Why All People Benefit From Therapy (and How Therapy Works)
By Guest Contributor Matthew Jones, MA, LCPC, CADC
Psychotherapy is a unique process. What onlookers may perceive as a simple conversation between two people, the underlying dynamics are often much more complex. Therapists spend years of their lives and thousands of dollars to earn graduate-level training that they use to transform mere talking into a “talking cure” for clients.
Research findings have repeatedly proven that therapy works, and that it works extremely well. The average positive impact of therapy is significant and large, even across different client diagnoses (Chorpita et al., 2011; Smith, Glass, & Miller, 1980; Wampold, 2001). This research proves that therapy works well regardless of what type of issue you are struggling with when you enter treatment.
Other research shows that the results of psychotherapy last longer and require less treatment than psychological medications (Hollon, Stewart, & Strunk, 2006; Shedler, 2010). For example, when a client enters therapy to work on their anxiety, the clinician can help teach them skills in a short number of sessions that they can use to manage and reduce their anxiety for the rest of their lives. If they would like to continue working with the therapist for a longer period of time, they can also focus on discovering the underlying cause of their anxiety and alleviating it at the root. In both cases, the client will be better prepared to deal with the natural ebb and flow of life’s unpredictable moments.
Some of my favorite research studies demonstrate that clients notice the benefits of psychological treatment continue to improve after therapy has ended—leading to larger effect sizes measured at follow-up (Abbass, et al., 2006; Anderson & Lambert, 1995; De Maat, et al., 2009; Grant, et al., 2012; Leichsenring & Rabung, 2008; Leichsenring, et al., 2004; Shedler, 2010). This research proves that therapy not only improves mental health and emotional wellbeing in the short-term, but also provides a lasting improvement that pervades your life moving forward.
Despite all of this evidence in support of psychotherapy, many people still avoid entering treatment due to stigma and fear. Stigma, or a mark of social disgrace, makes people feel ashamed for entering therapy. People are shamed for entering therapy because many people in this world are hurting, and are not ready to face their pain. Rather than entering therapy of their own, these people would rather make others feel bad about starting psychological treatment so that they can continue to avoid their own insecurities. And while this cycle fails to help anyone, it’s compounded by underlying fears about how therapy works.
Popular media distorts and misrepresents the therapeutic process, leading to a mystification of therapy. Many clients may enter treatment with uncertainty as to the personal, professional, ethical, and legal boundaries that keep therapy secure, safe, and different from other relationships. Therapy does not require you to lay down on the couch and talk about your mother. It should never, ever become a sexual relationship. And it should be more than just a pleasurable conversation followed by your Robin Williams therapist yelling, “It’s not your fault Will!”
According to Nocross (1990), “Psychotherapy is the informed and intentional application of clinical methods and interpersonal stances derived from established psychological principles for the purpose of assisting people to modify their behaviors, cognitions, emotions, and/or other personal characteristics in directions that the participants deem desirable” (p. 218-220). This definition shows that therapy is far more than a conversation—it is a transformative relationship aimed at creating meaningful change in how you think and feel about yourself, others, and the world.
Psychotherapy takes two people working together towards a common goal. Unlike many other relationships, clients often speak more than their therapists, and therapists often share less about themselves than clients. This unique type of relationship provides more space and attention to the client’s needs, which is one component of what makes therapy healing. While this unbalanced relationship may feel strange at first, over time, clients tend to enjoy the safe, warm, and compassionate atmosphere of trust that develops with their therapist.
The reason all successful people benefit from therapy is the same reason that all people benefit from therapy—the relationship itself is healing. We all encounter painful relationships in life, and therapy—through its unique setting—offers a restorative and corrective emotional experience that we all need. Your therapist is not a cold, Freudian “blank slate,” your therapist is a human wanting to create a strong emotional connection with you, to facilitate your continued growth.
If you are successful and ambitious, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Sometimes the most high-achieving people are forced to suffer in silence, or are bullied by a relentless inner voice that tells them nothing they do is good enough. Regardless of who you are or where you come from, you deserve an opportunity to experience love and happiness—both of which can emerge when you engage in psychotherapy.
If nothing else, therapy is a research-backed, scientifically-proven way to overcome mental health challenges. It is an hour each week to receive the undivided attention and compassion of a professional dedicated to walking with you on your journey of self-fulfillment. Therapy is a great opportunity for you to continue investing in yourself and staying committed to ongoing personal and professional development.
Trust in the process, and know that therapy works when you enter with an open mind and a courageous heart.
To read more about the scientific benefits of therapy, check out the American Psychological Association’s page on Psychotherapy Effectiveness.
Matthew Jones is a life coach, licensed therapist, addiction specialist, and is earning his doctorate in clinical psychology. With writings published in Time Magazine, The Huffington Post, Business Insider, and more, Matt is passionate about using his expertise to help individuals reach their full potential. You can find more of his writing by reading his column in Inc. Magazine and by visiting his website.