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Why Does Therapy Work?

Updated: Jun 2, 2023

By The Rev. Dr. Graham Standish, PhD, MSW, MDiv, MA - Executive Director #tedlasso, #therapyworks, #mentalhealth, #therapyheals

I love the Apple television show, "Ted Lasso." It’s become a cultural phenomenon. Why? I think the main reason is the show’s positivity. In a time when everyone seems constantly offended and outraged, continually in conflict, always angry, and permanently polarized, the show offers hope.

The characters, despite high pressure and lots of conflicted situations, find ways to put aside division, work collaboratively, and overcome obstacles together. Ted Lasso himself responds to criticism and manipulations with self-awareness, humility, compassion, and humor. He’s a role model for how not to follow our culture down a mental health abyss that’s swallowing up so many.

It’s also interesting how the show has dealt with the mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and grief. In season 2 the team hires a therapist to help the players, coaches, and staff. Ted Lasso supports her work with everyone else, but sadly, not for himself. He derides it, calling it psychobabble.

He exemplifies an attitude held by too many people. One that’s expressed on many television shows and movies, especially detective shows: “therapy is for weak people,” “therapy is nothing but psychobabble,” “I’m handling my problems well enough,” “I don’t need to talk about this crap,” “therapists get paid to pretend they care,” yada, yada, yada.

Ted goes to a therapy session, but then tells her that therapy is for losers and storms out. Eventually he returns, only to storm out again. Finally, days later he returns and recognizes that the problem isn’t therapy but his fear of confronting his inner woundedness over his divorce, the team’s losses, his own loneliness, and unresolved issues regarding his father’s suicide. Therapy changes him for the better. "Ted Lasso" the show is brilliant at showing both the resistance to counseling we all have, and the healing that counseling brings, which makes their lives better.

So how and why does therapy work?

  • Therapy is a relationship, and like all relationships it takes time. Ever hear someone say, usually in a cranky voice, “I went to therapy for two or three sessions. It didn’t do me any good!” Well,… they’re right. Therapy generally doesn’t “work” in the first two or three sessions. Why? Because the therapist uses those sessions primarily to establish a relationship. A good therapist wants to make sure you can trust her or him and that you feel safe. She or he will offer insights, but the deeper ones come later when the client is ready to trust. When we bail after two or three sessions, we’ve bailed before the trusting, caring relationship can be set.

  • Therapy heals, but we have to be ready to do what leads to healing: Another reason people leave therapy before it can make an impact is that they’re simply not ready for therapy. They aren’t willing to face their struggles, explore their pain, and examine their wounds. It takes a lot of mental, emotional, and spiritual courage to go to therapy for healing. This means that therapy isn’t something that someone does to us, but it’s something we engage in. The healing comes out of the relationship.

  • Therapy helps uncover hidden wounds so they can be healed. All of us carry unhealed, hidden wounds. We’re just not very aware of them, nor of their impact on us, yet they influence our thinking, emotions, behavior, work, and relationships. This is true of everyone. We’ve all had difficult experiences in our past. Ignoring then often means they influence us in potentially harmful ways. We react to them almost automatically, meaning we’re not choosing how to live but reacting to life instinctively or impulsively. A good therapist (like ours) helps us recognize our hidden wounds, explores them with us, and then helps us heal.

  • Therapy identifies and replaces unhealthy and destructive ways of thinking. The most basic therapy all therapists are trained in is something called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Most of us have some sort of trigger(s) in life we react to in unhealthy ways that lead to unhealthy relationships and/or lives. CBT helps us identify emotional triggers, determine the emotions they spark in us and why, articulate the sometimes distorted thoughts we develop in response, and recognize how these often lead to troublesome acts that harm our lives. CBT helps us think differently in response to triggers, which then results in choosing healthier ways of reacting. It’s very hard to find these connections on our own, but a good therapist helps us change how we act so that we can live life more intentionally.

  • Therapy frees us to choose how we want to live. A key component of therapy is freedom—freedom from the pain of past experiences, freedom from unhealthy emotions and thoughts, freedom from life patterns that trap us, and freedom from living life reactively. Yet it all begins with the slow process of building a healing relationship with our therapist.

At Samaritan, we are always ready to help people heal and forge renewed lives.

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