Many people assume that therapy is intended solely for individuals experiencing severe mental health issues. I often hear clients say things like: “I’m sorry I’m wasting your time” or “My problems don’t seem bad enough for therapy” or “I know other people have it worse than I do.” These statements highlight our human tendency to compare ourselves with others, and they also highlight a common misconception about therapy, which is that therapy is only meant to treat illness.
It is true that therapy can and does help people experiencing diagnosable mental health issues; however, everyone can benefit from therapy, and everyone is deserving of therapy. Therapy can be a space to focus on symptoms, struggles, and problems, but therapy can also provide an opportunity to build wellness, insight, and self-awareness.
As a therapist, my response to the statements listed above is that everyone experiences struggle and hardship, and it can be helpful to have someone to talk through this with. Moreover, therapists are ultimately wellness focused, which means that we are not only trained to help address pain and distress, but we also want to support our clients in building healthy, meaningful, and satisfying lives. It is not uncommon for people to attend therapy because they want to build better relationships, or they want to improve their self-care, or explore how to apply their values in everyday life. The goals of therapy are variable and unique to each client, but are always viewed by the therapist as valid, important, and worthy.
It is also common for people to wonder if by attending therapy, they will be labeled with a mental health disorder. Generally, diagnoses are assigned if and when someone is experiencing symptoms that correspond with a DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) diagnosis. The diagnosis is intended to support the client and therapist in developing an appropriate treatment plan. Diagnoses also help treatment providers (therapists, physicians, psychiatrists) collaborate in their care, so that clients have consistency in their treatment process.
That being said, many people who participate in therapy do not meet criteria for a DSM diagnosis. In this instance, therapy is driven not by a specific diagnosis, but rather the constellation of goals the client and therapist have identified for treatment. These goals are co-created by the client and therapist and they may evolve and change as the therapy progresses.
If you are still uncertain about whether or not therapy is right for you, don’t be afraid to reach out to a therapist to ask them about your specific situation. Even if a therapist is unable to help you, they will likely be able to point you in the right direction. But never hesitate to engage in therapy because you don’t feel like your pain or distress is severe enough – we all need help and support in our lives, and therapy is a place where help and support are the main priorities.