I should start by confessing that this summer I caught up on HBO’s Ballers (only because a senator recommended it), a show starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. In it, Johnson’s character Spencer Strasmore, a rough, tough, impenetrable retired pro football player, darts from his doctor’s office at the mention of the word “psychologist.” This is a man who has faced repeated tackling, multiple head injuries, and other extreme physical challenges, so why would he, of all people, run from the idea of talk therapy?
Most often, people shy away from counseling because of the belief that one must be crazy or in crisis to seek help. The mere suggestion of therapy can feel like a threat to one’s sanity or independence. When suggesting counseling to loved ones, I often hear in response “But I’m OK,” “I get what’s going on,” or “I can handle it.” But what is often missed is that therapy can be helpful even when you feel OK. In fact, you may find that you get the most out of therapy when you’re feeling emotionally well.
Don’t get me wrong; therapy can and should be used in times of extreme distress. It is proven to help reduce symptoms of mental illness, and in some studies has been shown to be as effective as medication in treating depression. However, therapy also has a number of uses for the emotionally well. Like eating healthfully, going to the gym, or the doctor for a regular checkup, therapy is the ultimate form of self-care.
Here are 7 ways everyone can use therapy:
1. Develop or Strengthen Healthy Relationships
Therapy can help us discover unconscious patterns of behavior and communication that lead to conflict or the cycling through of unhealthy relationships. Therapy provides tools to manage tension and communicate effectively about our needs and also offers us a place to unload, so we aren’t constantly unloading on the people we care about most.
2. Manage and Express Big Feelings
We all go through times when we experience anger, sadness or stress. Sometimes we know what’s happening for us and struggle to manage those feelings, and other times we just feel “off” without knowing exactly why.
If left unaddressed, these feelings often reappear in ways that harm ourselves or others around us; we might drink more than we typically do, lose ourselves in video games rather than socialize, or pick fights with our partners. Therapy can help us put intangible feelings into words; it can help us figure out what we need to feel better.
Often, just the simple act of acknowledging our feelings can reduce their impact.
3. Increase Self-Esteem and Self-Worth
People often think of therapy as focusing only the negative aspects of life. However, therapists put great emphasis on acknowledging and building upon people’s strengths. Counseling can help people realize skills and positive characteristics they never knew they had.
4. Improve Physical Health
Talk therapy has been proven to help patients get better sleep, lower the risk of heart failure, reduce chronic pain, and aid in weight management.
5. Achieve Professional Success or Other Goals
Not only can therapy help clarify our goals and aid us in achieving them; it can enhance our emotional intelligence, making us more desirable for promotions and more effective leaders. Just how big a difference can emotional intelligence make in the workplace?
As noted in Forbes Online, Drs. Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves found that every point gained in emotional intelligence (“EQ”) equals $1,300 added to annual salary, and that EQ accounts for 58% of performance in all types of jobs.
6. Live More Fully in the Moment
We spend most of our days spinning in a world of emails and to-do lists, with little time to disconnect. Therapy provides an invaluable opportunity to pause and reflect. Those 50 minutes on your therapist’s couch are 50 minutes dedicated to getting in touch with what is happening in your body and mind and to feel grounded in the present.
This is necessary not only to preserve our sanity, relieve stress and physical tension, but also to allow us to enjoy life more fully. As Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”
7. More Effective Parenting
We’ve all seen the grocery store “meltdown” and prayed we would never be that parent.
The reality is that the issues parents face as kids get older only get more complicated. So how do you deal with each new parenting challenge? Therapy is one answer. Therapists can offer interventions or strategies to help you effectively manage your child’s most difficult behaviors.
You can air your frustrations about those behaviors, so you are not taking undue anger out on your kids. You can also invite your children into sessions with you to talk through more difficult topics. Therapy is also a place to reflect on how messy and challenging being a parent can be. It’s a place where your therapist can reassure you that there is no perfect parent and that being imperfect is sometimes exactly what your child needs for healthy development.
Above all else, it’s the therapeutic relationship that makes therapy invaluable.
Anyone can benefit from having a consistent, supportive, and unbiased presence; someone with whom you can say anything, reveal the deepest parts of yourself without fear of judgment or consequence, and who listens with your best intentions at heart.
It is through this therapeutic relationship that we get to know ourselves in a more profound way than otherwise possible and our world of possibilities expands. “A life unexamined is not worth living,” Socrates once argued.
If it was good enough for Socrates, it’s good enough for me.
About the Author
Sarah Dunn is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Well Clinic in San Francisco. Sarah has extensive experience in working with children, adolescents and parents.