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Do I need therapy? A psychologist explains why some people might not

clinical psychologist Emily Edlynn says not everyone needs therapy to deal with depression and anxiety. (Getty Images)
clinical psychologist Emily Edlynn says not everyone needs therapy to deal with depression and anxiety. (Getty Images)

This story is the first part of our new mental health series. Find out more here.

Mental health problems like anxiety and depression have been rising since the pandemic, especially among children and teenagers.

Everywhere you look now, there are ads boasting the benefits of therapy. But does everyone really need therapy to cope?

Clinical psychologist Emily Edlynn says no. She wrote an advice column for The Washington Post titled, “Not everyone needs therapy.”

“I worry in our current culture, there’s this wellness movement and wellness industry that’s feeding us this message that we’re supposed to feel good or be happy all the time,” Edlynn says. “And that is not emotional health. Emotional health is being able to feel a range of emotions and cope with them.”

4 questions with Emily Edlynn

Who needs to see a therapist? 

“We use the term ‘significant impairment in functioning’ as one of the criterion that needs to be met for a diagnosis. And that refers to something not working well in life, whether that’s [being] unable to perform at work, having unhealthy, damaging personal relationships or not being able to do your daily activities regularly, like get out of bed.”

What resources can help people learn coping skills besides seeing a therapist? 

“We are living in a time of unprecedented access to support and resources that we just didn’t have before. So I think it’s a really exciting time to feel empowered, to not need to go to a therapist’s office necessarily.

“Groups can be more powerful than individual therapy when you’re managing a difficult life situation such as grief. I think that even podcast episodes can be helpful in understanding therapeutic concepts or ways to promote our own personal growth in areas that are important to us. We have more access to experts than ever before and it’s free.

“For decades, certain approaches have been studied. Cognitive behavioral therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy are two of the most well-supported therapy interventions. But I have to tell you, they are not rocket science. They’re pretty easy to use and learn. There are these workbooks that have been created by experts in the field and some of them are more general such as ACT for Anxiety, whereas others are really specific. I think if you just do a search, it’s worth trying to do some of these workbooks on your own to learn skills.”

How can being in therapy for too long can be harmful for some people?

“I think if there’s not forward movement in therapy, it’s not benefitting. And I have had this talk with my own clients when I see a major plateau. Maybe we’ve worked together for a long time, and there has been progress and improvement and then it’s plateauing. It’s not a good use of time or resources. We also know that there’s a shortage of mental health providers and long waiting lists right now, and I want to make sure that the people who need it most are able to get into the services.”

How does a coach compare to a therapist? 

“We have parenting coaches, career coaches who will be more specific if you’re feeling stuck in your professional life or you’re struggling in your family life. There are ways that you can narrowly focus on that, that don’t require therapy. You’re not suffering on an individual level in a way that’s getting in the way of your life, but you would like these parts of your life to be better or to improve.  I think coaches can offer that. Now, therapists can be coaches and offer coaching services, but coaches don’t have to be therapists.”

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Samantha Raphelson produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Catherine Welch. Raphelson also adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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