- Therapy gives people an outlet to talk to about their lives and struggles, and can help them process their feelings.
- We asked 14 people to name the No. 1 thing they learned during therapy.
- Their answers contained several valuable life lessons for anyone needing a change of perspective.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
People go to therapy for all kinds of reasons, including the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, or a mental health issue.
To that point, one in five adults will experience mental illness this year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and approximately 46 million adults in the US manage a mental illness every day.
Therapy gives people an outlet to talk to about their lives and struggles, and can help them process their feelings with an objective party. According to a 2018 survey by the Barna group, 42% of American adults have seen a counselor at some point, and another 36% say they are open to it.
“If you are tired of the way things are but aren’t sure how to approach change, call a therapist,” Elisabeth Goldberg, a marriage and family therapist, told Business Insider in an email. “Accepting help is not a weakness, but a strength. Change is treatment for the soul, and therapists are doctors for change.”
We asked people to share the best thing they learned from therapy, and their answers contained several valuable life lessons for anyone needing a change of perspective. Some subjects interviewed were given permission to use their first names only in order to protect their anonymity.
Here’s what they had to say.
‘Prioritising mental health is just as important as physical health.’
Tatiana Skomski, 25, told Business Insider that she’s suffered from anxiety for as long as she can remember, something she writes about on her blog.
She realised she had deeper issues to work through and decided to seek an outside perspective to help get to the root of them.
Skomski was also diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2015 at the age of 20 and found that learning how to live with a chronic illness was difficult, but therapy has helped her come to terms with it.
“The No. 1 thing I have learned through going to therapy is that prioritising mental health is just as important as physical health,” she said. “Facing these issues head-on has shown me that had I just kept pretending I was fine or ignoring the problems, they would have come up later in life, and, in turn, been much worse.”
Thanks to therapy, she said she has a lot more perspective when looking at situations or problems that come her way.
“I can take a step back and really evaluate what is worth feeling stress over and what isn’t,” Skomski said.
‘The main thing I’ve learned with therapy is to listen to myself.’
Chloe Vallencia, 28, started going to therapy because she felt bad every day and couldn’t understand why.
“I felt like I couldn’t really interact with my environment anymore,” she told Business Insider in an email. “The main thing I’ve learned with therapy is to listen to myself.”
As an entrepreneur who runs the site CoupleGift.com, she is always busy doing something, she said, but found it challenging to take breaks. Her therapist helped Vallencia find time to do so, such as making time to draw, something she hadn’t done in years.
“These moments help me to refocus on myself,” she said. “I feel like I have managed to balance my personal and professional life.”
‘The No. 1 thing I learned in therapy is to always hold yourself accountable.’
Panic attacks and anxiety that became unmanageable led 28-year-old Brian Kearney to start going to therapy, he told Business Insider in an email.
“The No. 1 thing I learned in therapy is to always hold yourself accountable,” he said. “Nobody will be watching you 24/7 or fight your battles for you, so it’s crucial you act with integrity and by your personal code of conduct with no regard for others’ opinions of you.”
Kearney said that holding himself accountable has helped him professionally and personally: This has resulted in fewer anxiety and panic attacks, increased work performance, a rise in respect from others, and higher self-esteem.
“I’ve learned that once you take full responsibility for your actions and choices, responsibilities, and your goals, you can achieve anything important to you,” he said.
‘The No. 1 most revealing and life-changing thing I gained from therapy is learning how to process the death of my mother.’
Shaquanna Chappelle, 33, experienced a lot of life changes at one time, she told Business Insider: marriage, a new job, and buying a home for the first time. She said she “didn’t feel right” and was beginning to feel sad, not motivated, and off-balance.
In 2013, when her employer offered free therapy sessions, she decided to give it a try, and she’s still going to therapy today.
“The No. 1 most revealing and life-changing thing I gained from therapy is learning how to process the death of my mother,” Chappelle said. “My mum died when I was 8 years old from breast cancer, and I always walked around with shame and bitterness, mainly because I never understood it or processed what it really meant at such a young age.”
Her therapist gave Chappelle an assignment to write a letter to her mum, telling her everything she’d want her to know.
By the end of the letter, Chappelle realised her purpose – helping women gain confidence through image coaching, speaking, and mentoring young girls – was a part of her mum’s legacy.
“Thanks to my therapist encouraging me to write that one letter, I no longer clam up when talking about my mum to others,” she said. “Knowing that I’m carrying her spirit and making an impact on the world has been a huge part of my healing process.”
One woman said therapy helped her stop ‘worrying or thinking about things that were totally out of my control.’
When she was suffering with depression, Amy Elisabeth, 30, sought out a therapist.
“Outwardly, I don’t think people would have thought I was depressed, but I was very good at hiding my true feelings,” she told Business Insider in an email. “I was doing fun things and getting absolutely no enjoyment from them – one day I would be fine and the next day I would be down and in tears for no actual reason.”
She said the No. 1 thing she learned from her first stint of therapy was the importance of mindfulness.
“I have practiced it nearly every day – whether it’s in the form of meditation, a body scan, or doing a specific activity mindfully,” she said. “It has shown me that I used to constantly be worrying or thinking about things that were totally out of my control and I wasn’t living in the moment. Mindfulness brings you back to the now and helps you appreciate and enjoy the small things that are going on around you every day – and can improve your sleep, too.”
One man said an exercise recommended by his therapist helped him ‘reframe thoughts’ and overcome feelings of loneliness.
Leon Mueller, 32, cofounder of the digital therapy app Bloom, told Insider he realised he needed help when he found himself going through a depressive period after he moved from London to Berlin and wasn’t sure if he’d made the right decision.
He said his therapist introduced him to techniques for cognitive behavioural therapy “to help me reframe my thoughts.”
In one exercise, he overcame feelings of loneliness by writing down the name of everyone he knew in his social network in Berlin, helping him realise he’d met more people than he’d realised.
Mueller used the same technique when moving to Barcelona a few years later, and it helped him feel less lonely.
“Since then, I’ve become a big fan of therapy and CBT exercises that help reframe thoughts to live a happier or healthier life,” he said.
‘Whatever we’re healing from, whatever we’re worried about, and whatever troubles us — it’s all valid.’
Sonya Matejko, 28, a writer and yoga teacher, started going to therapy because she wanted to understand herself better, work on her self-worth, and explore ways to alleviate the anxiety she was living with.
Initially, she went to one-on-one therapy, but when she switched jobs, her insurance plan changed too, leading her to try group therapy.
“After the first day of going to group therapy, I walked away wondering if my problems were ‘big enough’ to be there,” she told Business Insider in an email.
A few weeks later, she unravelled the most significant lesson she got out of group therapy: “Whatever we’re healing from, whatever we’re worried about, and whatever troubles us – it’s all valid,” she said.
From being in a room with women who were just as strong as they were vulnerable, Matejko said she realised that no one is really alone in what they’re going through.
“It’s when we talk about what troubles us in a brave space that we can begin to humanize our issues to make them, at least a little, less daunting,” she said. “Through group therapy, I learned that I wasn’t just worthy of therapy, but I was worthy of healing.”
‘The No. 1 thing I have learned is that my voice matters.’
Rachel, 55, began going to therapy on the advice of her doctor, who asked Rachel if she’d had a traumatic childhood.
“I had been feeling really down, sad, and, I guess depressed for a few months and couldn’t shake it off,” she told Business Insider. “There was no obvious reason, as my life was and is very good.”
Reluctantly, she made an appointment to see a therapist, she said, and it turned out to be the best thing she could have done for herself at the time. Now, she’s been going to therapy for about 18 months.
“The No. 1 thing I have learned is that my voice matters, after a childhood where my voice was ignored or screamed down by mother,” Rachel said. “Mainly due to my mother’s own trauma, I had shrunk to a smaller, more muted version of who I was and was meant to be.”
Her therapist suggested that Rachel start journaling.
“I have started to find my voice, speak out, and ‘accidentally’ discovered a love of writing,” she said.
She started a website to share stories and memories of her childhood and to serve as a reminder that there were happy memories, too.
“Finding my voice through writing has also helped me process my thoughts and help others heal, too,” she said.
‘It’s OK not to be OK.’
After experiencing a lot of trauma – including getting divorced, her mother being diagnosed with breast cancer, and her son being shot and nearly losing his life – author Yassin Hall said the best decision she made was to see a therapist.
“I needed to talk about the hurt and pain, learn ways to cope, and exercise control and power over my past rather than it having power over me,” she told Business Insider. “The best piece of advice that I received during my ongoing sessions was that ‘it’s OK not to be OK.'”
Hall said that with the many layers of trauma in her life that needed peeling away, she doesn’t take seeing a mental health therapist lightly.
“I am committed to the process and have learned that it can’t be rushed, because my mind had been replaying more than 35 years of painful events,” she said.
‘The most impactful lesson I learned from going to therapy was to treat myself like I’d treat my best friend.’
Erin, a 26-year-old writer, began going to therapy in 2013 when she finally decided the way she was feeling on a daily basis wasn’t acceptable, she told Business Insider.
“I was tired of feeling waves of sadness for no reason, and I was through with my thoughts spiraling through my mind like a tornado,” she said.
Erin said she’s a naturally outgoing and cheery person, and the constant tears and depression weighing on her were standing in the way of her being her best self.
“The most impactful lesson I learned from going to therapy was to treat myself like I’d treat my best friend,” she said. “My entire life, I was plagued with negative self-talk: I judged myself for my every move, focused on my shortcomings, and felt worthless.”
But that all changed when her therapist asked: “What would you say to your best friend if she was going through this?” This was an epiphany moment for her, Erin said.
“The hurtful thoughts that filled my head were things I would never say to people I cared about,” she said. “It would tear me apart if someone spoke to my loved ones the way I was speaking to myself. From that moment on, I started to counter my cruel internal monologue with the question, ‘Would I say this to someone I love?'”
‘I’ve learned to accept that it’s OK to feel my feelings and that they are valid, but I need to be responsible for the actions I take.’
Chris Cooper, 37, said he initially started going to therapy because of issues communicating with people, including his wife, as well as dealing with the loss of a family member.
“I think what I’ve learned that’s helped me the best is coping strategies that allow me to sit with my depression, but have also allowed me to get out of those valleys quicker than before,” he told Business Insider in an email. “Pre-therapy, I’d likely sit in a depression episode for a long stretch of time. Therapy has helped me express and make sense of what’s going on.”
Now, rather than sit in a negative space, Cooper practices things that bring him joy or enable him to get out of his own head, he said, including journaling and gratitude journaling.
“I’ve learned to accept that it’s OK to feel my feelings and that they are valid, but I need to be responsible for the actions I take,” he said. “I can’t bottle them up or keep them in my ‘pressure cooker.'”
‘Don’t listen to the passengers on the bus.’
Amy Waterman, a dating and relationship coach, started going to therapy to get help processing a relationship that was beginning to fall apart. She said the most important thing she learned was: “Don’t listen to the passengers on the bus.”
In other words, imagine you’re trying to drive a bus, she said, but your passengers keep shouting at you: “You’re a failure!” “You don’t know what you’re doing!” “We’ll never get anywhere at this rate!”
“Your passengers are all the negative thoughts in your mind, clamoring for attention,” Waterman said. “You can’t kick them off the bus. But what you can do is keep driving. Focus on getting to where you want to go. Don’t let your passengers distract you.”
‘The only thing we can control is ourselves, and our reactions to things.’
Lindsey Metselaar, 29, began going to therapy for her depression. In addition, she wasn’t getting along with immediate members of her family, and her aim was to better understand herself and to work on those relationships.
“The No. 1 thing I’ve learned from therapy is that the only thing we can control is ourselves, and our reactions to things,” she told Business Insider in an email. “We create bigger issues by giving them a reaction.”
Before going to therapy, she said her mindset was more negative – she would think things like “This person can’t give me what I need.” After being in therapy, she has learned to have a more positive mindset.
“Instead of ‘This person can’t give me what I need,’ I think, ‘This person is giving me what they are capable of,” Metselaar said. “Through therapy, I’ve learned to accept the things I cannot change about people and be happier as a result. If I want something to change, I have to change myself and the habits or ways I’ve been reacting to a situation.”
‘Everything eventually works out.’
Joseph, 43, told Business Insider he struggled with extreme anxiety for many years.
“It got worse to the point that I used to have up to nine panic attacks in a day, and my entire life – from social relationships to work – was badly affected,” he said. “It was at this point that I decided it was time to see a therapist.”
He’s been seeing a therapist for about four months.
“I’ve learned so many things from therapy, but one thing that stands above the rest is this: Everything eventually works out,” he said. “As cliché as the phrase sounds, it has been the most effective in helping me handle anxiety.”
Joseph said that with hours of reflection, discussions with his therapist on the phrase, and applying it in his daily life, it led to a life-transforming paradigm shift.
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