As I thought of this topic, I thought it would be the easiest to write about, but now I find it a bit overwhelming! There are so many benefits to coming to therapy that it hard to know where to start. At the end of this blog, I will do my best to come up a list of benefits that I have seen. Many research studies have shown the benefits of counseling from all different angles in terms of therapist qualities, types of therapies, duration of therapy, etc. However, I am going to talk first broadly about the benefits I see from how I work with clients and then list more specific benefits of therapy in general. Take a look at my blog post about My Philosophy to learn more about how I view therapy.
So what are the benefits of therapy? Broadly speaking, therapy allows you to take a break from the routine of life to examine yourself, which is a rarity for most people. Often people are struggling but continue with the day-to-day activities of life so nothing really changes. But therapy is different from just taking time for yourself, writing in a journal, or talking with friends – although all are very helpful – it is talking with a professional who has unique training and experience. I believe the broad benefits of counseling include moving past negative patterns in our lives, improving our relationships with others, and gaining an appreciating and understanding of our emotions. When you are able to make those changes in your life then your feelings towards yourself, others, and the world begin to shift to allow you to live a more authentic and full life.
We tend to engage in recurring patterns of feeling, thinking, or behaving, often based on past experiences and relationships, that we can’t seem to shake. I believe that at one time these patterns were adaptive – they got you to where you are today! However, these ways of being are no longer working. Maybe they are hurting your relationships, your job, your self-esteem, etc. Therapy allows you to examine how the past now affects our present. To me, this is very important! Think of it like a wheel. Each problem, stressor, overwhelming emotion is like a spoke on a wheel. While therapy can help you deal with each spoke, lasting change comes when we move deeper to understand the root causes, or hubcap, of each spoke. Once that happens, then change will reach out to each spoke on the wheel.
Another benefit of counseling is improving romantic, social, and/or family relationships. We are relational beings and find much of our satisfaction, purpose, and self-worth from our relationships. From our earliest relationships, we develop our views of the world, others, and ourselves – both positive and negative. Therapy can help us understand and change these views so we can set boundaries in negative relationships and engage more fully in healthy ones!
Finally, a broad benefit of counseling is gaining a better appreciation and understanding of our emotions. Often people come into counseling wanting to “get rid of” or “control” a certain emotion (anxiety, depression, anger, etc.). However, eliminating or controlling emotions is not a long-term solution. To me, emotions are signals that we need to pay attention tosomething important. Just like physical feelings (like the pain of touching a hot stove or hunger) point us to a physical need, emotions point us to an internal need. Once we experience that emotion and understand it, then it has served its purposed and can move on. For example, being hurt when a loved one lies to you may point out that your need of feeling secure in that relationship isn’t being met, and it is important to address that need in order to feel secure again. So emotions are neither good nor bad but things to be experienced and learned from. However, we often do everything we can to avoid feeling certain emotions. Maybe you become angry instead of sad, maybe you push others away so you don’t get hurt, maybe you eat too much (or don’t eat), maybe you sleep the day away, maybe you hurt others; the list of maybes could go on and on. When these defenses go up, they work for a time, but do not give us what we really desire. Therapy allows a safe space to not just examine but to experience the emotions so that you can move forward from them and no longer be controlled by them.
I hope that you were able to relate to this broad overview to the benefits of counseling. These benefits, at least to me, seem to encapsulate most of the issues that people bring into therapy to work on. Below is a list of more specific benefits of therapy (some items adapted from http://negarkhaefi.com/articles/32-benefits-of-psychotherapy.html) .
- Increased acceptance of parts of your identity (personal, career, sexual, gender, etc.)
- Improved body image
- Dealing with issues of oppression
- Increased sense of hope
- Improved satisfaction with your career
- Improved romantic relationships
- Improved social relationships
- Improved family relationships
- Increased ability to engage fully and authentically with others
- Increased self-acceptance
- Moving past previous traumatic events
- Decreased fears and worries throughout the day.
- Improved ability to talk to others, and express your needs and wants.
- Improved ability to listen to and understand others.
- Increased motivation to work and be social.
- Increased social success including the ability to attract others to you.
- Decreased self-consciousness, feelings of insecurity and self-doubt.
- Improved ability to tolerate negative feelings.
- Ability to better deal with children’s problematic behaviors and set structure.
- Improved ability to forgive yours and other’s shortcomings and flaws.
- Improved organization skills at home and at work.
- Improved sexual experiences.
- Improved ability to know when to set boundaries with others.
- Finding the ability to say “no”.
- Learning how to compromise.
- Increased budgeting skills.
- Finding the right career path, and sticking to it.
- Decrease in compulsive behaviors including eating, drinking and smoking.
- Increase in restful sleep.
- Less fatigue, boredom, and apathy.
- Increase in the ability to maintain relationships.
- Increase in problems solving ability in daily life.
- Improved ability to handle stress and hardship.
- Improved confidence and assertiveness.
- Decrease in crying spells.
- Better work performance and career satisfaction.
- Increase in creative flow and productivity.
- Increased ability to reach out to others and find support.
- Feeling better about the way you look.
- Increased understanding of other people.
- Improved ability to live in the moment and take pleasure in the details.
- Developing the ability to let go of the past, and look to the future.