Here’s a truth bomb: For half of my life (let’s say 17 years), I have regularly visited a psychologist. Once a month, I sit on a couch for an hour and discuss my anxiety, my relationships, and my career with a professional. So what happened to me at such a young age to seek out professional help? The answer: nothing. I had an idyllic childhood, and my parents, who are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, have always showered me with love and unconditional support. I also have an amazing group of girlfriends who I have known since junior high.
For me, therapy keeps me stable through all the regular ups and downs that are a part of life. Therapy isn’t just for the crazy, depressed, or victimized—it can also help with a particularly involved breakup or a career change. Since therapy has positively affected my life, I’ve never felt ashamed or embarrassed by the fact that I see a psychologist. In fact, I’m the opposite: I openly talk about how therapy has helped me and am constantly encouraging my friends and family members to try it. To wit, here are nine ways therapy can improve your life by making you happier and healthier.
Everyone experiences ups and downs, and talking to a professional allows you to verbalize your feelings freely. Research shows that putting feelings into words produces therapeutic effects in the brain. Thus, getting your worries out, even when they feel insignificant—like how you’re going to afford attending your friend’s bachelorette party—is beneficial. As you’re talking through your feelings, the therapist will coach you on how to handle that emotion. According to Dr. David Spiegel, a Stanford professor, people are “social creatures, so talking to [others] can be a real source of support and help. Therapy can be an interpersonal laboratory.” “It’s a way of working with cognition, emotion and interpersonal relationships in a way that helps you manage your emotions and learn to see it in a different perspective,” he adds.
One of my favorite things about therapy is that what happens in therapy stays in therapy. Anything you say to your therapist is said in confidence. Your therapist does not know the people you talk about. They did not witness the events you are discussing. Therefore they are able to give you a completely unbiased and objective point of view on the situation. You can openly discuss issues—say the problems you have been experiencing with your co-worker—and feel safe knowing that your therapist won’t gossip about it.
Whether you’re feeling anger, resentment, or jealousy, it’s never good to keep feelings bottled up inside. According to Marian Margulies, Ph.D., a New York City–based psychologist, “if you’re not getting to the cause of the pain, you’re essentially chained to the past. Psychotherapy gets to the root.” Talking through these feelings with a professional will help you process them.
Chatting with a therapist will allow you to look at problems in a new light. They can help you come up with solutions to long-standing issues. Dr. Spiegel explains it like this: “You can see the problem without feeling overwhelmed with anxiety or sadness even though the problem is still there. In that way, therapy can help you recontextualize the problem you’re dealing with in order to make a strategy that’ll help you move forward.”
For headier topics like anxiety or depression, my therapist has taught me the tools for being self-aware of the triggers that cause these defeatist emotions. After years of therapy, I can recognize my anxiety and nip it in the bud before it spirals out of control. The same goes for depression. I can catch myself wasting time on negative thoughts and distract myself to quit harmful thinking. As Margulies explains, “the positive gains of therapy continue and grow over time. We continue to use the reflective lens in thinking about, talking about, and expressing feelings about our inner lives after we end treatment. The whole talking-with-the-therapist process gets internalized so that self-therapy picks up where the actual therapy leaves off.”
You never know when life may throw you a curveball, and therapy can help you be better prepared to deal with the disaster. “Talking things through with someone and reflecting on what feelings are evoked, and why, leads to a greater understanding of oneself,” says Margulies. “Then one is freer to think of ways to respond in a more proactive way.” Through your time with a therapist, you’ll develop the skills necessary to cope with life’s problems in a healthier way.
The body and mind are connected, and a psychological trauma can cause physical symptoms. “When people do not express feelings but swallow them and keep them buried and out of conscious awareness, one’s body often reacts,” Margulies says. “It acts as a barometer that reads 'Danger!' Something is amiss and needs attention. Stomachaches, headaches, sleeping problems, and ulcers are just some of the ways our body reacts to stress and psychic pain.” My anxiety can lead to insomnia, and my depression can cause a lack of appetite. However, the more I deal with these emotions through regular conversations with my therapist (and through learned self-therapy methods!), the better my sleep and diet become. Therapy can literally improve your physical health.
Not only will you understand yourself better, but you’ll also begin to understand the people around you in a new way. Bottled-up emotions can lead to assumptions and jealousy. When you learn to let these feelings go, you’ll see the world, and the people in it, with a new lens. Think of therapy like decluttering your brain. When you remove negative thoughts, you are better able to express yourself and perceive others’ motivations and intentions.
It’s comforting knowing that I will have someone to talk to every two weeks, and often my therapist says I’m not alone in my situation, which assures me that if others can work through it, I can, too.
To help with self-therapy and focus on your inner thoughts, try writing down your thoughts in a pretty journal.
Do you see a therapist? How has it been beneficial to you?