How does therapy help?

Dear Roseann,

I’ve been through a very difficult year.  I’ve been struggling with a number of big life events and I’m feeling overwhelmed, anxious and depressed.  A five-year romantic relationship ended suddenly when my boyfriend accepted a new job that required a relocation to London and he informed me that he had no interest in trying to keep things going long distance.  My own job has been very stressful as I’ve been trying to prove myself to earn a promotion and from my perspective the process has taken way too long.  On top of all that, my mother was recently diagnosed with cancer and while her treatment has begun and the prognosis is good I’m often distracted by frightening thoughts of her illness and the treatment being unsuccessful.  I’ve been trying to hold it together, but I spend a lot of time crying and on weekends I sleep too much and can’t motivate myself to do even basic things like laundry and housekeeping.  My best friend keeps telling me to find a therapist and has even given me several names.  I’ve never been in therapy before and I can’t understand how it will help.  Therapy won’t bring back my boyfriend or cure my mother’s cancer or get the promotion done so how will just talking about my troubles help me feel better?



Dear Marianne,

You certainly have had a difficult year.  While therapy won’t change the sources of your stress, the right therapy can help you respond differently to all these events to help you suffer less and recover more quickly.  I certainly don’t want to minimize the impact of the loss of your relationship, your professional challenges and your mother’s health crisis.  It is normal to feel sad, exhausted and scared with what you’ve been experiencing. 

The pain you’re feeling needs attention and treatment.  Ignoring emotional pain rarely results in relief.  Research has shown that therapy can retrain neural pathways in the brain to support behavior and stimulate new ways of thinking that make our lives easier and better.  Neural pathways are changed by facing challenges and behaving in new ways.  A skilled therapist can help you recognize behaviors that keep you stuck in the suffering and sorrow and can guide you to develop new responses to these painful situations.  Making these changes will take time and it may take you a few tries to find the right therapist, but I encourage you to make a first appointment and give therapy a try.

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