion and Other-Focused Concern among College Undergraduates, Community Adults, and Practicing Meditators.” Self and Identity, 1-17.

Rosenblatt, A., & Greenberg, J. (1988). “Depression and Interpersonal Attraction: The Role of Perceived Similarity.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 55, 112-119.

Sirois, F.M., Hirsch, J.K., & Kitner, R. (2015). “Self-Compassion, Affect, and Health-Promoting Behaviors.” Health Psychology 34(6), 661-669.

Umberson, D., & Montez, J.K. (2010). “Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 51, S54-66.

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