Memorial Hospital - August 24, 2020

If you've ever felt overwhelmed from a major life change—like the loss of a loved one or an unexpected health diagnosis—or just from the stress of daily life, you're not alone. We all feel a little helpless, sad or even broken from time to time. And with all the stress and uncertainty associated with a global pandemic (e.g. changes to routine, lack of childcare, time away from loved ones, etc.), that may be true for more people than ever before. But a licensed therapist, counselor or psychologist may be able to help you cope with a life–altering event, crises related to work or personal relationships, or general stress or anxiety.

When was the last time you heard someone say therapy helped or counseling was the best decision ever? Maybe never. That's because people are often embarrassed to admit they need therapy and some even struggle with underlying feelings that seeking therapy means you are weak or crazy.

Often, people seek out therapy when they are struggling with life challenges that affect their well–being. Talking to a therapist can provide immediate relief, just from having someone listen to you and offer support. Talk therapy also can bring clarity to situations and teach practical coping skills for those dark days.

It is difficult for many people to admit they need help solving a problem. And it doesn't help that perceptions about therapy are often wrong. Popular stereotypes can lead people to believe talk therapy most often happens in a mental hospital or lying on a couch in a psychiatrist's office.

For the majority of patients, individual talk therapy is not much different than seeing a primary care doctor, involving a 45–minute one–on–one session.

Types of therapy

There are many different approaches to therapy, and most therapists use a combination of them. Most types of therapy are available in a virtual format when in–person sessions are not an option.

Some therapy patients are seeking to change the way they think about various aspects of their life, from health problems to personal relationships. This type of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) helps you pay attention to negative, dysfunctional thoughts that trigger destructive feelings or behavior and replace them with healthier thoughts. Anyone who thinks things like "I'm a failure" or "My life is a mess and will never get better" when things go wrong can benefit from CBT.

Then there's behavior modification therapy, which helps change unwanted or unhealthy behaviors. If you want to stop smoking or even stop over–apologizing to everyone around you, a behavior modification therapist can introduce you to techniques to help you reach your goals.

If personal relationships are the reason you're seeking therapy, you may benefit from family counseling or couples therapy, which often addresses communication problems that can derail a relationship.

In some cases, your therapist may suggest you participate in a therapy group or support group, though this type of therapy may not be widely available virtually. Groups may be open (people can join any time) or closed (membership is smaller and limited to select people). Both types typically focus on a single problem like grief, divorce, anger or low self–esteem.

Group therapy allows participants to learn from peers who share similar experiences. As group participants discuss their journey and the changes they are making in their own lives, they can help their peers grow and heal too and vice versa.

Getting the most out of therapy

To ensure the best experience, it's crucial to find the right therapist for you. First, look for someone who has experience dealing with your specific concerns, whether that's loss of a loved one, divorce, illness, a family crisis or some other like challenge. Experience matters, but it's not as important as finding a therapist with whom you are comfortable.

This process may take some trial and error. Ask a trusted friend or your primary care doctor for a referral. If you can, "interview" several potential therapists before choosing one. Ask about their approach to therapy.

If you decide you don't click with your therapist after a few sessions—or their approach isn't working for you—look for someone who's a better fit. You can even ask your therapist for recommendations.

Once you begin therapy, don't expect a quick fix. Most people quit therapy after a few sessions, or when it becomes difficult to talk about the harder topics.

Several sessions are usually required for a good therapeutic outcome. Don't cut yourself short—the anxiety of talking about difficult topics will gradually fade as you continue therapy.

Letting those close to you know you are in therapy can help you start building a support network. Being in therapy shows you are serious about wanting to make a change or deal with your emotional pain. You don't have to share nitty–gritty details, but it can be helpful to talk openly about your overall experience with therapy.