top of page
  • Writer's pictureJace Daily

Does Therapy Actually Work?

Updated: Feb 27

Regular counseling sessions rewire your brain to help it function better


Regular counseling sessions rewire your brain to help it function better.
Regular counseling sessions rewire your brain to help it function better.

Therapy uses your brain’s natural systems to help bring more meaning and balance to your life.


It helps your brain become more “integrated,” which is a fancy way of saying that the different parts of your brain are talking to each other and working well together. (2, 3, 8)


That’s usually when you’re feeling your best.


Therapy (sometimes referred to as talk therapy, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, or counseling) helps you process complicated situations, express conflicting emotions, establish constructive thought patterns, and view day-to-day events in the context of your greater life narrative.


Therapy reduces negative symptoms, calms stress and anxiety, and improves one's ability to function. 


Simply put: Therapy works.


Decades of research show that therapy is an effective, all-natural, brain-science-backed treatment for mental and emotional struggles of all varieties. (1, 7)


But why does therapy work? How does it make a difference?


First off, it's important to keep in mind that therapy is a partnership — a collaboration between therapist and client. It takes dedication from both to maximize positive outcomes.


Having said that, there are many different reasons therapy is effective. And there are many proven tools in the therapist toolkit. But let’s look at one specific component of therapy — the talking — that is constructive in how it shapes the brain's dynamics when used in a therapeutic setting.


The brain science behind talk therapy


Humans are storytellers by nature, so it’s not surprising that your brain thinks of life as one big story with you as the central character. (4)


The process of interpreting and managing your story requires the specializations of many different parts of the brain, including both the left and right hemispheres — especially the prefrontal cortex (PFC) on each side.


The left hemisphere is known for housing much of our language and speech functions and being able to reduce complex issues into something understandable and relatable. 


The left PFC houses a module known as the “left brain interpreter.” This little storyteller weaves together the narrative of our lives. Its job is to integrate new information with the rest of our accumulated knowledge and experience — the whole story. It puts your day-to-day experiences into context. More on that later.


Meanwhile the right hemisphere is more emotional, social and holistic. The right PFC is responsible for important functions like self-awareness and inhibition. 


As mentioned, we are at our best when the different parts of the brain are talking to each other so as to take advantage of the strengths and insights of each. A brain that works this way can process different aspects of our experiences in different parts of the brain and then integrate them together into a seamless whole. (8)


Bringing it together in a coherent manner helps to give our lives meaning and purpose while establishing goals, values, consistency and a sense of identity.


But it doesn’t always work out that way…


Getting stuck in the details


With the day-to-day grind, it’s easy to get caught up in the small details of one particular scene, forgetting the overarching plot of your story.


This is where we can get stuck. 


We can become so frustrated with what’s happening on page 237 that we completely lose sight of the greater themes and messages found in the book. We forget the challenges we overcame on pages 1-236 and we stop looking forward to all the adventures yet to come in pages 238 and beyond. 


We even worry that we no longer have control over how the rest of the story will go.


We may even stop empathizing with the protagonist of our own story because we don’t like something she or he did on this one page! 


When our brain gets flooded with strong emotions, it can disrupt communication between the left and right hemispheres.

Our emotional right brain gets flooded with strong, complicated feelings that disrupt communication between the left and right hemispheres.


We are stuck. 


Cut off from the very parts of the brain that could help set us free.


And the book starts to feel pointless…


Rediscovering our context through integration


When that happens, it's time to take a step back and reestablish a sense of context. The left brain can help with that, but only if we can get the two hemispheres back on speaking terms.


When we talk through our feelings, thoughts, and experiences in constructive ways, we activate the language centers in our left side, forcing open the barrier between hemispheres and bringing the left brain back into communication with our right brain where we’re flooded with emotion. 


This calms anxiety, reduces activity in the fear centers of the brain, and alleviates hurt from painful memories. (3, 6)


The left brain can integrate the latest emotional “flood” into the larger narrative of our lives. It allows us to interpret, understand and, with practice, regulate the strong emotions we experience in connection to past or present events and situations. 


With the two hemispheres talking to each other again, our story regains coherence and we can rediscover our sense of meaning and purpose. We can establish goals, align with our values, and find consistency and identity.


In fact, talking can open up communication pathways between many different areas of the brain resulting in better cooperation amongst systems and access to more information about your own feelings and desires when your PFC is trying to evaluate and make decisions.


“Good therapy brings unconscious drives to light and rebalances the power we give to the different beliefs, expectations, and goals that we acquired at different stages in our development." - Sarah Gingell, Ph.D. (5)

It's really kind of amazing:

  • We make sense of this hectic and complicated world… by talking about it.

  • We align our actions with our values… by talking about it.

  • We derive meaning from significant events, both the positive and the negative… by talking about it.

  • We bring awareness of our own desires and give voice to our values… by talking about it.


And these are all things that therapy is great at helping with!


Checking the story


But there's one more important step. 


You have to understand that the left brain interpreter is more concerned with telling a coherent story than it is with telling an accurate story. So, just because your brain gives you a story to make sense of the way you feel and act doesn't mean that story is always true. (4)


Why is this important?


Because our strong emotional responses are not driven by other people's words and actions. They’re driven by the stories we tell ourselves about what those words and actions mean!


The stories we tell ourselves often need to be questioned and evaluated for accuracy. That's also something therapy is great at helping with.


Our strong emotional responses are not driven by other people's words and actions, but by the stories we tell ourselves about what those words and actions mean. 

For example, the left brain interpreter doesn't always have enough information to give you an accurate story... so it may make assumptions and connections that aren't warranted. But self-reflection, mindfulness, and therapy can help uncover a narrative that incorporates feelings and preferences you may not have been fully aware of. 


As mentioned, talking brings awareness of your desires and gives voice to your values. 


Talking helps us know ourselves better.


Your therapist is your personal expert


As a social species, we depend a lot on talking. And while helpful conversations can take place with family and friends too, not all conversations lead to the kind of growth and healing that will enhance our wellbeing.


As Sarah Gingell, Ph.D. points out, “psychotherapy is a special type of enriched learning environment.” Therapy stimulates the growth and connection of neurons while regulating emotional responses. Issues which feel overwhelming, intrusive thoughts, and negative thought patterns can be brought under control. (6)


She adds that good therapy “produces physical changes in the brain that allow for better functioning, integration, and regulation of neural systems, that underpin improved mental health, especially when we are under stress.”


Therapy is a special type of enriched learning environment... [which] produces physical changes in the brain that allow for better functioning, integration, and regulation of neural systems that underpin improved mental health, especially when we are under stress. (6)

A qualified expert has years of education and experience that have prepared them to turn these talks into watershed moments for your growth and healing. They have learned how to work with the brain’s natural systems and tendencies so they can help you meet your mental health goals and live to your fullest potential. (2)


There is no substitute: Having an expert in your corner gives you an advantage.


Recovering the pen and writing your own story 


Engaging in "co-creating conversations" with your therapist gives you (and your prefrontal cortex) back the pen to keep writing your story. 


The PFC pulls together the memories, knowledge, emotions, empathy and values that are necessary for open and effective problem solving. 


It puts your brain into an optimal state for understanding yourself and making good decisions.


You regain control over your life. 


The rest of the book is yours to write…


Finding a therapist near you


Now, we’ve just barely scratched the surface of what makes therapy so effective and how it can help you take control of your life narrative.


We’d love the opportunity to talk to you about how Therapy Fort Worth can help you meet your mental health goals. 


But most of all, we hope you’ll take advantage of this natural, brain-science-backed treatment option by finding a therapist near you so that you can start living the emotionally healthy life you deserve today!


Contact us if you have any questions about therapy or click “Schedule” if you’re ready to take that first step toward growth and healing.



 

More about therapy’s effectiveness

Research overwhelmingly supports therapy’s benefits.


Decades of studies have clearly demonstrated that talk therapy, used by itself or in conjunction with other treatments, is a powerful and cost-effective way to improve your emotional well-being. These findings hold true for a broad range of ages and ethnicities, regardless of the specific mental or emotional struggles you are dealing with. (1)


Furthermore, addressing your emotional well-being has the power to boost both your physical and mental health, making therapy a great whole-person healthcare option.


We believe that therapy should always be personalized to the individual as a collaborative process with client and therapist working together toward the specific situation and goals of the client.


 

References


1. American Psychological Association (APA), (2013). Recognition of psychotherapy effectiveness. Psychotherapy, 50(1), 102–109. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0030276


2. Badenoch, B. (2008). Being a Brain-Wise Therapist, New York, W. W. Norton & Company


3. Chand, R., (2020, Feb 30). 10 Ways Talking Therapy Improves Brain Structure and Function. Well Doing. Retrieved November 19, 2023, from https://welldoing.org/article/10-ways-talking-therapy-improves-brain-structure-and-function


4. Gazzaniga, M. S. (2009). The fictional self. In D. J. H. Mathews, H. Bok, & P. V. Rabins (Eds.), Personal identity and fractures selves: Perspectives from philosophy, ethics, and neuroscience (pp. 174-185). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.


5. Gingell, S., (2020a, October 12). Why Does Anyone Need Therapy? Psychology Today. Retrieved November 19, 2023, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-works-and-why/202010/why-does-anyone-need-therapy


6. Gingell, S., (2020b, November 2). How Does Psychotherapy Change Our Brains? Psychology Today. Retrieved November 19, 2023, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-works-and-why/202011/how-does-psychotherapy-change-our-brains


7. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), (2023, January). Psychotherapies. NIMH. Retrieved November 19, 2023 from  https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/psychotherapies


8. Siegel, Daniel J., 1957-. (2010). Mindsight : the new science of personal transformation. New York: Bantam Books, [2020].

279 views0 comments

Kommentarer


bottom of page