5 health benefits of psychotherapy

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor

When we talk about “staying healthy,” most of us, especially in the gay community, think about exercise, diet and mastering good habits like quitting smoking. But as essential as body health is mental health.

“Mental and behavioral health problems are widespread among American adults,” says William Shepard, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist with the Dallas practice of Simonsen + Shepard Behavioral Health. As recently as 2018, he says, up to 20 percent of American adults have experienced a diagnosable mental/behavioral problem such as depression, anxiety or substance abuse. And yet, “25 percent of those same adults received no [professional] help, most frequently citing affordability issues, not knowing how to access services and believing they could solve their problems on their own,” Shepard says.

Shepard practices “talk therapy,” also known as psychotherapy, a scientifically-validated approach to treating mental problems. The concept is to provide a supportive, non-judgmental and collaborative environment to work through one’s problems, improve thinking, modify behavior and “learn to live a happier and more fulfilling life.” (By contrast, counseling, he explains, can involve mental/behavioral health problems, but also such things as nutrition, finances, spirituality, etc.)

We asked Shepard to outline for us some of the benefits of psychotherapy and why mental health should be as much a part of your fitness as a trip to the gym.

1. It can help you no longer feel alone. “Many people who develop mental/behavioral health problems are reluctant to tell others about their difficulties, and this fear can be isolating. Often, those suffering with depression, anxiety, or other problems will withdraw from family and friends, making their difficulties much worse. When you connect with a skilled psychotherapist, you’ll likely feel immediate relief that you have a professional on your side who wants to help.”

2. You may realize you aren’t “crazy” after all. “Anyone who tries to tell you that mental/behavioral health problems aren’t real is, at best, misinformed and, at worst, possibly dangerous. A skilled therapist will explain the nature and extent of your problems and give you some ideas about why people develop these difficulties in the first place. Almost everyone who gets into therapy feels relieved when they learn how common their problems actually are … and realize they aren’t ‘crazy’ after all.”

3. You can begin to see “a way out.” “You’ll have the help of a trained and experienced professional, who can guide you to the type of life you want, by the path that is best suited for you. Early in treatment, a good therapist will help you set goals and will begin tracking your progress. More severe problems may require medication (e.g., antidepressants), and this can reduce some of the worst symptoms. But when thinking or behavior problems are the underlying cause of your difficulties, medication alone won’t help as much as combining it with talk therapy.”

4. You will become accountable for making changes. “Whether that means actually doing things differently, or accepting that some things aren’t going to change for you, a good therapist will hold you accountable for the goals you’ve set, and will challenge you on whether and how often you’re acting on those necessary changes.”

5. You can become a better version of yourself. “Most people who start psychotherapy and stick with it for more than a session or two report tremendous benefit from it,” Shepard says. “Many report that psychotherapy has been transformative for them: helping them to shed regret about the past, be more present in their daily lives, and be more optimistic and hopeful about the future.”

Simonsen & Shepard Behavioral Health practices in the Oak Lawn area. 214-443-7808. SSBH.care.