Many people who use therapy have no or mild illness.
Many people struggle with everyday stress, but worry that their problems aren’t “bad enough” to warrant a therapy session. The truth is, trying therapy early can help prevent problems from worsening into serious mental illnesses. That’s why there are many reasons to see a therapist, beyond treating a mental illness.
In other words, it’s a myth that therapy is only for people who have a diagnosed mental illness. “This myth stems from our popular media portraying ‘crazy’ people locked up in mental institutions or receiving intensive therapy,” says Dr. Wyatt Fisher, PsyD, a licensed psychologist specializing in marriage counseling in Boulder, CO, and developer of an app for couples.
It might be surprising to know that many people who use therapy actually don’t have a diagnosed mental illness at all. Still, they may enjoy the therapy process or want to take a more proactive approach to their mental health. Just like regular exercise helps keep your muscles strong, regular therapy can keep your emotional health in good shape.
Common Reasons to See a Therapist
Don’t have a mental illness? Here are other reasons to see a therapist.
1. To help process a stressful event
Stressful events like divorce or loss of a loved one can be difficult to come to terms with. Sometimes, people suppress their emotional response or find unhealthy ways to cope with the uncomfortable feelings. Unfortunately, this can have lasting effects and may progress to depression or other disorders. In other words, seeking therapy after a stressful or traumatic event may help prevent a mental illness.
“Stress often brings out the worst in us,” says Dr. Fisher. “Most of us could use emotional support by talking through what we are experiencing, help with how to cope with the stress constructively, and help with our interpretations of the stress with what it means about us and others.”
2. To manage work stress
Many people experience conflict with coworkers or a lack of work-life balance. One option is to leave the job, but it might be helpful to see a therapist about it first. That’s because you may need to learn how to set better boundaries at work, or else you may end up repeating the same mistakes at a new job.
“Navigating work can involve a lot of challenging variables,” says Dr. Fisher. For example, you may overextend yourself, be too social or not social enough, be too passive or too combative in the face of conflict, or not manage your time well. “There are a myriad of ways we can get off balance at work, and seeing a therapist can help us find the balance.”
Working on these issues in therapy can improve your work life and reduce the risk of burnout, which can become its own source of mental illness.
3. To improve relationships
The best example of this is couples therapy to improve your marriage or other romantic relationship. That said, even individual therapy can help improve your relationships by working on your own communication and behavior patterns.
“Marriage therapists help couples work through resentments and build their friendship, partnership, and intimacy,” says Dr. Fisher. Learn more about what to expect at couples therapy here.
4. To manage stress from an illness
Having an illness like cancer, diabetes, or an autoimmune disorder can add a lot of stress to your life. “Therapy can provide a sounding board to talk through your experiences and [get] ideas on how to best cope with the physical ailment,” says Dr. Fisher. “Group therapy with others going through something similar can help you feel supported and not alone in your experience.”
5. To reduce physical manifestations of stress
When not dealt with, anxiety can contribute to gastrointestinal problems, migraines, tension headaches, neck and shoulder pain, teeth grinding, and more. Often, the pain can really hinder quality of life. (Learn more about physical manifestations of stress and anxiety here.)
“The goal with this type of therapy would be to help the client get to the root of their feelings and learn to express them constructively, rather than stuff them,” says Dr. Fisher.
6. To have a neutral person to speak to (besides your friends)
No matter how close you are to your friends, there may be times when you want to speak to a more objective ear. Friends often have biases and it’s not always easy for them to separate themselves from your problem.
“A therapist has special training on how to listen effectively to patterns in a client’s life to deepen understanding of their thoughts and feelings,” says Dr. Fisher. Additionally, your therapist can help you make continuous and sustainable progress toward your social, behavioral, and mental health goals.
So is therapy right for you? Can it help you improve and nurture your mental health? The best way to learn is to give it a try. Find out what to expect at your first therapy appointment here.