Seeing a therapist has become more commonplace in recent decades as mental health awareness has increased in Australia. Once upon a time, people thought you should only go to see a therapist if you were experiencing serious mental issues, or as they might have put it at the time, ‘crazy’. In this day and age, it isn’t hard to find someone who has seen a therapist in Melbourne. But if you’ve never seen a therapist before, you might have wondered at some point in your life…
Does therapy really work?
In order to best answer this question, it might help by talking about mental health, and why that’s important.
Why Mental Health Is Important
When you hear the word ‘healthy’, what comes to mind? If we’re talking about eating healthy, you might think a salad is healthy. You might also think about regular exercise, such as cardio or lifting weights. Or, you might think that being healthy means getting a tick of approval from your doctor after getting a check up.
What if I told you that these different areas of health have all undergone changes and transformations in the course of human history? Modern medicine, for example, is vastly different from it’s predecessors, which included procedures such as leeching and bloodletting as interventions for ailments. And a few hundred years ago, the of people getting together in a gym after work to lift heavy weights or run on the spot would seem absurd, especially because most people had jobs that involved physical labor.
Thankfully, our awareness and understanding of what is ‘healthy’ for the human body has changed drastically thanks in large part to modern science. Our understanding of what is healthy for the mind has also changed alongside it.
We now know that every aspect of our day to day life, from our sleep, to our dieting habits, to our relationships and work life, are all impacted and influenced by our mental health.
How Mental Health Affects Daily Life
Think about all of the things you do in a typical day. Interacting with other people, whether that’s family, friends, a spouse or colleagues. Going to work or engaging in other activities like hobbies and tasks around the house. Spending time alone, whether you’re scrolling through your phone on the train or left alone with your thoughts in the shower. All of these daily activities can be coloured and affected by your mental health.
For some people with crippling mental health issues, these day to day tasks seem difficult, if not impossible. Anyone who has lost a loved one can easily find themselves in the depths of despair and struggle to take care of their basic needs. Someone who is suffering from an anxiety disorder might even struggle to leave the house and interact with others. For these people, it’s not hard to convince them that their mental health is important, because they mostly wish to just engage with the world again and live a ‘normal’ life.
But for people who are able to ‘get by’ in life, things might not be so simple. The reality is that, even if you aren’t living with a diagnosable mental illness, you might still be impacted by poor mental health. This might mean working in a job that you hate, which makes it hard to get out of bed in the morning. You might have something in your past that you’d rather forget, and so drink a little too much, which makes you fight with your spouse. Or you deep down you might find that you’re incredibly lonely, and all of the relationships you have are shallow and unfulfilling.
These issues are very commonplace, and can be addressed in therapy. But because awareness around mental health is growing, people often shrug these issues off and believe that it’s just ‘the way things are’. Or, they might find the idea of confronting these issues to be incredibly challenging, especially if it means having to change.
How Therapy Can Improve Your Mental Health
Seeing a therapist doesn’t have to be about being mentally ill to the point that you’re unable to function in your day to day life. This would be like saying that personal trainers are only good for people who are morbidly obese. Getting therapy can help you to improve various aspects of your life, from your relationships to your career to your inner world and sense of wellbeing.
No matter what your background or circumstances are, the one thing that unites all people on earth is that we are not immune to misfortune. Even the richest, most successful people in the world can be brought to despair by the loss of a loved one, a broken relationship, or a dream unfulfilled. The reality is that terrible things happen to us all, and the best we can do is prepare for them.
In it’s basic form, therapy is about problem solving. Many people seek out a therapist because they want the input of someone who is professionally trained in matters of the mind, but can be objective because they’re not involved in what is happening.
However, therapy can go beyond this. Many people conclude therapy when their problem or symptom has gone away. But one of the best uses of therapy is to organize your own mind. The truth is that the majority of people have not spent any time contemplating how their own mind works. Why they think the way they do, why they feel the way they feel, and how their background, upbringing and genetics might be influencing these things.
Therapy, in short, helps you to better understand your own mind. This can be invaluable when a crisis hits, because you’re aware of your reactions and responses, and know how to engage with the task at hand without becoming overwhelmed. It can also help you to stop trying to resolve or heal past hurts in unhealthy ways, such as dysfunctional relationships or addictions, by recognizing what you really want and need, while learning to make peace with the past.
So…does therapy really work?
Therapy in Melbourne can greatly enhance your life by improving your coping skills, communication skills, relationships, and day to day well-being. The key to good therapy is having a clear idea of what it is you’re wanting to get out of the process, and also being realistic about what your therapist can and cannot do.
A therapist's role is not to lay you on a table, slice you open and operate on you, like a surgeon would. This is not a process in which you’re a passive participant that is having something ‘done’ to you.
Instead, you are the hero of this story. The therapist is merely the guide. While therapists draw from a range of theories and employ a range of techniques, it is ultimately you that must engage with the process by showing up, and having the courage to look inwards. You are the one who must face your fears, acknowledge your faults, and be prepared to make peace with what you cannot change.
A therapist is much more akin to a performance coach or personal trainer. The personal trainer can tell you the best way to lift and be there to provide support, but if they’re lifting all the weights for you while you stand and watch, you’re never going to get any fitter.
In summary, therapy does really work, but only if you’re ready to do the work that therapy requires of you.
Shaun McMahon is a Melbourne based psychotherapist who helps clients overcome their anxiety and depression, and work through their trauma and relationship issues. He conducts sessions both in person and online, and is currently accepting new clients. If you're interested in learning more about psychotherapy to see if it's right for you,, you can arrange a FREE 15 minute consultation with Shaun McMahon by clicking here.