Should everyone go to therapy?
- The American Psychiatric Association (APA) says the purpose of psychotherapy (also called “talk therapy”) is to “help people with a broad variety of mental illnesses and emotional difficulties [...] eliminate or control troubling symptoms so a person can function better and can increase well-being and healing.”
- In 2019, the CDC reported 19.2% of US adults have “received mental health treatment,” with 15.8% having “taken prescription medication for their mental health,” and 9.5% having participated in “counseling or therapy from a mental health professional.” Women are also more likely than men to have received therapy.
- Psychotherapy finds its official beginning in 1879 under German philosopher Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920). After Wundt came other prominent psychotherapists such as Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), Carl Jung (1875-1961), Abraham Maslow (1908-1970), Alfred Adler (1870-1937), and Mary Ainsworth (1913-1999).
- A 2021 national APA public opinion poll found that 4-in-10 Americans (nearly 38%) use “telehealth services to meet with a medical or mental health professional,” up from 31% in 2020.
Going to therapy helps one establish an 'objective baseline of cognitive and psychological functioning' as a useful and preventative tool. It's not just for individuals with a psychological diagnosis; it can help anyone understand where they are, mentally speaking, in relation to a healthy baseline. It can also uncover cognitive, psychological, or emotional needs a person has and goals people want to set for themselves.
Adaptive coping mechanisms and many other methods are used in therapy with the purpose of reaching the goals people set to reach an authentically happier self. Or, patients might discover their psychological state is already healthy, which is great news! In either case, therapy is universally beneficial by helping reduce stress, which can even affect physical health.
Life is complex for everyone, and navigating it is a difficult task to face alone. While a support system is essential, everyone deserves to discuss their issues with an expert who can offer in-depth understanding that friends and family may not have insight into or educated language to know how to speak out specific issues. Exploring the self is natural, and it's completely justified to carve out time for doing so in a safe environment that some might only find in therapy.
Outside of the self, therapy also helps patients understand their personal relationships, allowing them to experience more harmonious and meaningful connections with loved ones and friends. Therapy continues to help people from all walks of life, and the stigma surrounding it is starting to fade. No matter the type of therapy, it's something everyone should try to experience the many benefits that can come from it.
Many psychologists suggest everyone can benefit from therapy, but just because something possess potential benefits does not equal a person's essential need for it. Just because one can benefit from a paid service doesn't mean they absolutely need to purchase it. 'When your symptoms are sufficiently managed or eliminated, you no longer 'need' to be in therapy,' says Ryan Howes, Ph.D.
One reason for this is: not everyone is motivated to change their behavior. Therapy tries to nudge people toward long-lasting positive changes which have intrinsic motivation. For individuals who simply don't feel the need to make such changes, therapy can be a waste of time and money. A person can spend hours in front of a competent therapist and still go back to the same life, operating out of the same ingrained habits as before. Psychotherapist Jeffrey Sumber believes people need to have an open mind and be ready to put in the effort for effective changes.
Beyond motivation, money is an important factor in determining whether a person actually needs therapy. Not everyone can truly afford therapy. One might have some disposable income, but people need to ask themselves if going to therapy (when they don't necessarily need it) is a good investment choice. Even if a person receives free government-assisted mental healthcare, they still have to pay for travel costs and put in the time investment.
It would help if people also thought about whose space they are taking. When considering going in for free therapy options like your local community center or government-sponsored mental healthcare where there are limited slots, be conscious not to take up space that could go to someone who actually needs it.