“What is the value of therapy?” the email continues, after the writer has detailed her struggles moving through divorce.
Another message contains the statement, “I’ve been in therapy for years and I’m wondering if it’s working.”
“How do I know if therapy is for me?” implores a man who has been blindsided by his wife’s infidelity.
What is the value of therapy?
People generally turn to therapy when they are struggling with negative emotions or having trouble processing something in their past or present. Therapy can serve different purposes depending upon the needs of the person and the specialization of the therapist.
In general, therapy can assume one or more of these roles:
It’s hard to see the forest for the trees. Therapists can offer valuable perspective and insight when we’re all-too-easily distracted by the details cluttering up our lives. A skilled therapist can listen to twenty minutes of unloading about a difficult situation and can sum up the core issue(s) in a couple of sentences. Then, once the challenges have been highlighted, you are better able to focus your energy in the areas where you can best effect change.
Many therapies are designed to give people access to a variety of tools that they can then apply on their own in order to improve relationships or personal well-being. A therapist will identify your needs and work with you to develop and practice a variety of coping strategies. As part of this process, you will also learn to recognize the precursors that indicate a need for a particular strategy.
Neutral Third Party
Relationships are by definition, emotional. As a result, it can be difficult to work through certain situations within the context of a relationship. The stakes are simply too high to avoid either withdrawal in an attempt to avoid vulnerability or becoming too intense and prompting flooding in the other person. A therapy session offers a safe space and an uninvested third party to work through issues or to practice better communication.
What we’re feeling isn’t always an indication of how we feel. As an example, fear often manifests within one or more of these fifteen disguises. Therapists are trained to recognize the emotion behind the presentation. They are adept at naming and describing what you’re feeling. And naming it is often he first step to regaining control over it.
Therapists often act as trail guides. This may be unfamiliar terrain for you, but they have been down this path many times and are familiar with the hazards and the milestones. They will help to prepare you for the upcoming climbs, cheer you on when you become frustrated and will ensure that you don’t stray too far off the path.
If you are currently in or were raised in an environment that is abusive or rife with criticism, your therapist can be a vital source of affirmation and acceptance. When you’re feeling cut down, beat down or judges by those around you, therapy can help you see the good within yourself.
Why might therapy be ineffective?
One of the critical factors that makes it difficult to assess the value of therapy is that the results are highly subjective: Do you feel better? Has your functioning improved? Are you having more good moments and fewer bad ones?
And sometimes the answer to those questions is, “No.” The following are some of the reasons that therapy may be ineffective:
You waited too long.
You can’t ignore signs of cancer for months and then expect a doctor to immediately cure your stage 4 malignancy. In the same manner, if you have ignored mental health issues for years, there may be limits to what therapy can accomplish. That doesn’t mean that it’s useless, but early intervention often favors better results.
You have unrealistic expectations.
No matter how skilled the therapist, they cannot undo the damage caused by a parent’s abandonment. They don’t possess magic wands that can immediately make everything better. If you show up to marriage counseling and you’re spouse has already given up, the therapist can’t force them to change their minds. If your expectations are unrealistic, you will never achieve your goals, therapy or not.
You’re seeing the wrong therapist or using the wrong technique for you.
You wouldn’t go to a grill master to learn how to improve your baking, so why go to a therapist who specializes in psychodynamic therapy to learn strategies for dealing with the daily symptoms of anxiety? Before you enter therapy, make sure you know what you’re looking for and that you can communicate those goals to someone who can help you navigate your options.
You’re being defensive.
If you’re always looking to defend yourself and/or prove your therapist wrong, you will get nowhere. It’s important to recognize that your therapist is there to help you. And part of that help is challenging your assumptions and ways of interacting. You’re there because you want change and the first step of any transformation is admitting that you can do things differently.
You’re not applying the tools.
If the only practice you’re getting with the strategies and skills your therapist is teaching you in in their office, you’re undermining yourself. Changing habits and patterns takes practice. Lots of practice. If you don’t implement what they’re teaching you, your investment is pretty useless.
You’re failing to address the underlying issues.
Childhood traumas often present themselves throughout life until we have addressed the initial problem. If you present the current situation to your therapist but neglect to delve into the childhood traumas that primed the pump for your present struggles, your work will have limited success. You have to identify and neutralize the cause.
You’re not being honest or transparent.
Your therapist can only work with the material that you give them. If you’re hiding, you are not allowing them to help you. It’s natural to feel ashamed or embarrassed about certain things; however, a therapist’s job is to listen without passing undo judgment. Trust me, they’ve probably heard worse than what you’re holding back. Ultimately, they cannot help you shine light on your problems if you refuse to open the door.
Your therapist is retaining the power.
Like with parenting, the role of a therapist is to ultimately put themselves out of a job. Unfortunately, there are therapists out there that like being needed and so they want to ensure that you remain dependent upon them. If you sense that this is your therapists, please look for someone new.
Is therapy for you?
If you identify with any of the following, therapy may be a good option for you:
You are having trouble with basic life functions.
Your feelings – sadness, anxiety, anger, etc. – seem overwhelming and difficult to control.
You’re struggling to communicate with somebody in your life.
What you’re trying isn’t working.
You know there’s a problem, but you can’t seem to identify it.
You need a “jump start” to get you on the right track.
You’re feeling isolated and as though you don’t have a strong support system.
You want to increase the tools that you have to deal with life’s challenges.
You’re feeling “stuck” or you are fixated on something in your past.
You want some support and guidance to navigate a life transition (marriage, divorce, death, childbirth, retirement, etc.).
You’re looking for a professional’s opinion on something in your life.
Ultimately, therapy is a tool. It can be a valuable opportunity for you to make critical and vital changes to your life or your mindset. Yet, as with any tool, it’s only valuable if it’s the right one for the job and you use it effectively and in a timely manner.