How Therapy Can Improve Your Life
Life is hard.
We all struggle at some point, and we all could use some extra support during those times. Despite how you feel, it is OK to not be OK.
Admitting you need help to get through the storm is a strong, smart decision. Treatment is not an easy path; therapy takes time, energy and courage. It requires a commitment to self-examination and a willingness to put up with short-term discomfort, but it is one of the best ways to improve your life. It’s also incredibly rewarding and even an action as simple as making an appointment can make you feel better.
But on the other side of the work, on the other side of the self-searching and commitment, a beautiful, fulfilling life awaits you. The right therapist can help you process your feelings, find solutions and change behavior patterns that may be stopping you from achieving self-confidence, reaching your life improvement goals and finding true happiness. This article examines how therapy can improve your life.
How Therapy Can Improve Life
Therapy Helps You Identify Your Triggers & Avoid Them
Triggers are the external circumstances or events that incite negative feelings and behaviors, such as anxiety, panic or anger. You may be familiar with this term if you or somebody you love is suffering from addiction, as identifying and avoiding triggers that set off drug use is a common tactic in combating addiction.
There are many different types of triggers that set off a wide variety of symptoms. Triggers are part of the human experience and learning about them can help you live a healthier and happier life. Here are some examples:
Emotional triggers. You’ve never felt “enough” for your mother; nothing you do ever seems to please her. Just her presence at your house for Thanksgiving dinner brings about childlike feelings of inadequacy and ineptitude. Whether your partner makes a snide comment or your mom gives you a glare, you snap, the behavioral result of mom’s presence.
Addiction triggers. Longtime smokers will tell you how difficult it is to quit, especially when they do something they’ve always associated with smoking, such as driving or talking on the phone. Other addictions can be triggered by your environment — for example, if you’re trying to quit drinking, you probably shouldn’t hang out in bars, because that can heighten the desire to drink (also known as an “exposure trigger”).
Trauma triggers. The brain forms a connection between a stimulus and the feelings associated with a past trauma. For example, say you were abused in your childhood by a man who wore a certain type of cologne. Years later, smelling that cologne could trigger the feelings of panic and helplessness that you experienced during the abuse. This is also called re-experiencing.
Psychiatric/mental health triggers. Eating disorders, self-harming behavior, depression — these psychiatric illnesses and many more can be triggered by outside influences. Say someone who is struggling to keep her bulimia under control overhears another person making fun of overweight people — that could trigger binge-purge behavior.
How can therapy help?
A licensed therapist is trained to help you identify triggers and develop strategies to avoid them. Since it’s not possible to avoid them entirely, they will also help you learn how to cope with triggers, so you aren’t at their mercy.
What does this look like? Therapy can teach you how to:
- Identify what may trigger you
- Accept responsibility for your reaction to the trigger
- Ask for what you need from others to avoid your triggers
- Set up healthy boundaries for your emotional and physical health
- Detach from a situation when necessary and choose a healthier response
Let’s say, for example, your drinking has become a problem. In therapy, your counselor may use resources from The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to identify what makes you want to drink and help you develop the necessary coping skills to maintain sobriety. From the workbook:
If drinking changes the way a person acts, thinks, and feels, [you] need to begin by finding out what situations you are most likely to drink in and what you are thinking and feeling in those situations. We call these high-risk situations. What we want to find out is what kinds of things are triggering or maintaining your drinking. Then we can try to develop other ways you can deal with high-risk situations without drinking.
Regardless of what your triggers are and how they affect you, in therapy, you’ll learn ways to stop the trigger from blossoming into progressively worse levels of anxiety and destructive behavior. This takes work, of course, but it is possible to develop strategies that leave you stronger and more confident in your ability to effectively manage triggers when they come up.
Therapy Helps to Identify Core Beliefs Holding You Back
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.” Henry Ford
We’re all operating under a set of beliefs that we learned in childhood. These are called core beliefs — the ideas and assumptions we hold about ourselves, other people and the world at large. These beliefs are always bubbling under the surface, affecting us, driving us, influencing how we think, feel and act. They become a set of self-fulfilling prophecies that limit what we believe we can achieve and how happy we think we deserve to be.
Some examples of negative core beliefs that may be holding you back in life include:
- You can’t trust anyone
- Women should be thin
- All men lie
- Women are backstabbers
- You should stick by family, no matter what
- You’ll never amount to much
- You’re not smart
- You need a partner to be happy
- You’re not cut out for that job
- You’re not good enough
How can therapy help?
Therapy enables you to identify the core beliefs that are keeping you from achieving your goals or simply being happy. A trained counselor pays attention to how you speak, noting when you use absolutes like “that’s impossible,” “everybody always” or “no one should.” They also look to see how you speak of yourself. You likely hold beliefs about yourself that you don’t even realize are limiting you.
What a Therapist does
Your therapist may walk you through a series of questions designed to identify core beliefs. These questions may include:
- Why do you think you are struggling with X?
- Why do you think others do or don’t struggle with X as well?
- Do you think you are smart/pretty/competent? Why or why not?
- Are people good or bad?
- Is the world kind and loving or scary and dangerous?
Once you know which core beliefs may be holding you back, you and your therapist can examine where they came from and how to dispel them. Choose a “stretch goal” with your therapist — something that will get you closer to your overall goal, but which you can take in baby steps as you challenge the long-held beliefs that are limiting you. As you do this work in therapy and reach smaller milestones, you build the self-confidence that’s necessary to challenge negative core beliefs.
This is a part of a larger therapeutic approaches or intervention known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), in which you develop coping strategies aimed at changing thoughts, beliefs and attitudes that don’t serve you. A therapist trained in CBT techniques can guide you as you change the negative thinking and behavior that is keeping you from success and happiness.
Group Therapy Provides a Built-in Support System
As you look into treatment, you will likely find different types of therapy and an option for group therapy. Just as it sounds, in group therapy, several people with similar issues and goals get together under the guidance and direction of a therapist. The goal of group therapy is to change your behavior, as opposed to joining a support group, in which the goal is to better cope with a particular problem.
Group therapy has a number of benefits, including:
- Trust. There’s a bond among people who have gone through similar experiences and share common obstacles, a level of trust among peers that are unlike any other.
- Support. You receive emotional and practical support from the group’s members. Other people have been where you are now and have experienced the same symptoms.
- Hope. Because the group contains members at different stages of therapy, senior members can share stories of hope with newer members.
- Feedback. The group’s observations and feedback become an integral part of your personal journey. If your therapist observes something, you might be apt to brush it off, thinking she doesn’t know what she’s talking about — but if all eight or 10 members of your group observe the same thing, that’s a little harder to brush off.
- A sense of belonging. You can see that you’re not the only one going through this and you are not alone.
- You begin to learn how to relate to others in healthy ways. If you’re having trouble understanding why your relationships aren’t successful, you may learn from the group’s members in ways you could never have spotted on your own.
There’s an additional benefit of group therapy: You might make meaningful friendships that can be an invaluable source of love and encouragement even long after treatment ends. Such friendships form a vital support system that helps us in every area of our lives — mentally, physically and spiritually. Having people you can lean on in good times and bad is critical.
To get the most out of group therapy:
- Be honest and forthcoming. Make an effort to be an active participant in the group. Don’t monopolize the discussion every time, but let people in.
- Learn how to give — and receive — feedback. This is one of the biggest benefits of the group dynamic. Pay attention to what your peers have to say. They can often see attitudes and behaviors in you well before you can recognize them in yourself. Give thoughtful feedback as well.
- Don’t assume what others are thinking or feeling. When in doubt, ask.
- Follow the rules set forth by the counselor. There’s not much to add to that.
A word about addiction
Participating in both group therapy and a support group has proven especially beneficial for those who think they may have a drug or alcohol problem. While there are a number of factors that go into why someone has an addiction, decades of research and experience shows that the group dynamic is especially helpful here.
If you or someone you love is suffering from addiction, you can find group therapy/intensive outpatient treatment by visiting:
- National Helpline of The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- The National Institute on Drug Abuse
- Faces & Voices of Recovery
Millions of people worldwide have found lasting recovery via the following 12-step groups, faith-based groups and other community-based support groups. Participation in these groups is free. You may wish to look into:
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- Cocaine Anonymous
- Crystal Meth Anonymous
- Heroin Anonymous
- Celebrate Recovery
- Smart Recovery
Therapy Helps You Develop & Maintain Good Habits
When we’re facing problems such as extreme stress, depression, anxiety, grief or a particularly traumatic breakup, it’s easy to let up on the things we need to do to take care of ourselves and, it’s not always easy to recognize that this is what we’re doing. In addition, for whatever reason, some of us never developed the habits we need to maintain good emotional and physical health in the first place. Therapy can rectify that by helping you develop healthy habits to improve your life.
A competent therapist can help you identify areas of self-care that need improvement. A professionally trained and objective third party is vital to this process. The goals of self-care are to:
- Establish habits that promote good physical and emotional health
- Reduce stress and add more balance to your life
- Increase your joy and achieve your goals
So what does self-care look like? It will be a little different for everyone, but here’s a general idea:
- If you’re taking meds, take them as prescribed
- Attend your treatment sessions; don’t skip because your symptoms are getting better
- Get out and about — don’t isolate
- Stick to a regular sleeping schedule
- Exercise, eat right and practice good hygiene
- Attend support groups regularly
- Experiment with what brings you joy — for example, listen to new types of music, meditate, attend a drum circle, plant a garden
- Keep a journal
- Make a vision board
- Get your nails done or treat yourself to a massage
Self-care is especially important for those suffering from depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse disorders and PTSD, as well as those who are coming to terms with violence or abuse. That’s because a lack of energy and motivation is common in those illnesses and situations, as is a sense of self-loathing. These can prevent sufferers from taking proper care of themselves.
Self-care not only improves our lives, but it improves the lives of those close to us. In their book, Work and Family – Allies or Enemies?: What Happens When Business Professionals Confront Life Choices, authors Stewart D. Friedman and Jeffrey H. Greenhaus discovered a positive correlation between the time that working mothers spent practicing self-care and the physical and mental health of their children.
Once you and your therapist identify which healthy habits you’re lacking, set up a plan to incorporate them in your life. A therapist serves as an excellent accountability partner in this regard.
Explore Online Therapy With ThriveTalk
Everybody needs help sometimes. Get help if you experience:
- Symptoms of depression
- A desire to change something about your life
- Anxiety that interferes with your ability to carry out normal activities
- Self-destructive, abusive or violent behavior
- Behavior associated with eating disorders
- Grandiose ideas, periods of mania or hyperactivity
- A history of sexual abuse
- Compulsive behaviors such as substance abuse or excessive shopping, gambling or sexual activity
- Inability to move through grief
It’s important to note that therapy isn’t limited to people experiencing the above symptoms. Therapy can help in a number of “life” situations, too, such as when you want to:
- Resolve relationship problems
- Stop picking abusive or emotionally unavailable partners
- Grow in your career and stop underachieving
- Develop more self-esteem and self-confidence
- Overcome shyness and isolation
- Transition from one stage of life to another
- Find someone to talk to about life’s challenges
- Ensure a better quality of life
ThriveTalk provides online therapy or online counseling services for those who prefer teletherapy and are ready and willing to explore their issues with a licensed therapist. ThriveTalk provides therapy when and where you want it.
Are you ready to learn what’s stopping you from becoming truly self-confident and living the life of your dreams? Schedule an online therapy session with a qualified counselor who can help you identify and correct what’s holding you back from success and happiness. Contact us to set up an appointment for online counseling therapy with ThriveTalk. Get started today.