Why is Therapy Important for Mental Health?
We know from decades of research and reiteration that therapy is effective and will continue to play a role in the treatment of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, trauma-related conditions, and countless other mental health issues.
But what makes therapy so effective? And how is it any different from talking to a friend or family member?
The Role of Therapy in Mental Health Treatment
At its core, therapy involves healing. The term itself comes from the Greek root word therapeutein, which means “to cure” or “to care of.”
The Works of Breuer and Freud
The concept of mental health is ancient, and we can draw a line back to Greek philosophy as our earliest point of reference for the idea of a separation between mental and physical health, as well as the connection between the mental and the physical, and the importance of external factors on the well-being of the mind.
But modern-day talk therapy or psychotherapy is typically traced back to the initial works of 19th-century Austrian physician Josef Breuer, neurologist Sigmund Freud, and the birth of psychoanalysis.
At this point in time, other mental health treatments such as hypnosis were known, if not widely applied. But Breuer and Freud discovered that conversing with patients could lead to tangible change in their condition.
It wasn’t as simple as asking someone how they felt, of course. If you’ve ever heard of Sigmund Freud, then you’re likely aware of his reputation in pop culture for the Freudian slip; that should give you some idea of what psychoanalysis was: the process of unearthing the unconscious and exploring the ways in which repressed thoughts were influencing a person’s present emotions and behavior.
Paving the Way for Research
While much of what they postulated at the time has since been dismissed as less than objective, many of their methods gave way to decades of research into the idea that exploring a patient’s mind through conversation, or talk therapy, would help grant greater insight into their symptoms, and in and of itself act as a form of treatment.
We began looking at mental health differently, taking into consideration the ways in which both internal and external factors, from genes to stress, affect our psychological as well as our physical well-being.
By the 1960s, decades of research into both cognitive (based on thoughts) and behavioral (based on actions) therapies gave way to the development of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), the most successful and most studied form of psychotherapy used today. Since then, many other psychotherapies have been developed, studied, and applied, some of them based on CBT.
What is Therapy vs. Just Talking?
It may be simplistic, but a good way of thinking about therapy is to think of it as talking with intent. A conversation with a distinct goal, one in which both parties must play a willing and consensual role towards identifying and understanding unwanted or intrusive thoughts; building and affirming a healthier self-image; and confronting repressed memories or patterns of thought that might be influencing both behavior and emotions.
Talking to Loved Ones, Compared to a Therapist
When we talk with friends, family, or even strangers, there is baggage behind the words we use and the things we say. A professional therapist, however, is sworn to their patient’s safety and well-being and earns their patients’ trust through reputation and a personal bond.
Confiding in a therapist isn’t like confiding in a friend. It’s about working with a professional to better understand yourself, disconnected from the implications that come from exploring repressed thoughts or horrifying experiences with a close friend or total stranger.
It’s like holding up a mirror to yourself – but while everyone else offers a different version of a funhouse mirror for you to look into, a therapist’s goal is to help you get as close to a perfect reflection of yourself as possible, to facilitate meaningful and effective introspection, and to help you interpret the lessons learned through such introspection in a way that gives you peace of mind and contentment.
Different Therapy, Different Concepts
Different types of therapy utilize different concepts, frameworks, and exercises to achieve this effect. Cognitive behavioral therapy is known for identifying and reframing unwanted thinking, in the belief that by taking charge of what we think, we affect what we do and how we feel.
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) confronts inner arguments and helps patients that hold a harmful worldview or a distressing self-image reconciliate what they think with how things are through dialectics.
Meanwhile, exposure and response prevention therapy explores distressing situations, imagery, and triggers for past events to help patients identify and avoid an unhealthy response and learn to overcome their trauma in a safe and healthy environment, one day at a time.
Each of these therapeutic processes shares the dynamic between a patient and a therapist and the importance of verbal communication. But that may be where most of the similarities end.
The Benefits of Seeing a Therapist
Therapy isn’t only relevant when you need it. Talk therapy, through CBT or other forms, will often be recommended for people diagnosed with a mental health disorder – that means their symptoms reach a point where they consistently interfere with their life through work, relationships, and their personal goals.
But therapy can also be effective in helping people manage stress and learn to develop healthier coping skills outside of the context of a professional diagnosis. You don’t have to wait until the doctor orders it to go visit a therapist. Some of the benefits of seeing a therapist include:
- Improving your relationships, both with yourself and with others.
- Working on your confidence and self-esteem.
- Seeking help for success in your career.
- Bouncing back from a personal low.
- Developing healthier coping skills to deal with stress.
- Avoiding burnout and potential mental health problems in the future.
- Learning to implement better personal and professional boundaries.
- Creating a healthier work-life balance.
- And more.
Should You Seek Therapy?
Therapy should not be considered exclusive to people who have been diagnosed with mental health problems. There is no switch that flips on or off between people who are mentally healthy and those who aren’t. It’s a gradient, and the distinction between a diagnosis and being “okay” is often very subtle. You should seek therapy the moment you feel it would benefit you to figure out what’s going on in your mind, the moment you feel you need help of any kind.
Therapy isn’t something you need to commit to for the rest of your life, like a pill. For many people, it is more like a class to a set of emotional skills you learn to hone and develop over time. But you need the initial few lessons to identify and build the foundation for those skills.
Contact us today to learn more about how you or someone you know can get help via residential treatment for a mental health condition. Our team of professionals at Amend Treatment is here to help and can provide you with the tools you need to get your life back on track.