It Doesn’t Mean Failure: How Therapy Sets You Up for Success
iMind Mental Health Solutions Resource
Therapy works for a variety of situations and conditions. So why don’t more people take advantage of it? Lingering stigma may be one reason. There should no hesitation, however. Therapy can be helpful in so many ways, setting you up for success and improving your ability to function well in everyday life.
“In my experience, everyone has blind spots where they can’t see the forest for the trees, so you may struggle with these issues for years. Consider going to therapy as an investment in your future where you can resolve a lot of these issues and get on with life.”
– BF, Quora
Does going to therapy mean you’re weak?
In a word, no. Going to therapy is not a weakness. In fact, it builds your strength.
Think of it this way: Unless we work on it – or happen to have an active job – we will not be physically fit. The same can be said about our mental state: We need to work on our outlook and thought processes to stay in top conditioning. We must mind our mind.
Likewise, there is no shame in getting a personal trainer if you need one, and no one is embarrassed about going to the gym or watching what they eat.
Getting fit – mentally or physically – sometimes needs the help of others, those who are qualified and trained experts in their field.
Going to therapy does not mean you are weak or that you have failed. It is about choosing to do something to improve your mental functioning and quality of life.
Does Therapy Work?
“Therapy has helped me build a very interesting and rewarding life and career… I have learned what exactly makes the difference… why some people thrive and succeed, and what exactly resilience and mental and emotional strength are made of.”
– AT, Quora
There is a lot of evidence that therapy works for most people. A review of studies dating back to 1952 found that 74 percent of clients progressed within 24 months compared with those who did not receive treatment. A more recent review of studies showed similar results, with those who received psychotherapy achieving an average improvement of 80 percent compared to those who did not.
A 2012 American Psychological Association review of scientific studies also found that therapy:
- Works across the spectrum of ages and demographics
- Is more effective than many medical treatments on average
- Can produce results that endure beyond the course of treatment
- Tends to have longer-lasting effects than medication, along with no side effects
- Reduces the chance of getting a disease (morbidity)
- Decreases mortality (chance of dying)
- Reduces the number of hospitalizations due to psychiatric reasons
- Improves functioning at work
- Reduces disability
(American Psychological Association)
They also assert that the most effective treatment for anxiety and depression is, more often than not, a combination of psychotherapy and medication.
How Therapy Helps
Most exciting of all, brain scan studies that show how psychotherapy works. After all, our mental processes originate in the brain. Any change in those processes – as well as our experiences – also change the structure and function of the brain. These changes can be seen on tests such as:
- Single-photon emission CT (SPECT)
- Positron emission tomography (PET)
- Functional MRI
Since 1992, there have been several studies on the effect of therapy for mental health conditions on the structure and function of the brain. Findings suggest that therapy alters brain function in those who have mental health conditions, including:
- Borderline Personality Disorder
- Major Depressive Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Specific Phobias
Brain changes have also been observed after psychotropic medication therapy, although in some cases by different mechanisms. (Karlsson, 2011)
How Long Does It Take for Therapy to Work?
“It took me by surprise how much it actually helps. With a good therapeutic relationship with your therapist and with commitment from yourself, therapy is so helpful. Absolutely. In the past few months I have learned so much! There’s a staggering amount of work ahead, but so far, therapy has definitely lightened my heart and brightened my days.”
– AM, Quora
Therapy doesn’t take forever. In fact, studies have shown that 75 percent of clients can experience “substantial” recovery after 50 sessions, or nearly a year, of treatment. However, in just 8 to 10 sessions, approximately half of people see some improvement.
Again, just as with physical training, you can see some improvement quickly. Optimal conditioning, on the other hand, can take some months to achieve. In fact, you may not be in your best physical shape for up to a year or longer, depending on how out of shape you are when you begin.
Similarly, with therapy, your rate of improvement will depend on your current state. Different conditions and symptoms improve at different rates. For example, poor morale is the first to improve. Chronic stress is up next. Character and personality traits can be the last to improve.
The most influential factor in whether therapy works is the patient.
For example, those with severe mental illness such as schizophrenia-spectrum disorders are less likely to have a successful treatment outcome. It is estimated that 5.2% (one in 25) of all adults in the United States were affected by severe mental illness in 2019. By contrast, 20% (one in five) of Americans will be affected by a mental condition in any given year. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Other client factors that can negatively influence treatment outcome include:
- A lack of high-quality relationships
- Interpersonal dysfunction
- Low tolerance for anxiety
- Low levels of motivation
- Low participation
- Negative treatment expectations
- Poor self-esteem
- Poor self-concept
- Significantly higher need for fulfillment
(American Psychological Association)
For the therapists part, those who are high in empathy and provide the most direction and support have the most successful outcomes. A therapist’s values come into play as well. Those who value intellectual things tend to have better client outcomes than those who place higher importance on having an exciting or comfortable life.
Does Therapy Permanently Cure You?
Studies have found that the effects of therapy tend to endure. While there is no way to guarantee that you will never have a brush with anxiety, depression, or other mental health condition again, many do achieve mental health and keep it for a long time. The final sessions of therapy can focus on helping you maintain those improvements.
Therapy is Just Another Tool to Help You
Exercising, eating well, saving money… it’s all meant to help you live a better life. Going to therapy fits into that category. After all, your brain is part of your body – a big part – and taking care of it can make a difference in your experience of life. Get every advantage that you can.
Written by Justin Baksh, LMHC, MCAP, Chief Clinical Officer
- American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Research shows psychotherapy is effective but underutilized. American Psychological Association. Retrieved March 13, 2022, from apa.org
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, June 28). About mental health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved March 13, 2022, from cdc.gov
- Is going to a therapist really worth it? Quora. (n.d.). Retrieved March 13, 2022, from Quora.com
- How did seeing a therapist help your life? Quora. (n.d.). Retrieved March 13, 2022, from Quora.com
- Karlsson, H. (2011, August 12). How psychotherapy changes the brain. Psychiatric Times. Retrieved March 13, 2022, from psychiatrictimes.com
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