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Personal Health

Life's Stresses Provide Plenty of Reasons to See a Therapist

Chances are you lead a busy life. Work, family, friends, hobbies -- they all make life more exciting and fulfilling, but they also provide plenty of stress. Those stresses can become good reasons to see a therapist. While everyone deals with some stress, too much stress can start to affect your work, your relationships, and the way you feel about yourself. Stress can also affect your health.

Why Not Now?

The warning signs of stress can be easy to overlook at first. Perhaps you've missed a few deadlines at your job, or you've been short with your spouse or kids. Maybe you're skipping work or family activities because of frequent headaches, stomachaches, or other symptoms. We all experience these things occasionally. When they become more frequent or start to add up, it might be time to seek help.

"People seek out therapy when something in life is not going right, and it interferes with things that are important," says Vaile Wright, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist representing the American Psychological Association (APA).

A trained professional can help you recognize and change patterns of behavior and thinking that can get in the way of a healthy and happy life. Therapy sessions can give you time to focus on your feelings and stressors, and find solutions that work for you.

Be Proactive about Your Health

Evidence shows that therapy helps more than your emotional health -- it can lead to better health overall. Stress is implicated in a host of conditions, including diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and even cancer. Treating stress by talking to a trained professional can help reduce the risk or improve the outcomes of these conditions. Dr. Wright points to a study that showed that treating depression in diabetic patients led to improvement in diabetes as well as depression symptoms.

"It's an amazing gift to yourself," says Dr. Wright. But how can you get the most out of therapy?

Find the Right Fit

To find a therapist, you can ask your primary care provider for a referral or a list of preferred providers. The APA and the publication Psychology Today also have online provider lists that allow you to search by location, areas of expertise, and insurance coverage. These listings may also include a statement from the therapist to give you an idea of their approach to therapy.

Dr. Wright suggests contacting several therapists to find one that you feel you'll work well with. Many therapists will offer a short initial visit or phone call free of charge in which you can discuss your situation and see how they respond to your reasons to see a therapist. Dr. Wright recommends asking the therapist about how they believe people can best make changes and improvements in their lives. If the answer makes sense to you, then that therapist might be a good fit.

Give the Process Time

While some people report feeling better after just a session or two, it can take a number of sessions before you start to see a real change. You and your therapist may want to set some goals for your work together, such as an increased feeling of hope or relief, a change in behavior, or a clarification of your feelings about a situation. If you don't see progress toward those goals, it may be time to re-evaluate the treatment approach.

Keep Trying

There are a lot of reasons why therapy may not work the first time you try. Working collaboratively with your therapist and your primary care provider may help you find the right treatment plan. Sometimes adding medication, exercise, meditation, group therapy, or other approaches can help improve results.

Therapy can be hard work, Dr. Wright admits, but it's worth the effort. "We have good data that therapy works," she says. Although medication may also be effective in relieving symptoms, therapy itself "gives you something that medication alone cannot: life skills and tools to deal with pressure going forward."

Posted in Personal Health

Emily Paulsen is a veteran health care writer with more than 20 years of experience. She is specifically interested in patient education, health information technology, health disparities, complementary medicine, and improving the health care experience for patients and professionals alike. Emily lives near Washington, D.C., and is a member of the National Association of Science Writers, the Association of Health Care Journalists, and the American Society of Journalists and Authors. She is a board member of ASJA and co-chair of the D.C.-area chapter.

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*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.