Why Does Therapy Work?

“As a therapist, I get to help people change their stories.” -Lori Gottlieb, Therapist, Author

There has been a lot of publicity about therapy these days. People are speaking about their therapy experiences on podcasts and radio shows, writing books about it, and being real about therapy on social media. You might consider this to be a golden age of therapy, as the information that is being presented is very positive. Basically, the gist is, ‘therapy works’. Being in therapy can significantly improve one’s life, and often helps to save lives. This is a strong contrast to the stigma surrounding mental health that has discouraged people from going to therapy in the past. However, despite the shift, this stigma still exists in many places and communities. Therefore, it is important to find ways to educate people on the benefits of therapy so there is increased knowledge about when to get help and how to get the most out of the therapeutic relationship.

I have been in the business of therapy for close to 20 years now. I don’t practice traditional ‘psychotherapy’, but I do draw on many of the principles. My work incorporates creative expression through arts therapy and a ‘somatic’ perspective which is mindfulness based. Somatic therapy pays special attention to body sensations and movement in tandem with emotions, thoughts and memory. Over my years of practice, I have witnessed profound changes in people’s lives in the therapeutic setting. My role is important in the process, but true growth happens when the client commits to their healing work in and out of the session.

In observance of Mental Health Awareness Month (which began in May 1949), I am honoring the incredible support I have received over the years from skillful therapists, and all the clients I have had the privilege to work with.

Here are a few principles I’ve abided by while practicing therapy, teaching art therapy skills, and supporting people to courageously explore their life stories through a creative and somatic orientation.


1) Awareness is first and foremost. We need to look at our lives with honesty and clarity. It can be hard to face reality especially if it is painful, but it is the key to change. When we acknowledge what we are struggling with (e.g., depression, substance use, relationship or job stress, etc.) then we can start understanding the deeper issues and make choices to help us heal. Awareness might bring us into therapy, or allow us to start making real progress in the work.


2) Along with awareness we need compassion. When confronting the past, or unhealthy behaviors in our lives, it is easy to fall into self-criticism. When we judge ourselves, or feel judgment from others the inclination is often to shut down rather than work towards health. Having a compassionate guide/therapist provides a safe space to explore the complexity of life situations.


3) When you work with a therapist, you are cultivating a relationship with someone who will listen and be present for all aspects of who you are. Therapy sets up a special opportunity to learn how to be more intimate with another person. Therapy may trigger difficult exchanges from other relationships which can be explored, or there may be positive regard for the therapist which encourages trust and connection.


4) Taking action to effectively make change in our daily lives is paramount to effective therapy.  Even though there are times when therapy is simply about building awareness about one’s inner life, we eventually need to find tools to practice new behaviors. These actions steps might be setting boundaries with others, taking risks to try new things, creative exercises to enhance self-esteem and/or somatic exercises that increase vitality or lower stress. 

Mental health is as vital to each of us as physical health. Please do all you can to care for your own mental health as well as others. 

Want to learn more about my work as a therapist? CLICK HERE

Image: Therapy is Not a Dirty Word‘ is coined by my colleague Esther Boykin,
a therapist and media expert in the Washington DC area. 

Self-Published / May 2019