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The Value of Psychotherapy

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Patient in Therapist's Office

Online chat rooms and communities are a wonderful source of support and advice to many people. On WebMD’s Relationships and Coping Community, I’ve seen people ask for and receive emotional support, direct advice, and an outpouring of shared experiences. But, often, the problems that people come to the forum with are beyond what it can effectively help. At these times, people often suggest that others get professional help. This can be a scary step that I’m sure many don’t take, though the benefits can be extraordinary.

As a psychologist, I obviously believe in the benefits of therapy. I am also aware of innumerable studies showing this to be the case. However, a recent study completed by the American Psychological Association highlighted many of the benefits of therapy. It found that:

  • Research shows that therapy effectively helps many people with a wide variety of mental and behavioral issues.
  • Therapy often works better than many medical treatments.
  • Many studies have shown that therapy reduces disability and mortality, as well as healing emotional and physical problems. It also “improves work functioning and decreases psychiatric hospitalization.”
  • Therapy teaches skills that allow people to continue to do better even after they complete therapy.
  • Therapy is often as effective as, or more effective than, medication for a range of mental and physical health disorders. Also, unlike psychopharmacological treatments, it rarely causes harmful side effects. When medication is appropriate in treating depression and anxiety, it is often more effective when used along with therapy.

Many of the reasons people give for not going to therapy are misguided. Consider the following:

It takes years. While it’s true that some people are in therapy for years, many are not. Also, many people find therapy to be so helpful that they choose to stay in it longer to learn to cope with problems beyond what first brought them to therapy. However, even just a handful of sessions can help put you on a better road.

I don’t need to pay someone to just listen. That won’t help – and crying won’t do any good, either. Therapy is more than a therapist listening to your woes and occasionally saying, “Uh-huh” or “Tell me more about that.” Therapists do listen to your struggles and provide support as you unburden yourself, but their goal is to guide you to a better understanding of your problems and to ways to solve them or heal from emotional pain.

No one can fix this. I just need to do it. The reality is that we all need help sometimes. If you are struggling despite wanting your life to be different, you might not be able to “just do it.” Therapy might provide just what you need to get you moving in the right direction again.

It’s too expensive. It’s true, therapy can be expensive. However, there are many places where you can get therapy on a sliding scale. Also, if you are ill because of stress or you are not functioning well at work, getting therapy might actually be less expensive in the long run – reducing other medical costs and allowing you to earn income up to your potential.

So, although even just thinking about going to therapy can be intimidating, it’s well worth considering. If you are sitting on the fence about whether to go, try reaching out to supportive others who know something about therapy – perhaps even your online community.

To join a discussion of this topic in the Relationships and Coping forum, click here.

Photo: Digital Vision
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