A teenage girl, discussing career options with her father, expressed an interest in becoming a forensic psychotherapist. The father was horrified. He exclaimed, “No daughter of mine is going to go into jails to talk to insane criminals!”
Sadly, this is not unusual. Some people’s perceptions of psychotherapy are derived from watching uninformed commercial films which perpetuate false stereotypes: all imprisoned individuals are crazy, and female psychotherapists can only flail ineffectually against these insane prisoners while achieving nothing in terms of rehabilitation or recovery.
These perceptions need to change. Psychotherapy has value not just for people struggling with mental health challenges but for all of us in our daily lives. It is a tool to help us gain insight into and improve the way our emotions operate. It is a mechanism that helps us overcome the challenges of understanding ourselves, building trusting relationships, communicating effectively, fulfilling our potential, and feeling calm, confident, genuine, direct and unabashed.
Why psychotherapy is important
Many of us grew up believing that our feelings and emotions were never to be discussed. But refusing to acknowledge emotions and ignoring psychological issues can lead to a host of other problems that may be damaging to life in serious ways. For example, depression is the leading cause of workplace disability worldwide, resulting in billions of dollars in lost productivity every year.
Successful people don’t think therapy is for weaklings – rather, they view it as a means to gain perspective, objectivity, clarity and insight; a way to clear away the psychological clutter that stands between them and their goals so they can focus on what really matters.
Whether you’re dealing with mental health issues or not, psychotherapy can be good for you. Confiding in friends, family and colleagues is helpful when we’re grappling with a problem in our lives. Therapists, who are non-judgemental, unbiased and trained, provide a constructive and supportive structure in which clients can work their way through their problems and carry over their learnings into their daily lives. The benefits of psychotherapy are durable, with gains continuing to accrue even after formal therapy stops. This is because confiding in a loved one is situational, but therapy changes the way we see the world – and ourselves. It helps us become reflective and thoughtful, rather than reacting instinctively or recklessly to circumstances.
When should you seek psychotherapy?
The simple answer is, when you’re unhappy for an extended period of time, or suffering from insomnia, or unable to concentrate, or experiencing one or more of the signs and symptoms of a potential mental issue.
But the simpler answer is, you can seek psychotherapy whenever you want to. There doesn’t have to be a triggering event or sequence that makes you decide you might benefit from therapy.
The tough part is remembering that your problems are important to you. Never do yourself the injustice of comparing your life to someone else’s and saying, “At least I’m not suffering as much as they are.” If something is persistently preying on your mind and you can’t see a way out of it, therapy can help you find that way. In the safety of your therapy session, you can explore the worst implications of what you’re experiencing, secure in the knowledge that no harm can come to you, that your secrets will remain so, and that you will not be judged.
You can also sign up for therapy in a positive frame of mind. Maybe you’re intellectually curious and want to understand yourself better, to explore the form and shape of your own thoughts and feelings. Your therapist is trained to help you learn to reflect and gain insight into your own thoughts, feelings and emotions, put them in perspective, and gain mastery over them.
In summary, there’s no wrong time to seek therapy.
What are the benefits of psychotherapy?
Aside from the obvious benefits of psychotherapy to handle mental health conditions, here are six ways in which it can contribute to making daily life better for anyone:
- Self-development. Psychotherapy teaches us the always-useful skills of self-reflection and insight. Whatever may be happening in your life – personal or professional – you’ll develop the habit of using the reflective lens, which helps you put things into the right perspective to deal with them in a constructive way.
- Mental health is physical health. Psychological issues – even something as trivial as boredom – can trigger physical responses, from overeating and ulcers to depression and anxiety. By acknowledging, understanding and processing feelings and emotions in therapy, you can make a positive impact on your physical health and energy too.
- Understand others better. Therapy is fantastic for understanding yourself – but it’s also fantastic to start understanding other people better. We view the world through the filters of our background and experiences, which often lead us to make assumptions about others. But those assumptions may not be true. It’s a lot easier to understand other people’s true intentions and motivations without these potentially misleading filters.
- Face the future. Nothing is certain but death, taxes – and potholes on the road of life. Knowing how to deal in a healthy way with unforeseen bumps in life’s journey is a skill, one which psychotherapy can help us acquire. Psychotherapy frees us from the constraints of our own minds, leaving us free to be more creative, proactive and receptive to new ideas.
- Teach your children well. Those of us who grew up in homes where negative feelings and emotions were somehow shameful, are still carrying the baggage around. Psychotherapy gives us the vocabulary of emotion and the tools to use it effectively – irreplaceable gifts in our own lives, and ones that we can pass on to our children by setting a healthy example.
- You aren’t alone. Seeing a therapist or counsellor can be comforting and empowering. You’re taking positive action against the mass of vague worries and fears that plague you. But it’s also reassuring to know that many, many others face similar challenging situations in their lives; that they’ve made it through; that there is, ultimately, light at the end of the tunnel; and that there’s a friendly hand to help you get there.
Speaking freely about our personal struggles is becoming socially acceptable, which is a good thing. As the stigma fades – however slowly – it’s important to recognize the value of psychotherapy as an essential tool to help all of us navigate our increasingly complex lives. Whether you’re sure you need support, unsure whether you need it, or sure you do not, psychotherapy can help make your daily life and relationships better in myriad ways.
Consultant Psychologist & Special Educator
MA, Clinical Psychology | B.Ed., Special Education | CBT & REBT Certification, Beck USA | RCI Registered
Trisha is highly skilled in Psychological Consultation, Assessment (for ages 17 and under), Psychotherapy and Remedial Therapy for children, adolescents, and adults.
She is available for in-person consultation at RxDx Healthcare, Whitefield, Bengaluru, and online at HealtheMinds.com.
Edited by Sweta Sorab