Many of us have a narrow view of therapy. We think it’s solely for navigating clinical depression or severe anxiety or roller-coaster moods. We think it’s only an option when we’re going through a major crisis, a big transition, or a prolonged, persistent period of grief. We think therapy is only an option when relationships become disconnected, and marriages are on the brink of divorce. While therapy is important and vital for all the above, it’s also helpful for a lot of other reasons, and you don’t have to wait until the walls are falling down to work with a clinician. You can go when the paint is chipping—or when you’d like a different color on your walls. In other words, therapy offers a broad array of benefits for all of us, whatever our circumstances, conditions, and concerns. Below, you’ll learn about four of these—often glossed over, forgotten about, not widely known—key benefits.
Therapy can reduce physical symptoms and boost your physical health. According to Brooke Lewis, PsyD., RCC, a registered clinical counsellor in the greater Vancouver area and co-founder of the Mental Health Boot Camp, clients can experience reductions and improvements in different physical symptoms associated with stress. This might include a “reduction in migraines, reductions in digestive troubles, improved sleep, or improved appetite.” For instance, Lewis worked with one client who was struggling with symptoms of anxiety and depression. She also was having ongoing digestive problems, frequent headaches, and regular cold sores. Through their work together, this client was able to identify and process painful emotions and learn strategies to soothe her nervous system. She also noticed her physical symptoms had diminished and become more infrequent. And she learned to spot these physical symptoms early so she could intervene early, and turn to various stress-relieving strategies and techniques. Vancouver psychotherapist Chris Boyd, MA, also has found that therapy can boost physical health—and reduce the risk of future medical issues. “Research has shown that treating mental health conditions through therapy can decrease the risk of stroke, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. It can decrease inflammation and blood pressure within the body,” he said. (This Time article features some of the science.)
Therapy goes beyond survival to enhancing your life. “It can help people develop and foster passion, productivity, and balance in their lives,” said Boyd, also co-founder of the Mental Health Boot Camp. For instance, he recently worked with a man who was struggling with procrastination and sinking motivation. With Boyd’s help, the client discovered that these feelings and behaviors were actually a defense mechanism he developed earlier in his life to protect him from disappointment. “Helping the client build awareness of these patterns and respond differently in those situations assisted him with enhancing his performance at work and at home,” Boyd said. Therapy can help you work on all kinds of goals and dreams—creating a specific plan, navigating potential internal and external obstacles, and bolstering your confidence and resilience. These goals and dreams might be anything from building a small business to becoming more self-compassionate to asserting yourself at work to cultivating a close relationship with your kids.
Therapy helps you untangle years of confusion and turmoil—and change unhealthy patterns. Eric Hotchandani’s clients regularly tell him that they “woke up one day in their mid 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, or 60s, and their life had just happened to them.” They wonder everything from how they became so unhappy in their relationships to how they became so unsatisfied with their lives. Hotchandani, who has a private practice in Danville, Calif., has found that people fill their lives with things that aren’t fulfilling, which creates dissatisfaction. “And in that sense, their identities and purpose in life [are] filled with confusion,” Hotchandani said. “When these patterns of confusion emerge, often time negative thinking patterns follow and can become deeply embedded in their personality.” These negative thinking patterns might be anything from “I am not good enough” to “I deserve to feel this (negative) way,” he said. Inevitably, this confusion ends up hurting relationships, too. Hotchandani noted that in therapy clients explore these patterns, discover their origins and fear-reaching effects, and enact change, one step at a time. “[I]t is amazing how small changes can build upon each other and lead to positive revolutions in our lives.”
Therapy helps you explore your hidden desires. Therapy “brings the benefit of a broader awareness to life, to not get wrapped up in a single way of living life, to explore healthy self-expression in ways that perhaps a person had been hiding from themselves,” said David Teachout, LMHCA, a psychotherapist who joins with individuals and partnerships on their mental health journey to encourage a life of valued living and honest communication at his practice in Des Moines, WA. For instance, Teachout has worked with clients who isolate themselves because they’re afraid of rejection, shame, or loss—all of which can happen when pursuing relationships and intimacy. But instead of keeping these clients safe and satisfied, the isolation sparks “a different level of suffering precisely because they actually do want to have those relationships and intimacy.” By helping clients realize this desire for intimacy, Teachout can then help them to explore it—and work on cultivating connected relationships with others. In other words, we might run from the very things we yearn for—without even realizing it—because we’ve created various catastrophic stories, because we were shattered by someone or something in our past. Therapy helps us to explore these deep desires and profound fears—and get past them, so we can create truly satisfying, fulfilling lives. Ultimately, many of us don’t ever take the time to actually look into who we are and how we became that way, Hotchandani said. Ultimately, we don’t take the time to envision the person we’d like to become—and “most importantly, transcend that vision.” “So many people have never had an opportunity to really talk about themselves in a safe, nonjudgmental space where their life’s story is front and center. This idea, though quite simple, is transformative.” When many people think of seeking therapy, they do so quietly, and often with a lot of shame. I can’t believe I need this, you might wonder. Has it really come to this? you might say to yourself. It takes courage and strength to seek therapy. As Hotchandani said, it is something that “should be celebrated and honored, because it is such an important act of self-care at the most fundamental level of health and wellness.” “Making the phone call and showing up to your first appointment is 50 percent of the work and the hardest part of the work. Once you get started with a therapist that is right for you, you will thank yourself,” he said.
And maybe that’s the most unknown and surprising benefit of all.