John's Blog

The Blog of John Gibson, PhD

The Blog of John Gibson, PhD

Does Therapy Always Help?

If this were an infomercial, I’d promise that therapy can help anyone, anytime, anywhere, and I’d guarantee results in thirty days or your money back.

But this isn’t a commercial and I’m not trying to sell you anything.

Frankly, therapy is work. When it comes to making your life better, effortless change is a myth. If you want distress to stop, you’ll have to direct your attention to your inner life, your relationships, and your actions. You’ll have to seek new insights into who you really are, and you’ll have to tolerate the anxiety that invariably comes from giving up old patterns and trying new ones.

Still with me? I hope so. Because therapy works for most people, most of the time. Research consistently shows that people who undergo therapy are better off than approximately 75-80 % of the people who don’t (but have comparable problems or concerns). Frankly, therapy results may not be be guaranteed, but these are pretty good odds.

Only you know what it’s like to be to you. But if you’re like most of us, you will not always see yourself clearly. This is where a therapist can help you. A therapist will listen carefully to you and work very hard to understand you and your situation from your point-of-view. But after getting to know you, he or she will have insights about you that you may not have had. These insights, by the way, are informed by psychological knowledge and clinical experience.

Sometimes I get e-mails from people who are surfing the web, looking for answers. Maybe they want therapy, or maybe they’re just sending out an S.O.S. to let somebody know that they’re struggling. I always write back and invite them to call my office if they are serious about starting therapy. Often, I don’t hear back from them. (The person who is serious about starting therapy is more apt to pick up the phone in the first place and make an appointment.) But I always wonder about the e-mailer I never hear back from. Did they find another therapist? Did they find a solution? Did they decided to bear the status quo for a little longer? Or were they doubtful about whether therapy--the so-called “talking cure”--could actually help them?

Again, if this were an infomercial, I’d say yes, absolutely, results guaranteed. But I tend to believe people are smarter than that. They know infomercials prey on their frustrations and secret wishes for easy, fast results. Better, I say, to tell the truth. Therapy can help, but only if you’re willing to invest in the process.