While most of us have experienced feeling better after talking to a friend or acquaintance about a problem, how and why therapy works goes beyond such an experience as this. The relief we feel after discussing a problem with a friend can be attributed to the impact of venting, the impact of “getting something off your chest.”

If we have a concern, and talk about it, we feel better, even if the person we are speaking with doesn’t help us solve the problem. A sympathetic listener, who understands us, is a balm and we all need this from time to time.

Therapy, however, works differently from this. In fact, many people will tell you that, when they start therapy, they may even feel worse before they begin to feel better. The best way to explain this is that it’s often emotionally difficult to solve a problem – especially a problem that starts with our own thoughts.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say you’ve just had a fight with a friend. It’s a fight that you and your friend have over and over. For example, let’s say your friend is upset because, whenever you’re together, you always let your friend decide how to spend your time. Maybe your friend doesn’t mind this most of the time but, every so often, they just don’t want to decide, or they don’t know what to do, but they want to do something with you. They are upset and think, ”Why can’t they decide?”

You may think you’re being accommodating, but sometimes your friend just wants you to decide. When you won’t, they get angry. By never deciding, you cause your friend to be unhappy.so…some of the problem in this disagreement belongs to you and, to resolve the problem, you’re going to have to put aside being accommodating.

Changing this pattern of always letting your friend decide might be very difficult for you. If it’s jeopardizing your friendship, however, you might decide you have to change your pattern of behaviour. Therapy could help you change a longstanding pattern of behaviour that is maladaptive and negatively affecting your life and relationships.

Recognizing the longstanding ways of thinking and patterns of behaviour that are harmful in our lives needs more than a supportive listener. It takes a mental health professional trained in psychotherapy to help us change.

Therapy works because we learn to see the harmful patterns affecting our lives and relationships and we work to change them.

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