At a game night last week, my friend (who I’ll call Nate) was concerned about a coworker dealing with a nasty breakup where emotional abuse is involved. Knowing my background in psychology, Nate asked me if his work friend (who I’ll call Anna) should be in therapy. My answer was a resounding yes – but Anna didn’t want to try therapy because, in her words, therapy is only for people who are “messed up.” People who have problems. People who aren’t like Anna.
This is (not) a shocker, but everyone has problems. Separating people into categories of “normal” vs. “broken” doesn’t help, because normal and broken aren’t accurate descriptions. No one is normal. Everyone has their quirks. There are more similarities between people than there are differences: We all have the shared experience of being uniquely, messily human.
Even if we stick with this limiting idea of “normal,” it’s incredibly common (even “normal”) for people to struggle with mental disorders. Kessler et al. (2005) found that the lifetime prevalence of any mental health disorder is 46.4%. Furthermore, NAMI estimates that 1 in 5 people in the United States is experiencing a mental health disorder right now (click here to view more info).
Anna’s response reminded me that there’s a long way to go to fight the stigma of mental health disorders and therapy. There’s no shame in seeking therapy; instead, going to therapy shows your commitment to taking care of yourself, whether you have a mental health diagnosis or not. Feeling a little skeptical? Then read about 5 reasons therapy can benefit everyone.
1. Self-discovery and Growth
Feeling like you don’t fully know or understand yourself is a common struggle. People try to understand themselves within the context of what’s expected of them and milestones they should achieve. Going through life in the framework of these expectations prevents thinking about what you really want. It’s why so many people go through the infamous mid-life crisis and ask themselves: Who am I? Have I gotten what I’ve wanted out of life? Therapy is a chance to talk over with your therapist who you’ve been, who you are now, and where you hope to go. Talking over past disappointments and celebrating current successes is part of the process – as well as considering how you can be the best version of yourself.
Many therapists emphasize a growth mindset to help clients understand that making mistakes is how you learn. People are constantly evolving and changing; we’re not stuck in one place. And our life progresses in a series of ups and downs instead of one straight trajectory up. Therapists can help validate that where we’re at in life is just fine – AND that we can work to improve ourselves and our lives.
2. Coping Mechanisms
Unfortunately, everyone is going to experience loss and struggle: it’s just part of being human. Sometimes, even things that are good – like getting married – are also incredibly stressful. Therapists can help you identify coping skills for both day-to-day and stressful life events as well as ways to improve current coping techniques. For example, say that you deal with stress by overeating – maybe your therapist might suggest exercise or playing a game as an alternative method of stress relief.
Your therapist can also facilitate learning self-care techniques, which looks different for each person. There are some universal basics of self-care: getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating a balanced diet. But other things that relax you and make life worth living are specific to you. Do you like to paint? Does reading let you escape into another world? Whatever it is, your therapist can help you find healthy ways to take care of yourself and manage your stress.
3. Improving Relationships
Humans are innately social animals. That said, relationships, whether it’s the relationship between two partners, siblings, or even coworkers, are hard. If you ever have problems being assertive in relationships, you’re not alone. It’s difficult to deal with that coworker who always wants to do things “their way.” Or maybe you want to ask your partner to do more chores around the house – but you’re afraid you’ll come across as a nag. Therapists can help you find your assertiveness in a way that you’re comfortable with. Often, this involves blending validation of the person with calm statements of what you want or need.
For those of us who feel like we’re too assertive, a therapist can help you identify ways to handle conflict that deescalates situations instead of making them worse. For example, focusing on “I feel…” statements vs. “You did this wrong” is one of many excellent conflict management techniques that you can learn in therapy.
4. Private Support System
In therapy, unlike most things in life, the focus is completely on *you* for an hour. Your therapist is there to listen to you. This can provide enormous stress relief and validation of your experiences and concerns. Even if you have a wide support network of friends and family, therapists provide private, non-biased support. You don’t have to worry about being judged or looked down on for feeling or thinking the way that you do. Your therapist allows you to just exist, to be yourself without the opinions of the outside world.
Therapy can also help you identify ways to strengthen the support network that you already have. Whether it’s catching up with an old friend, finding new support people, or identifying ways to improve your relationships, therapists can help you problem-solve ways to feel more supported outside of therapy.
5. Objective Viewpoint
A therapist is an objective 3rd party who can provide a non-biased viewpoint on your life. This often allows them to provide excellent advice. Other support people like friends or partners can unintentionally put their own agenda on advice, so getting this neutral opinion is key. Therapists are also trained to be nonjudgmental and avoid bias as much as possible during therapy, which makes them a good sounding board.
Talking through things with a therapist can lead to new solutions that you wouldn’t have thought of on your own. Therapists are experienced with problem-solving different issues for their clients and can draw on that experience to help you learn new ways of addressing concerns in your life.
Anna’s negative reaction to mental health disorders and going to therapy is unfortunately common, and because of this, therapy is underutilized because of stigma. I hope that this post encourages you to seek therapy if you’ve been thinking of going but weren’t sure it would be helpful for you. Life can be hard– why not have a trained professional talk you through what you’re struggling with? Why not be the best version of yourself; why not reach for more?
A good starting point for finding a therapist is Psychology Today; visit https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists to find a therapist in your area!
Kessler et al. (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication.
NAMI (2015). Mental Health Facts in America. https://www.nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/Infographics/GeneralMHFacts.pdf.