I have been asked many questions about therapy and how it works in the last few months. As I gathered my thoughts and did my research, I decided that a short six-part series might help each of you to think about therapy for yourself or your child.
One of the more common reactions of an adolescent when I suggest therapy as part of their treatment is terror. I can notice it over a mask and even over a virtual link, especially in young men. It’s as if I had suggested that bloodletting might be of some benefit.
As a psychiatrist who works in tertiary care – the level of healthcare that is advanced beyond the primary care provided by your family doctor and the secondary care of the first specialist psychiatrist you or child sees – most of my patients have already spent months, if not years, in some form of therapy. For a youth who is in my office, that treatment has likely not yet had much effect on how badly they’re feeling. It’s not that these youth are seeing poor therapists, it’s that they were likely not quite ready for the difficult emotional toll that therapy takes before a person begins to heal.
Many days of my working life, I must explain what therapy is, talk about why it works, and encourage someone that it is one of the most effective ways to help a person manage a mental health condition. I average about 80% convincing people to try once more.
I did some of my research in this article from Psychology Today, but much of what I will speak about is distilled from my own experience. It is taken from my efforts to convince youth to try once again to meet with someone regularly, bare their soul and accept the lessons that they can learn when reflecting on their most difficult emotions.
The first thing that I speak about with youth and families is the benefits of therapy. There is scientific evidence that therapy yields some of the best outcomes in the treatment of mental illness. Many of these good outcomes are sustained in the long run.
These are the proven benefits of therapy:
- Improved self-esteem
- Increased ability to manage fear
- Improved mental and physical health
- Improved relationships
- Increased control over one’s life
- Improved understanding of how one’s past affects a person.
Even youth with poor experiences of therapy can acknowledge that, at times, talking with someone did help in the moment. It is those moments that you remind a youth about and convince them that they can work with a therapist to build more of these good moments into their treatment.
Describing the proven benefits of therapy and reminding youth that these benefits make sense is often enough to convince a teen to try therapy again.
The difference between effective therapy and ineffective therapy can often be put down to practice. The skills that a person learns in therapy get better with practice.
That goes for both the client and the therapist…