Does Therapy Actually Work?

During my years in the mental health field, I have heard from a number of people that they don’t believe in therapy. I’ve been asked countless times “does therapy really work?” “how is talking to a stranger going to help me?” I get it. The words “therapy” or “counseling” are scary, weird, awkward and sounds kind of new-agey sometimes. You may be thinking to yourself “only crazy people go to therapy and I’m not crazy.” So, let’s address this. Does it actually truly help people? In this post, I am going to use my personal experiences with clients.

In my opinion, yes but there is a caveat to this. Therapy does work BUT (there’s always a but, isn’t there?) you have to be motivated, engaged and following through with things that you discuss with your therapist. I have had individuals come in on occasion where I have sensed some disappointment at the end of the session. I’ve seen some feelings of discouragement because they came once or even a few times and they aren’t “better” or “fixed.” Change is hard. You can’t expect to meet with a therapist for one hour per week and suddenly your life different.  There are 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week. Let’s say you get an average of eight hours of sleep per night (56 hours per week) so that leaves you with 112 hours per week that you are awake. If you see your therapist for an hour session once a week, that is less than one percent of your time every single week (0.89% to be exact).

I’m wondering if you might be thinking “wow, Katie. That is really discouraging to hear. I don’t even want to go now.” Well, let’s talk about when it does work and why. Therapists practice various types of therapy. Some examples are traditional talk therapy (also known as psychotherapy), cognitive behavioral therapy, narrative therapy, and so on. I tend to incorporate various techniques and theories when working with my clients but I especially like cognitive behavioral therapy. I like CBT because it’s structured and tangible. Clients feel like they are actually doing something because CBT often involves homework and specific techniques to change your thoughts. Another positive thing about CBT is there is a lot of research behind it’s effectiveness, especially for anxiety. I’m not going to turn this into a boring peer-reviewed article discussion but you get the point and if you like to read the research, feel free to email me and I can send some information and links your way.

In my experiences with clients, I have seen therapy work and seen it not work. When it works it is usually because clients are continuing to practice the skills that they learn in their sessions outside in the real world. I’m also looking for consistency. If I suggest that a client start meditating for ten minutes a day, and they come back and say “yea, I tried it once and it didn’t help,” then they really didn’t give it a chance. I like to compare therapy to the gym. You don’t go to the gym once and expect to lose 20lbs or run a mile in 7 minutes your first try. You go back. Then you go back again and again until you begin to see results. The results keep coming, slowly, but you start seeing them and feeling them and then suddenly you are running and lifting heavy weights and losing weight! That feels good! It feels amazing when you reach your goals, doesn’t it?

So what if we treated therapy how we treated our fitness? Would therapy work then?

You tell me.

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