If we’re being honest, pretty much all of us have considered therapy at one point or another. But, whether you’ve just given it a passing thought or have contemplated it long and hard, it can easy to never set up that first therapy appointment. After all, it’s natural to have hesitations: Will it really work for me?
Research answers with a resounding “yes!” According to one study from UCLA, simply verbalizing your feelings makes sadness, anger and pain less intense. In it, researchers found that being able to label feelings and talk about emotional experiences significantly reduced negative feelings and helped people calm down. Not only that, but their brain scans showed that talking altered the way their brains processed those memories.
And while venting to a friend is great, speaking to a trained therapist offers benefits beyond simply a good listener. Done right, talk therapy can help you learn things about yourself you wouldn’t have figured out on your own and break lifelong patterns of grief or destruction.
A good therapist can teach you coping mechanisms, help you retrain your mind and eliminate hurtful habits, see patterns you couldn’t on your own, teach you scripts for dealing with difficult situations or people, and give you strategies to deal with problems in a better going forward. They can also help tease out what’s really bothering you, as the real problem often isn’t what you think it is.
“During therapy, I realized that my issue was just one piece of the puzzle and that I had been holding myself back my whole life. Even scarier, it made me realize that maybe I didn’t even know who I really was as a person,” explains Amalia F., 29, from Vancouver, Canada. “But I continued working, talking, and asking hard questions until I was able to adapt and move through that experience. I feel like I have shed my skin and grown into a more whole version of myself.” (Find more inner calm and build strength in just minutes a day with WH’s With Yoga DVD!)
In the end, no one can predict exactly what you’ll get out of talk therapy—and those surprise benefits can be the best part. We asked real women to share how therapy unexpectedly changed their lives for the better. Here’s what they had to say:
“Five years ago, my marriage was in trouble. We weren’t having huge blow-up fights or cheating or anything, but we were basically living separate lives. Any time I would tell him I felt like he didn’t care about me or wasn’t interested in me as a person anymore, he’d always say that he did care about me.
“Finally, after not talking to each other beyond ‘hello’ and ‘goodnight,’ for two weeks, I told him we needed marriage counseling. I set everything up, and made sure it worked with his schedule. After the third no-show, my counselor said, ‘He’s showing you how much he cares about you,’ and it all just clicked. He said all the right things, but didn’t mean them.
“We got divorced a short time later and he didn’t even bother to show up, just sent me his signed papers. It stung, but I’m glad it’s over. It still makes me laugh that my marriage counselor was the one who helped me realize I had no marriage.” — Jessie C., 29, Seattle, Washington
“I started therapy during my pregnancy. I’d always been anxious, but now I was so stressed out, I was actually going into preterm labor. I was also suffering from major mood swings and felt like my life was falling apart. I knew that for my health and the health of my son, I needed to get help. When I met with my counselor, he was able to diagnose me with mild bipolar disorder.
“At first I was surprised, but once he explained it, it all started to make sense. I have always felt something was off with my emotions and I was never able to really feel comfortable in my own skin. Having a name for what I was going through gave me such peace. Understanding my condition gave me the strength to deal with it. My therapist has taught me ways to manage my stress so it doesn’t flare up and helped me develop tools to cope with it. Plus, he helped me see that it is just a chemical imbalance in the brain and nothing to be ashamed of.
“I am so grateful that, after nine years of questioning myself and my feelings, I have finally found my answers and have help. My days are better, I have fewer breakdowns and blowups, and my baby is doing great. Now I tell everyone about my therapy. I’m proud of all I’ve accomplished and how far I’ve come—and I want to encourage other women. Don’t be afraid to seek therapy, it’s awesome!” — Rachel L., 23, Parker, Colorado
Watch a hot doctor explain whether your anxiety is serious:
“After my third child was born, I had terrible postpartum depression. Even though it’s a really common thing to go through, I was in denial and really embarrassed about it. Most people saw me—and I’d always seen myself—as a generally happy person, and admitting I was miserable felt like a failure. For a while I tried faking that I was fine and presented my life as put together and perfectly wonderful. But eventually I just couldn’t hold it together anymore and I realized I needed help.
“I decided to see a therapist but almost quit before the first session. Not only was the therapist a man but he was obviously different than me in practically every way imaginable. I didn’t see how he’d be able to relate to anything I was going through, much less help me figure out myself. But I learned quickly that you don’t have to experience something yourself to sympathize with someone, and he was a great listener.
“I was surprised to discover he had a lot to teach me; I learned so much about how to cope and deal with all my stress. To this day I am so grateful for the help he gave me and continue to use the skills we talked about.” — Shelley S., 35, Lehi, Utah
“I’ve always had a hard time taking tests. I’d get so anxious and upset that I wouldn’t be able to think and even though I knew I knew the answers, I couldn’t get them right and sometimes couldn’t finish the test on time. When I went to college, my testing anxiety got even worse—a huge problem since so much of college revolves around taking tests! I went to the student counseling center to get help for my testing anxiety.
“But as I started working through my worries with my therapist, we discovered I was really anxious about a lot of things that I hadn’t realized before. Talking things through with her helped me resolve some things in my past. Specifically, it has helped me feel safer around men and helped me become more comfortable with the idea that not everyone will like me and that’s okay.
“I was surprised to discover how working through stuff I thought was way in the past helped me deal with my very current testing anxiety. Now I’m a lot less anxious in general and doing better in college.” — Kathryn H., 22, Provo, Utah
“I’ve had an abortion. Just being able to say that out loud shows the power of therapy and how far I’ve come! After I had the abortion seventeen years ago, I was so ashamed and depressed that I couldn’t talk about it.
“Finally, in 2015, I attended a retreat at Rachel’s Vineyard, specifically for abortion recovery. It was helpful, so this year I did a second weekend healing retreat, but this time I continued therapy afterwards. Therapy made all the difference.
“It really helped me see how the root of my problems was my intense hatred of myself. I hated myself for things I did, yet these things were out of my control or in my past. My therapist helped me see that I deserved the same kindness and forgiveness that I automatically gave to others, rather than the cruelty I had been giving myself. She helped me see how the ripples of my life affect so many others in good and bad ways and why it’s so important to look for the good in myself.
“I still struggle at times, but the coping mechanisms I learned in therapy help me through the ups and downs of life. Now I can see the good in me far outweighs the bad—something I always said about others but never myself. The process has helped me so much that I am now a regional coordinator for Silent No More, a foundation that helps women struggling after an abortion.” — Erica G., 45, Kula, Hawaii
Source: Women’s Health Mag