Therapy can sometimes seem mysterious. How and why does it work? And how is talking to a therapist any better than talking to a friend, or from thinking on your own?
I believe that the activity, the space, and the relationship are the primary causes of success in therapy, with a pinch of an extra, unknowable something in each case.
Now, even though the activity, space, and relationship are all important, they don't always contribute equally. For one person, the relationship might be the main thing that helps them heal. For another, it might be the space. For others, it is the activity of therapy that is most important. By "activity," I mean talking about yourself and your life.
But why would this be helpful? There are a few reasons:
Talking is different than thinking. If you think about thinking, you might realize that you rarely have “full” thoughts. Many of our thought-cycles are repetitive—we’ve had them hundreds of times before—and over time they become abbreviated. Because we’re so familiar with the path, we skip from the beginning to the end. (Commercials are doing the same thing, by the way: showing you the full commercial the first few times, then only snippets after that.) By talking, we can revisit the entire thought-pattern and examine whether it still makes sense. Talking aloud also helps you hear your thought-pattern as if someone else were saying it.
Therapy is a different conversation. Most conversations are a somewhat balanced equation of speaking and listening. Indeed, to exist as a social person, you need the basic understanding that a conversation is a shared event. The only problem is that this is not the ideal arrangement for restoring mental health. Resolving one’s issues requires deep exploration into why things became the way they are. This only works if you do the majority of the talking, and if the focus and energy of the conversation is on what you need help with, right now.
Talking creates a better emotional state. Talking for 50 minutes can be a terrific physiological release. In other words, venting puts us in a better emotional state! Instead of repressing your emotions, you are able to release them, and walk away from your therapy appointment with a sense of emotional balance. While good therapy should strive for more than this, there is no reason not to appreciate this temporary benefit.
So there you have it - three reasons why it can be incredibly helpful to talk to a therapist. It's a chance to get a fresh perspective on your thought patterns, have a conversation that's all about you, and feel a sense of release.