Long before there were therapists, there were family members. Grandpa and Aunt Jane listened, or gave us advice, or sometimes just told us to buck up. If family couldn’t help, there were friends or a clergy member. But most likely, we were also warned not to broadcast our troubles, and many people suffered their emotional problems silently.

Times have changed, and so has society’s acceptance of seeking help. The old stigma of being seen as weak or incapable is largely gone.  This has been helped tremendously by many well-known writers, actors and politicians being open about their struggles with, and treatments for, everything from depression to chronic shoplifting. Going to a therapist is now seen as a sign of strength and willingness to take charge of one’s life.  Rather than proof that someone is “sick,” it is a sign of good health to make a commitment to change.

What Makes Therapy Different?

You might be wondering what talking to a therapist will do that you can’t get from talking to a dear friend or family member. “Therapy is a unique relationship and what makes it valuable sets it apart from friendships, working partnerships, family connections and love affairs,” says Carl Sherman, author of How to Go to Therapy: Making the Most of Professional Help.

In his book, author Sherman describes therapy as a balance in which two people are “collaborating on a single project: helping you deal with your problems and achieve the change you want. There is no other agenda.”

It’s the simplicity of that agenda, combined with a structured schedule, confidentiality and trust, that make this unique relationship work so well for so many people. What’s more, the “unconditional positive regard” that characterizes all good therapeutic relationships can serve as a new way of experiencing one’s self as worthy of another’s respect and acceptance. 

Will I Have to Lie on a Couch?

Some people are afraid or uncertain about what to expect. For example (thanks to the media!), some people believe a therapist will make them lie on a couch, or say or do crazy things. While some therapists might have couches in their offices, you choose where to sit. You choose what to say. You choose when to say it.

And, nowadays, there is an incredible number of ways to explore problems. Beyond conventional talk therapy, there is art therapy, music therapy, somatic therapy–even laughter therapy–to name just a few. For every kind of problem, and every kind of person, there is a therapeutic healing modality that fits.

Benefits of Therapy

The strength of therapy is that there are no strings attached. In his book, Sherman offers some further benefits of the therapeutic relationship:

1. Safety. If the relationship is right, you can feel safe to reveal your fears, dreams and fantasies without fear of repercussions or judgment on the part of the therapist. Unlike telling a friend or family member, your words to a therapist won’t come back to haunt you.  And as you learn to disclose your deepest thoughts and feelings, you will feel more confident in sharing those parts of yourself with those closest to you, strengthening your bonds with others.

2. Confidentiality. The therapist is bound by ethics and law (except in a few well-defined cases) not to reveal what you have said during sessions. This adds to the feeling of safety and trust, and aids in people making changes.

3. Learning. Therapy can be seen as a deeply educational experience, in which a therapist acts like a coach or teacher to help the client see the world–inner and outer–in new and positive ways.  What’s more, that learning takes place on a deeply emotional level, meaning that it contributes to long-lasting changes. 

Into each life some rain must fall, and we all have felt deluged at least once in our lives. Grief, loss, anger, financial hardship, relationship problems, stress–all of these are a normal part of life. So is seeking help when coping is just too hard. It’s also normal to be a little afraid of what friends and family might say about seeing a therapist. But, in the end, it’s your life, and you know best how to make it a richer, happier and more fulfilling one–with a little help.

Author’s content used under license, (c) 2008 Claire Communications