There are many positive effects of therapy. Therapy helps us through difficult times, which are inevitable given that life is unpredictable, often strange, and frequently painful. As a protective factor, therapy can help smooth the bumps in the road – as well as make a good thing even better. Intrigued but not yet convinced? Read 5 benefits of how therapy positively impacts long-term psychological health.
Some people are under the misapprehension that therapy is for wusses. This could not be further from the truth! Many of us grew up under the impression that internal stuff should not be discussed – it should be swept under the rug. This is perhaps the single worst thing you can do for yourself. Stamping down your emotions and not working through your psychological issues – especially serious pain or abuse in the past – can culminate in a host of problems.
Some people will not seek help because they believe they should be able to manage on their own, or they believe things are not ‘bad’ enough to consult a therapist. There is no set rule about how ‘bad things’ need to be before people seek professional help with personal, relationship, family, work or other difficulties. Unfortunately, many people delay talking with a professional until things are at almost crisis point.
The idea of reaching out for help, and owning that, is still not talked about enough. Yes, we have celebrities talking about depression, we have bloggers talking about anxiety, but still, during our everyday lives, we do not tell our friends, or co-workers or boss that we are just “going to see the therapist”. Because it is a sentence that screams ‘ISSUES’.
- Therapy can help you learn life-long coping skills.
Great, you’re thinking, but what exactly are coping skills? Coping skills are anything that helps you through difficult times, whether it is 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.
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 positively change how you interact with people in your life.
Sometimes we are not aware of just how many ways we are negatively impacting our relationships. We might snap and call our partner names when we are mad and then forget about it after the fight, not realizing the effect that it has on our partner. On the other side of things, maybe we are so used to keeping our feelings bottled inside that we have a hard time being assertive with the people we love. A therapist can help balance the way we communicate with our loved ones to improve our relationships.
It can also be useful to hear another person’s input on the important relationships in your life. Are you getting what you want out of your partner – do you feel fulfilled? Are your expectations reasonable, or do you think that your partner should be your everything? Or maybe you are doing everything “right” but there are still ways you could make your connection stronger.
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 help you to feel happier.
Therapy helps you feel happier on a deeper level by talking over your past, present, and future with a therapist can lead to greater self-understanding. While self-understanding does not always imply self-acceptance, it is the first step towards truly embracing who you are at the core. A related concept is self-compassion. Greater self-compassion helps you handle the bumps in the road that inevitably happen in life without getting stuck in a mire of negativity.
Therapists, especially person-centered therapists, often emphasize self-acceptance and self-compassion – and talk us through techniques for increasing both. Learning self-compassion in therapy has tangible benefits: High self-compassion has been found to lead to more health-promoting behaviors, nurture well-being, increase empathy and altruism, and provide a buffer against anxiety.
- Through it 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” (44).
In other words, feeling positive emotions allows you to work harder and learn more because of the “feel good” chemicals in your brain. While productivity is not everything, most of us have too much to do and not enough time to do it, especially those of us with demanding jobs or those of us with kids. 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. For more information, check out Shawn Achor’s TED Talk “The happy secret to better work.”
5) 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 into the rest of your life. In other words, stress relief in the short-term can build into long-term patterns of stress management.
Crucially, a therapist can also be a sounding board who listens to you talk about your life and validates your feelings. This isn’t the same thing as agreeing with you and supporting your every decision, but it can be more valuable – because it nurtures the idea that you’re important, your feelings are worth listening to, and you’re understood.
Social support has been shown to be essential for mental health, and, perhaps as importantly, lacking in situations where mental health issues are present. In both the short- and long-term, social support soothes the mind and improves health– as evidenced by numerous studies (Berkman, 1995; Cohen and Janicki-Deverts, 2009; Umberson and Montez, 2010). In short, therapists are effective social support, and feeling supported leads to greater psychological health.
I hope that this blog is an invitation to reexamine how we consider therapy in a wider context. Our culture is ready to accept going to the gym as a way to improve physical health; why not embrace therapy as a way of improving psychological health? Think of therapy as a method of self-improvement, a life-affirming way to make positive changes instead of stagnating. Therapy is not about fixing something that is broken: instead, it is about embracing what we have to reach our full, prosperous potential as human beings.