Thursday, June 19, 2008

Does Therapy Really Help?

Psychologists are healthcare professionals who rely upon scientific method to understand human behavior. Within a clinical setting, psychologists apply their expertise in a balanced manner, between a directive style and the recognition of the importance of allowing themselves to be more of a facilitator to help their clients help themselves. For most people, this approach allows for accurate assessment of presenting concerns and facilitation of personal growth.

As humans, we do have an innate capacity toward health. Physically, for example, if we cut ourselves, we usually heal. Sometimes, however, if there is an infection, the cut will likely fester, continuing to cause problems, until the wound is cleansed. Therapy can be considered a way to help clean festering, "emotional wounds" that are contributing to present concerns. Although we are a species that is fairly resilient, therapy is a deliberate way, however, to facilitate our resiliency, in order to allow positive change to occur sooner, rather than later.

Talking with an objective other can offer a unique perspective conducive to emotional growth. When attempting to be supportive, unfortunately, family and friends can often make inappropriate comments, like: "Forget it" or "Don't worry about it." Usually that tactic is much easier said than done. Although well-intentioned, these statements tend to serve to further alienate oneself from one's feelings. One's feelings (both pleasant and unpleasant) offer the useful purpose of guiding one in better understanding oneself. It is the misunderstanding or avoidance of feelings that is often a catalyst to undermining our innate process, which helps us to be resilient in the first place.

There is a growing recognition of the fact that "mental health is fundamental to a person's overall health, indispensable to personal well-being and instrumental to leading a balanced and productive life." This awareness likely contributes to the fact that about 15% of our country's population now use some form of mental health services in any given year. Nonetheless, despite effective treatments, according to Dr. Satcher's 1999 Surgeon General's Mental Health report, "Nearly half of all Americans who have a severe mental illness fail to seek treatment". The fact that nearly one in five Americans are affected by a mental disorder, reinforces the understanding that "few Americans are untouched by mental illness", whether directly or indirectly.

Mental illnesses range from clinical anxiety and depression to Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia. Anxiety disorders, the most common form of mental illness, affect more than 10% of Americans yearly. Almost 25% of Americans will suffer an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.

Misunderstandings about therapy have kept many from seeking timely, effective care. Similar early misunderstandings, within the medical field, for example, had also existed within the field's early years. I trust that the continued acceptance and appreciation of the discipline of psychology will dispel any residual misunderstandings about its efficacious use and appropriateness to overall healthcare.

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