Does Therapy Help? Understanding Its Impact On Mental Health And Wellness

Written by Nicole Laoutaris
Last updated on: May 17, 2024

Asking for help is not easy. Thinking about mental health support is a huge accomplishment and it takes courage and effort to start the process of finding a therapist

You might be curious, does therapy help?

This article will provide an overview of what therapy is and how it can be beneficial. It includes a high level overview of different kinds of therapists and how they help with everyday life challenges as well as mental health disorders and conditions, and how therapy can be flexible to fit with your life and budget.

Key takeaways:

  • Engaging in therapy leads to a better understanding of your thought patterns and behaviours – enabling personal growth and promoting resilience.
  • Therapists are trained to help people manage or improve their mental health, and their practice is backed by evidence and scientific research; and
  • Therapy can provide short and long-term benefits to mental health and wellbeing for yourself and in your relationships.
A candid photo of a therapy session with two men seated and conversing in a bright, modern living room. The man in a yellow hoodie sits with his hands clasped, looking attentive, while the other, with a full beard and dressed in a light sweatshirt, leans back casually in his chair.

Understanding Therapy

In therapy, you're engaging in a professional health practice designed to help manage and improve mental health.

One of the many misconceptions when it comes to therapy is that it's only for people with big trauma, deeply rooted issues, or a diagnosed mental illness. The truth is that talking to a mental health professional any time, before you’re in a crisis mode, is one of the best ways to equip yourself with tools and skills for times when life throws you a curveball. ⁠It can be preventative as well as healing.

It can also be useful for self-exploration, building self-esteem, and to help you craft amazing relationships with yourself and others. 
It’s okay to be uncertain of what exactly you want to work on in therapy. Some people have clear goals in mind or specific issues they know they need to address, other people just feel off or unlike themselves and need some help sorting that out.

There are a few overarching goals and outcomes that therapy can help to achieve:

  • Getting a better understanding of your sense of self, your values, and your goals
  • Identifying and managing burnout
  • Exploring issues past and present and understanding how they show up in life now
  • Learning self-care and self-regulation, including tactics to calm the nervous system
  • Learning coping skills for big emotions 
  • Being kinder to yourself
  • Developing and learning communications skills
  • Managing relationship conflict
  • Learning strategies to help with mood or symptoms of anxiety 
  • Gaining a new or outside perspectives on your circumstances 

Defining Mental Health and Psychotherapy

Mental health encompasses your emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Mental health and physical health are also closely intertwined, so working on your mental wellbeing can positively impact your physical health outlook as well. 

Mental health affects how you think, feel, and act.

Psychology is the study of the human mind and human behaviours. Psychotherapy or counselling therapy is the application of scientific therapy methods by trained professionals in assisting individuals in dealing with mental health challenges, emotional difficulties, and mental conditions, illneess or disorders. 

Common Forms of Therapy

A middle-aged Asian woman speaks passionately during a counseling session, sitting in a contemporary living room with a concerned expression, gesturing with her hands while talking to an unseen therapist.

Therapy is very flexible and adaptable to your individual needs. Therapists are often trained in multiple techniques or approaches, called modalities, which can be used depending on an individual’s needs or circumstances. 

Usually, a therapist is trained in more than one modality. You can search for therapists on First Session and filter by-modality if you want to explore therapists who offer one approach in particular.

Techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), family or couples counselling, and individual talk therapy each target different aspects of emotional health. You might find therapy helps in improving communication skills, resolving interpersonal conflicts, and boosting self-awareness. 

Some of the most common approaches include: 

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a widely-used form that helps by identifying negative thinking patterns, and changing them to improve emotional wellbeing and behaviours;
  • Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), combines strategies from CBT with concepts of mindfulness and emotional regulation, including greater acceptance that there are challenges and they can be improved or changed;
  • Somatic therapy approaches mental health by starting with the body, how we hold stress physically and how that might be impacting our mental health;
  • Psychodynamic therapy explores how your past experiences shape your current behaviour.

These approaches can be used in individual therapy, couples therapy, family therapy, or in group therapy settings. 

You also have the option of in-person or online therapy. This flexibility ensures that you can seek the type of therapy and the specific treatment that aligns best with your lifestyle and preferences. 

Roles of Psychologists and Psychiatrists

A senior African American woman in a cozy sweater sits on a sofa in a well-lit therapy room, looking thoughtful while talking to her therapist, whose back is to the camera.

Understanding the various types of professionals and how they are licensed can be very helpful in learning how therapy can help.

In Canada, there are four primary types of mental health professionals that are regulated to practice in mental healthcare fields:

  • Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in psychiatry or mental healthcare. They are licensed and trained to diagnose and medically treat mental illness or disorders, and they can prescribe medication. It’s less likely you would see a psychiatrist for a private counselling session.
  • Psychologists typically hold a PhD or master’s degree in psychology and they are trained to perform psychological assessments and make diagnoses. They cannot prescribe medication but they can treat mental illnesses or disorders through counselling therapy sessions or other treatment plans. 
  • Registered social workers often have a master’s level degree and are trained to work in a variety of settings, including offering one-on-one private counselling sessions. They are a great option if you are looking for private counselling, group counselling, couples therapy or family therapy. They are very similar to psychotherapists or counselling therapists. 
  • Registered psychotherapists or counselling therapists usually have a master’s degree level education and are trained to apply evidence-based therapy techniques in one-on-one, group, family, or couples therapy. 

Regulations for psychotherapists and counselling therapists vary across the country so it’s important to ensure you understand which title is commonly used where you live and if they are overseen by provincial law. If not regulated, be sure to work with someone who belongs to a credible professional association. 

Benefits of Therapy

A young woman in a light sweater sits on a gray sofa, engaged in a conversation with her therapist, who is taking notes. Her expression is earnest and slightly concerned.

Therapy offers tangible benefits for various mental health conditions, equipping you with effective tools to manage emotions and hone your interpersonal skills. 

It can foster significant improvement in your quality of life, particularly if you're experiencing ongoing issues like anxiety, depression, you have experienced trauma, recent loss or change. 

Improvement in Symptoms and Quality of Life

Regular sessions with a therapist can lead to a decrease in the intensity and frequency of symptoms related to mental health issues. Whether you're struggling with recurring thoughts that disrupt your day-to-day routine or powerful emotions that overwhelm you, therapy provides a platform to address these challenges. 

It's not just about symptom relief; therapy’s aim includes enhancing your overall quality of life, guiding you towards a state of well-being where you feel more in control and satisfied with your life.

Therapy is often focused on goal-setting, coping skills and other tools, it’s also a great option for those looking for self-improvement or growth. It does not have to be about moving from a negative place to a neutral place, it can be about continued improvement and resilience, too.

Development of Coping Skills and Strategies

In therapy, you'll discover and practice new coping skills and strategies to navigate life's difficulties. Topics often explored include:

  • Handling stressful situations with resilience
  • Understanding and managing your emotions
  • Replacing unhelpful thought patterns with constructive ones

These skills can be applied to various aspects of your life, whether personal or professional, helping to maintain mental equilibrium and foster a sense of empowerment.

Support for Relationship and Family Issues

A young couple sits on a sofa during a therapy session, holding hands and looking intently at each other as they talk, with a female therapist sitting across from them, holding a clipboard.

Therapy isn't just for individuals. Couples therapy and family therapy are designed to tackle relationship issues, providing a space for open communication and mutual understanding. 

Through therapy, you and your loved ones can work on:

  • Strengthening communication skills
  • Addressing and resolving conflicts
  • Improvement in the dynamic of your relationships

The support of a therapist in these settings can be instrumental in repairing bonds and helping all parties find common ground and trust in the shared journey towards healthy relationships.

Therapy for Specific Conditions

If you’re experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety, remember that you are not alone. Approximately 1 in 5 Canadians struggle with their mental health each year. 

If you feel that these symptoms are overwhelming or persistent, it’s a clear sign that it might be time to seek professional help—you don’t have to face these challenges alone. Online therapist directories can be helpful for finding a therapist and booking your First Session.

If you or someone you know may be in danger of self harm or suicide, please get help. Call 911 for emergencies or contact the Canada Suicide Prevention Service hotline at 1-833-456-4566 (24/7) or text 45645 (4pm to 12am ET).

Addressing Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

If you're coping with anxiety or an anxiety disorder, therapeutic strategies can help with managing those symptoms by addressing patterns in how we think and act, and how those thoughts affect our emotions and mood.

One very common technique is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This involves identifying and challenging negative thought patterns to help reduce your anxiety symptoms. For example, you might have a lot of work stress that may stem from a pattern of thinking that you are not performing well, you’re going to get into trouble, that you are unable to ask for help or say no. 

Thoughts are not facts. A therapist can help you decipher what’s real and how to act upon the facts, and how to challenge thinking that may otherwise be getting in the way of more positive choices, or your confidence. 

Anxiety can have a very real impact on our nervous system in a way that makes it difficult to remain calm and manage stress in a healthy and productive way. Somatic therapy techniques can help calm the body to clear the mind. Mindfulness therapy techniques can help to ground you in the present moment which can help with unnecessary worry.

Managing Depression and Mood Disorders

Everyone feels low sometimes. Depression that is prolonged for weeks or months without reprieve is more serious and is not likely going to be resolved without some kind of intervention. Look out for symptoms in yourself or others like:

  • Sadness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Irritability and angry outbursts
  • Lack of energy, slowed thinking or body movements
  • Trouble concentrating, making decisions or memory lapses
  • Unexplained pain, like back pain or headaches
  • Sleep disruption, either insomnia or oversleeping
  • Loss of interest in regular activities, including sex
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, ruminating on past failures
  • Reccuring thoughts of death or suicide

One common therapeutic approach or intervention for depression is interpersonal therapy (IPT). IPT focuses more on our responses to our relationships with other people. IPT is founded on a premise that difficulties in relationships contribute to psychological distress. 

IPT explores and addresses issues like unresolved grief, role transitions or confusion (such as parent/child dynamics), disputes, or gaps in important interpersonal relationships. 

Therapy can help to identify and express emotions, improve communication skills, and develop other strategies to navigate relationship challenges. Healthier communication and conflict resolution skills can lead to greater satisfaction in our relationships. This can improve our ability to cope with life’s challenges and conflicts with a healthier support system in the people around us.

Healing from Trauma and Abuse

Therapy can play a crucial role in healing from trauma and abuse. Trauma-informed therapies are specialized, and it’s important to work with a properly educated and trained professional who will be capable of avoiding further harm.

Trauma-focused therapies, such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), can help process traumatic memories so they no longer hold the same power over your emotional well-being. 

EMDR uses techniques to stimulate the brain’s natural processing capabilities, such as eye movements side-to-side, knee or shoulder tapping, or sound intervals, while working through memories or situations that are informing how we behave and think. This can create new neural pathways in the brain to help us rethink or reprocess those important formative experiences.

Strategies for Addiction and Substance Abuse

Therapy can be an invaluable tool if you’re dealing with or working through addiction or substance abuse, including alcohol and drugs.

Often there are underlying issues that are informing addiction, from abuse to emotional distress to overwhelming stress (even work stress), to issues with self-confidence or self-esteem. 

Therapy for substance abuse can be in one-on-one settings, but often this is where group therapy can be particularly useful. Group therapy provides the guidance of a trained mental health professional and a community of support that understands your challenges and can offer peer encouragement.

Therapy in Life Transitions and Crises

A family therapy session showing a young African American couple sitting together on a sofa, smiling and talking to their young daughter who stands between them, while a therapist sits nearby taking notes.

When you face significant life events, therapy can provide a structured way to navigate through the complexity of emotions you may encounter. Whether it's managing the distress of a divorce or working through the grief after a death or loss of a loved one, therapeutic support is critical for fostering resilience and promoting healing.

Navigating Changes and Grief

Grief isn't reserved for the loss of a loved one; it can also accompany significant life shifts. Experiencing life transitions such as career changes, retirement, or relocation, can unsettle your sense of normalcy. Therapy assists in acknowledging and understanding your grief, helping you to make sense of your emotions and foster a path towards adaptation.

In situations like divorce, therapy provides a safe space to express feelings of betrayal, anger, or uncertainty about the future. You'll uncover coping strategies that feel authentic to your experience, allowing you to approach transitions with greater self-awareness and confidence.

Crisis Intervention and Immediate Support

A crisis can strike abruptly, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and unprepared. During these moments, immediate support through crisis intervention therapy can help stabilise your emotions.

Therapists are equipped to help you manage the intense stress and initiate the process of recovery.

Counselling following a crisis offers quick, responsive care to help mitigate feelings of chaos and despair, allowing for a structured plan to manage the aftermath. The goal is to support you in regaining control and to begin to lay the groundwork for long-term healing, all while validating your reactions and experiences during this tumultuous time.

Overcoming Stigma and Accessing Care

In seeking therapy, you might confront challenges like stigma and financial obstacles. It's critical to understand how to navigate these barriers to benefit from mental health support.

Confronting Public and Personal Stigma

It's crucial to recognize that mental health is as important as physical health, and seeking assistance is a sign of self-awareness and strength, not weakness. 

Overcoming public, personal, or social stigma (including from religious or cultural norms and beliefs) associated with therapy can be challenging, but it is an important step toward seeking the help you need. 

Here are some strategies that may help:

  • Learn more about it. Educating yourself can demystify the process and purpose of therapy. 
  • Set boundaries. Choose who you talk to about it. You don’t have to tell those around you about therapy if it will elicit a negative response. Talking to those who are open to therapy can help normalize it.
  • Take it one session at a time. You don’t have to make a lifelong commitment. Start with one session and check in with yourself to see what you think. 
  • Focus on your own wellbeing. Remind yourself that seeking therapy is both courageous and a positive step to help with your mental health. 

Remember that therapy is a personal decision and you have every right to prioritize your wellbeing above the fear or scepticism of others.

The Role of Insurance and Affordable Therapy

One of the top-reported barriers for those wanting or needing to access mental health support is cost.

Therapy, generally, is not covered under Canadian public healthcare so most will be paying out-of-pocket for private therapy or counselling. 

One of the best options to lower or cover the cost of private counselling therapy is through workplace health benefits. In Canada, many insurance plans cover a portion of mental health services, but it's key to confirm the extent of your coverage. 

When it comes to private therapy or counselling, many therapists offer something called sliding scale fees. These are sessions priced at a lower rate than their typical session costs, and are offered to those with demonstrated financial need. 

Not all therapists offer this, but it’s a very common offering and you should not feel embarrassed to inquire. If they don’t offer something themselves, chances are they will have options to share for local subsidized care or they can recommend a professional from their network with the option available. 

Finding the Right Therapist or Mental Health Provider

Choosing the right mental health provider is foundational to your therapeutic journey. Numerous studies show that the relationship with the therapist is the number one predictor of success in therapy. This is most important, above and beyond the techniques or approaches they use, or their level of education or title. 

By looking for a therapist on First Session, you can easily filter by location, specialization, or therapy type, and watch intro videos to get to know the therapist before you reach out.

Remember that building a therapeutic relationship takes time, self-awareness and honesty. It’s okay and reasonable to plan to meet with a few therapists before deciding to work with one.

While it can be difficult to face that search, it’s a sensitive and important relationship you’re embarking on. It’s important to ensure you feel comfortable and you are honest with yourself about the signs that your relationship with your therapist is working

Here are some green flags to look for when it comes to therapist fit:

  • You feel safe
  • Communication is clear
  • You feel heard and validated 
  • You feel respected 
  • You believe they want what’s best for you
  • You don’t feel rushed
  • They challenge you to be better 
  • You start to notice positive changes after appointments

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, you will find specific information addressing common queries about therapy, from its benefits to its potential drawbacks.

What are the benefits of therapy for managing depression?

Depression is a difficult and challenging reality. Depression can be a symptom of another issue, like bipolar disorder or even physical issues like thyroid problems. Depression can also be the result of prolonged stress or despair, when symptoms like sadness or lack of interest in daily life last for more than a few weeks.

Therapy provides a supportive environment where you can discuss your feelings and thoughts, leading to improvements in symptoms and overall quality of life.

Is it reasonable to seek therapy even if one isn't facing any pressing issues?

Therapy does not have to be sought out only when we feel at our worst or are in despair. If you’re thinking of talking to someone, it’s a good time to reach out. Many people access therapy to maintain a level of mental wellbeing and resilience, or they access mental health professionals to help with greater self-improvement or growth. 

Seeking therapy can be proactive for personal growth and can help you build resilience, even if you're not experiencing urgent issues. It's a space for reflection and learning problem-solving skills.

What are some potential drawbacks of undergoing therapy?

Therapy may sometimes lead to uncomfortable emotions or require a significant time commitment. There are financial implications to consider as well.

For some, a mismatch with their therapist can be a significant drawback and it can disrupt or derail their confidence in therapy as an option to help. 

There are also situations when it’s time to end therapy. This could include your needs changing, your therapist is no longer a fit for you, or your relationship with them has soured. 

It’s okay to take breaks from therapy or try new approaches. It’s not a one-size-fits all situation, and there are many avenues to explore.  

What does research indicate about the overall efficacy of therapy?

Research consistently shows that therapy is generally effective for a wide range of psychological issues. People in therapy often see helpful changes in their lives and improvements in mental health.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, approximately 75% of people who receive psychotherapy show some benefit from it, including experiencing symptom relief and are better able to function in their daily lives. 

Some simple signs that you can look for to know if therapy is working include:

  • You are feeling better than you were before
  • You have a good relationship with your therapist 
  • You have set goals with your therapist, and you have evidence you’re meeting them
  • You are choosing new, or healthier coping mechanisms (and you feel good about it!)
  • You’re handling problems on your own, with autonomy (i.e. without your therapist)
  • You notice you’re reacting to difficult situations well, or differently than you did before
  • You’re sleeping, eating, work or social habits are flowing and fit into your lifestyle
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About the Author

Nicole Laoutaris

Nicole Laoutaris is a freelance writer and adult learning professional based in the Greater Toronto Area. She specializes in educational content for brands and companies in industries such as mental health, pet health, lifestyle and wellness, cannabis, and personal finance. Nicole holds a double undergraduate degree in Communications and Film studies from Wilfrid Laurier University, and post-graduate certificate in Corporate Communications from Seneca College. She currently lives in Hamilton Ontario with her spouse and her cat.