How does therapy work: things to know before you go
Therapy can be a profound mental health tool. But many people find the idea intimidating. Here’s what you need to know.
One in four British adults will experience a mental health concern this year, such as feeling tense, overwhelmed or down. Of those, one in three seek help from a doctor or therapist — a significant increase compared to the mid-2000s.
These encouraging numbers show that people are more open to attending therapy and asking for support than ever before. But many of us still have worries, fears and questions about the therapy process, the benefits of therapy, and what exactly a therapist does.
Relax, lay back on the proverbial therapist’s couch, and let us break it down for you.
The benefits of therapy: everyone is doing it!
Dan Murray-Serter, co-founder of Heights, was once told that therapy was "for weak boys and lost men."
There’s still a lot of stigma around the idea of going to therapy, yet it’s not a sign of weakness. Quite the opposite, actually.
"It can help people develop and foster passion, productivity, and balance in their lives," says psychotherapist Chris Boyd, MA, in an interview with PsychCentral.
“Therapy can help you work on all kinds of goals and dreams—creating a specific plan, navigating potential internal and external obstacles, and bolstering your confidence and resilience,” explains the outlet. “These goals and dreams might be anything from building a small business to becoming more self-compassionate to asserting yourself at work to cultivating a close relationship with your kids.”
Rather than seeing therapy as a “fix” for something, try to view it as a powerful tool for understanding yourself and creating a life that you want.
While many people think of therapy and counselling as only something you turn to when the days are dark or when life gets challenging, therapy is also a proactive approach to tapping into your strength, chasing your dreams, and cultivating habits and routines that energize and empower you.
Get our best tips for dealing with panic
You'll also receive weekly tips on how to make braincare part of your life.
There are many different forms of therapy
Invites you to discuss your worries, fears or challenges with a therapist to help you develop management strategies. 75% of participants of talk therapy report better mental health and significantly improved outcomes.
Helps families navigate mental health concerns, create healthier collaboration and communication in the family, and help each family member develop positive coping and management strategies for challenging situations.
Not only supports a couple as they navigate difficulties, such as lost intimacy or chronic conflict, but it also has been shown in studies to help couples form a healthier, stronger and more resilient bond.
Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT)
Successfully treats specific mental health conditions. It has been shown to support your mental well-being, and strengthen your psychosocial skills so you're more equipped to navigate life, community, and relationships.
Opens up the world of therapy to those who would rather stay home, are worried about being seen going to therapy, or simply desire 24/7 convenience. Research trials suggest that online therapy is just as successful as in-person therapy.
It’s no wonder that millions of people tap into the benefits of therapy every day. Celebrities, too!
English actress Sophie Turner, best known for her headlining role on Game of Thrones, told Rolling Stone that going to therapy and speaking to someone "saved my life" as she struggled to navigate fame.
Actor Brad Pitt turned to therapy after facing marital problems and told GQ magazine that "I just started therapy. I love it, I love it. I went through two therapists to find the right one."
And American actress Kerry Washington once quipped to Glamour magazine, “My brain and my heart are really important to me. I don’t know why I wouldn’t seek help to have those things be as healthy as my teeth.” Amen to that.
So, if it’s good enough for mental health researchers and Hollywood A-listers, it’s good enough for us!
How does therapy work?
Successful therapy, reports the American Psychological Association, involves three key elements:
Evidence-based, research-backed treatment that is tailored for your specific problem
The psychologist or psychotherapist’s clinical expertise and training
Your own demographics and characteristics, such as your personal values and lifestyle
Every therapist is different, and every session or approach is unique to your circumstances and your needs.
In general, you can expect the following when you try therapy for the first time:
You’ll start your first session with an introduction to your therapist. In this session, you learn about them, share with your therapist where you're at in life, discuss any mental health or lifestyle changes you're struggling with, and set goals.
After your first session, your therapist will put together a plan and general path to take you on as you discuss your life, your goals, your challenges and your desires.
Each subsequent session will dive a bit deeper into the things you shared in your introductory session, and slowly help you unravel your thoughts, dig into your emotions, and begin working towards your goals.
If you’re feeling intimidated, don’t worry — there’s no preparation or studying you have to do beforehand. Your therapist will prompt you with questions and scenarios to guide you and spark constructive conversations.
How to find a therapist
There are many forms of therapy, and there are thousands of therapists with different backgrounds and specialities, including those who focus on specific demographics (e.g., women, people of colour, members of the LGBTQ+ community, etc.) or specific challenges (e.g, PTSD, mental health, trauma, conflict, etc).
You can find a therapist by:
Talking to your general practitioner and asking for a referral to a therapist.
Contacting the NHS Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) program
Checking if your local workplace or university offers on-site access to therapy and counselling
Booking time with a private therapist through the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)
Whatever you’re facing, reach out and speak to someone. Simply voicing our concerns, worries, or dreams can give us the strength and insight we need to forge ahead.