The things you learn will last long after your session ends.
If you've never talked with a therapist — or you're not used to sharing personal feelings or stories — then therapy could seem like a pretty foreign concept. You sit down with a stranger and dish your private emotions, secrets and troubles. You wonder what good could possibly come from that. But getting therapy can actually be one of the most productive decisions of your life — one that can have long-lasting benefits.
What Is a Therapist?
A therapist is a professional who has been trained to evaluate your mental health and give you treatment and rehabilitation to have a happier and healthier life. They could include a psychiatrist (a physician who is licensed to prescribe medication), as well as a social worker, counselor or life coach.
Why Would Someone See a Therapist?
Many people decide to see a therapist to talk through challenging situations in their life or diagnose symptoms of a possible mental illness. That could include grieving a lost loved one, experiencing depression or anxiety, difficulty coping with situations or experiences, eating disorders, feelings of loneliness, unwanted negative thinking or behaviors, struggles in a relationship and substance abuse or addiction. Therapists can specialize in addressing one or several of these specific areas and act as objective, nonjudgmental ears to listen to you. They can help you process what you are experiencing, deal with it today, and overcome any challenges to move forward in a positive and productive direction for the future.
What About Stuff From Your Past?
Therapists can definitely help you talk about things you experienced in previous years — things you still think about or suppose still affect you. That could include childhood trauma. Oprah Winfrey opens up about the trauma she experienced as a young girl in her new book "What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience and Healing," which she wrote with psychiatrist Dr. Bruce Perry. They look at the abuse Oprah suffered from family members and how it influenced her thinking and actions as an adult.
A therapist can help you understand what happened to you, how you may or may not know it affects you today, and how you can overcome — and let go of — the damage that was done.
What's Considered Childhood Trauma?
Childhood trauma can also be referred to as adverse childhood experiences, which the CDC studied in the mid-1990s to see what long-term effects they had on those who experienced them. The questionnaire — which you can see here — helps people get a sense of negative experiences they had as a child. The exact score you receive does not necessarily quantify the adverse effects troubling you today but helps you assess your overall experience. Oprah also includes these questions in her book, and it could be a helpful tool to use when deciding whether to see a therapist or when first meeting with your therapist.
So I Get to Talk About Myself, But What Will I Actually Get Out of Therapy?
Your therapy may positively impact not only the situation you're there to address, but you may see improvements across all different areas of your life as well. And you'll continue to see these positive changes long after your sessions end. Here are just three real benefits you could experience — and they're only the beginning.
Understand Yourself Better: Does a knee-jerk reaction or loud response to a loved one ever make you later wonder, "What's wrong with me?" A therapist can help you talk through these situations and get down to what caused them. And that doesn't mean what you're loved one said to make you yell. That means what emotion or memory was stirred up inside you and made you uncomfortable. Oprah talks about this in her book. It's about reframing your question from "What's wrong with me?" to "What happened to me?" A therapist can help you see beyond what you think of as a personal fault and help you see the underlying root of the behavior. You can use that insight to show yourself compassion, learn to react differently or choose different behaviors, and continue on a more positive path in the future.
Improve Your Physical Health: You know when you're so nervous for a work event that your stomach hurts? Therapy can help with that too. Your physical health is deeply tied to your mental health. So the more you learn to process and deal with uncomfortable or stressful situations, the more your physical symptoms will subside. You could say goodbye to sweaty hands, a racing heart and emotional eating. And that in turn can lower your risk of high blood pressure, obesity and other diseases, as well as improve your immune system and any chronic pain.
Communicate Easier With Others: As you talk with your therapist, they will likely ask you some follow-up questions to hear more detail or to better understand what you're saying. While this helps them respond better and helps you get the most out of your therapy, this can be applied outside of your therapist's office as well. You may find yourself becoming more comfortable engaging in conversation with strangers or friends and sharing stories or feelings. Outside of purely social interactions, the communication you work on with your therapist can help you address a conflict with family members and convey your point of view in a clear, meaningful and respectful way — which can, in turn, improve these kinds of conversations with family, help them understand you and your point, and therefore improve the relationship with that person.
These three changes are just the beginning of the positive transformation you can see from therapy. Many therapists are offering both in-person and video meetings right now. To find one in your area, you can use Psychology Today's "Find a Therapist" tool to search by ZIP code. Many health insurance providers also offer tools to help you find a nearby therapist covered under your plan.
Virtual therapy is also available for you. Below are just a few trusted groups with counselors you can talk to: