5 mins

I need someone to talk to – how does therapy work?

We all need someone to talk to. Whether it’s our partner, a close friend or a family member, we all need the support of knowing there’s someone looking out for us – a listening ear to turn to when life throws us a curveball (or several).

But a therapist is much more than that.

You might be thinking “what can a therapist offer me that my friends don’t?” – and the answer is plenty. That’s not to undermine how important it is to have a solid support system of friends and family – but they offer very different things.

A psychologist is a trained mental health expert. They’ve spent their life’s work (so far!) exploring and developing insight into the human brain. In the same way you’d take your car to the garage instead of expecting your friend to fix it, when you go to therapy, you’re entrusting your mental and emotional health with someone who knows what they’re doing. 

And secondly, a psychologist provides a viewpoint that is objective. There are very few moments in life (if any) where we get insight from someone who has no vested interest, aside from our personal betterment. Even those friends with our very best interests at heart will always be bias in some way or other, simply because they’re a part of our life. 

But how exactly does therapy work?

We thought we’d delve in a little deeper to explore how therapy works and what you can look to get out of it.

How therapy works – the benefits of seeing a therapist 

Things become clearer – it’s not our fault that most of us haven’t been taught how to deal with our thoughts and feelings (especially when it comes to the difficult ones). But it means that we usually end up just trying to  “push on through”. Maybe we ignore our body’s warning signs or we stuff difficult thoughts and feelings down when they come up. Although this might work temporarily, it usually leads to more suffering further down the line. Maybe this manifests as symptoms of anxiety, depression, unhealthy eating habits, unexplained physical symptoms, fatigue… We might find ourselves always stuck in the same old story – repeating the same difficult dynamics at work, engaging in habits which don’t serve us in the long term… 

When we’ve spent a lifetime ignoring our pain, knowing what’s “up” can be confusing. Therapy brings clarity where things feel murky. Past experiences are gradually brought to the surface so old hurts can be safely witnessed and acknowledged – and then gently let go.

You get mentally “fit” – the brain is a muscle, and we need to be looking after it like all the other muscles in our body. Your therapist is like your very own personal trainer (for the mind). Just like you go to the gym to keep your body healthy, therapy helps keep you mentally fit. 

You get to understand the “why” – maybe you’ve begun to notice patterns in your life, and you’re wondering why you always end up in the same situation. What you might not know is that there’s almost always a why, and therapy can help you get there. When you begin to understand the reason why you have certain thoughts, feelings and vulnerabilities, you’ll begin to forgive yourself for them. Your therapist will help you see that thinking or behaving that way might have even served you at some point – but probably not so much anymore. Once you uncover the why, it’s much easier to release yourself from living out the same old tired patterns in life.

You’ll develop self-compassion – so many of us talk to ourselves in a way we’d never dream of speaking to a friend. In therapy, you’ll learn to be much kinder to yourself. You’ll realise that being mean serves no one – neither the people around you, but least of all yourself.

It’s an active process that creates change – many people envision being in therapy as lying on a sofa, reciting the day’s grievances… This couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to most types of therapy. Whilst your therapist will encourage you to open up and share what’s on your mind, they’ll also step in occasionally and play an active role. Ultimately, you’re looking to create meaningful change and very often that means drawing up a plan that’s going to help you get there.

You’re not just fixing whatever’s going on right now, you’re investing in your future too – therapy doesn’t just help you with your difficulties right now, it’s also about preventing the same problems from happening in the future. In therapy, you’ll develop your own toolbox of healthy coping strategies that leaves you well equipped for dealing with any issues further down the road.

Ultimately, you’re investing in you. And really, there’s no more worthy investment than that.

Dr Elena Touroni

Dr Elena Touroni

11 January 2023

"Dr. Elena Touroni is a skilled and experienced Consultant Psychologist with a track record of delivering high-quality services for individuals with all common emotional difficulties and those with a diagnosis of personality disorder. She is experienced in service design and delivery, the management of multi-disciplinary teams, organisational consultancy, and development and delivery of both national and bespoke training to providers in the statutory and non-statutory sector."

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Dr Stacie Tay

Dr Stacie Tay attained her BSc (Hons) Psychology at the University of Nottingham and worked as a psychologist at the Institute of Mental Health, Singapore, before returning to the UK to complete her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the University College London.   

Dr Tay has worked in a variety of settings within the NHS for more than eight years, including primary and secondary care, specialist psychological services and forensic inpatient settings. She currently works as a Clinical Psychologist at the North East London Foundation Trust.  

She has extensive experience working with individuals and groups, providing evidence-based psychological therapies including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Psychotherapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) and Mindfulness-based approaches as well as Schema-informed therapy.   

Dr Tay’s clinical experience involves working with people who present with a range of mild to severe mental health difficulties. This includes depression, anxiety (OCD, social anxiety, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, health anxiety, phobia-related disorders, PTSD), stress related issues, low self-esteem, complex trauma, interpersonal difficulties, grief and bereavement, and long-term health conditions.