How Can Therapy Improve Your Mental Health?

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated April 16, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Having concerns about your mental health can feel overwhelming. However, you're not alone. One in five US adults has a diagnosed mental health condition such as bipolar disorder, substance abuse, depression, or eating disorders, and many more struggle with distressing feelings, thoughts, sensations, or beliefs. Whether you believe you have a mental disorder or not, therapy may benefit you. There are hundreds of forms of therapy available to try, and therapists can help clients address and diagnose mental health disorders or concerns from work stress to burnout to parenting difficulties.

Still hesitant about trying online therapy?

What does wellness look like?

Mental health and wellness can look different in each individual. However, a few signs that you are mentally healthy might include the following: 

  • You feel positive about your appearance, personality, and ideas. 
  • You can express your emotions without feeling overwhelmed by them. 
  • You have positive, healthy, and lasting relationships.
  • You feel comfortable in social situations.
  • You have a sense of humor.
  • You respect others when you disagree with them.
  • You accept that life may be disappointing at times.
  • You can manage your responsibilities.
  • You can control when stressors occur.
  • You can make independent choices.
  • You know when to use acceptance strategies and when to push for changes.

You may be mentally healthy and still struggle to achieve the above states. In addition, not feeling mentally healthy doesn't necessarily mean you have a mental illness. Therapists are experienced mental health professionals who can offer support for various life skills. Caring for your mental health by seeing a provider for mental health services or practicing self-care may help you achieve the following: 

  • Improved physical health
  • A productive professional or educational environment 
  • Coping skills for stressful situations 
  • The ability to support yourself and other people
  • Increased ability to handle intense emotions in healthy ways
  • Healthier relationships 
  • The feeling of reaching your potential 
  • Joy and happiness 
  • Creativity
  • Increased distress tolerance
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Enhanced interpersonal effectiveness 
  • Communication skills 
  • Acceptance 
  • Alleviated symptoms of mental health conditions or disorders
How to know you are experiencing a condition or disorder

Many adults in the US live with mental illness. Common mental health conditions include anxiety disorders, depressive disorders (like major depressive disorder), bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), schizophrenia, and eating disorders. Although many stigmas surround mental health, having a mental illness does not necessarily indicate how your life will go or what you need. Each person can be different and require different support levels of mental health care. 

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

If you suspect you or a family member may be experiencing symptoms of a mental illness, reach out to a counselor, psychiatrist, primary care doctor, or other types of mental health professionals, including licensed social workers. They may give an official diagnosis, prescribe medication, or create a mental health treatment plan. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms or warning signs, it can be an indication to reach out for evaluation to reduce negative thoughts and improve your psychological well-being: 

  • Sleep or appetite changes 
  • Social withdrawal 
  • Low energy levels 
  • Emotional numbness 
  • Unexplained pain, headaches, or gastrointestinal symptoms 
  • Prolonged feelings of hopelessness or helplessness 
  • Substance use* 
  • Confusion 
  • Extreme levels of fear or worry 
  • Constant arguments with those you love 
  • Anger management difficulties 
  • Emotional challenges change behaviors
  • Mood swings 
  • Rumination 
  • Frequent unwanted thoughts or images 
  • Hearing sounds that others do not hear
  • Seeing people, animals, or objects that others do not see 
  • Prolonged or challenging grief 
  • Compulsions or rituals 
  • Paranoia 
  • Difficulty connecting with others
  • Fear of leaving home 
  • Difficulty with daily responsibilities 
  • Work stress
  • Mental burnout 
  • Suicidal thoughts** 
  • Self-harm 

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. Support is available 24/7.

Is therapy effective?

Many treatment approaches and types of therapy for mental health care exist today. If you're considering therapy, it can be helpful to understand the effectiveness of various modalities for various concerns. With over 400 types of therapy in practice, many clients can find a support option that helps them. In therapy, you can meet with a provider in a supportive environment to discuss your symptoms, learn new coping mechanisms, and develop a treatment plan unique to your needs. 

The effectiveness of therapy can depend on your willingness to try new techniques, your connection with your therapist, and the type of therapy you choose. Ensure you work with a reputable therapist with a license in your state that you feel safe talking to. You can also check out the following effectiveness statistics: 

  • Anger management therapy has been shown to help individuals with anger enhance their coping behaviors in about 75% of those who seek treatment.
  • Art therapy has been found effective in treating symptoms of depression
  • Equine-assisted therapies can help clients feel connected with themselves and reduce symptoms of stress or mental illness. 
  • Animal-assisted therapy can be effective in treating depression, schizophrenia, and drug/alcohol addictions in clients who like animals.
  • Family therapy has been shown to improve interactions among family members and reduce conflict, particularly when managing stress of one member’s physical or mental health condition or addiction.
  • Group therapy or support groups can be as effective as individual therapy and offers the particular benefits of support and solidarity for group members with marginalized identities in a group setting.
  • Rapid eye movement and desensitization reprocessing therapy (EMDR) has been found more effective than CBT by seven out of ten studies on treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 
  • Compassionate cognitive-behavioral therapy, CBT, is a form of talk therapy that has been proven effective in reducing self-hatred and negative thinking patterns and increasing self-esteem. 
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT) was found by the National Institute of Mental Health to be effective in treating specific mental health conditions such as depression.
  • 70% of couples who attend couples therapy find it effective. This form of therapy can help partners who have had conflict in the past build relationship skills. 
  • Psychodynamic therapy has demonstrated efficacy in reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, panic disorders, anorexia nervosa, and borderline personality disorder and involves the client and therapist exploring unconscious emotions and behavior patterns.
  • Supportive therapy can offer a safe space for clients to express difficult feelings and gain support and practical insights.
  • Play therapy is a particular type of therapy designed to help children process emotions and thinking through play. 
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DPT) is a talk therapy based on CBT that is targeted towards individuals who experience high levels of emotional distress. The person receiving treatment through dialectical behavior therapy may learn new skills that target managing strong emotions.  
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy in clinical practice generally focuses on the relationships between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. In cognitive behavioral therapy, your therapist may work with you to identify and adjust unhealthy or unhelpful thought patterns, thus positively impacting your emotions and behaviors.
What should I expect in counseling from a professional?

Therapy often occurs in sessions of 30 minutes to 60 minutes in length. The exact form of treatment and the therapist's approach to sessions can determine what occurs. In treatment called talk therapy, the focus may be on learning problem solving skills types and finding solutions with your therapist guiding you as a mentor. Other techniques might include silent activities like creating art or using a biofeedback machine. 

Therapists may also use specific techniques within a form of therapy to treat a symptom. For example, many therapists use desensitization techniques like exposure therapy for phobias or symptoms of a mental illness like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Others use a specific type of behavioral therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy to help clients change behavior by targeting unwanted thoughts and beliefs. You can request information about your therapist's method at any time. 

How should I involve myself in this process?

Therapy is not a process your therapist does to you. You have a say in the process, and therapy is a tool to help you make informed decisions and choose healthy outcomes for your life. Being willing and cooperative can be helpful as your therapist teaches you their knowledge. Feeling unsure, nervous, or scared can be normal during therapy. However, try your best and let your therapist know if you hit a roadblock. You can also keep the following tips in mind: 

  • Show up to therapy on time and avoid skipping sessions
  • Keep a journal of feelings, symptoms, and thoughts that are troubling you
  • Ask questions when you don't understand
  • Focus on problem-solving to find effective solutions
  • Actively participate and be ready to work on yourself
  • Be willing to consider new ideas and solutions
  • Make it your personal responsibility to do any homework your therapist assigns between sessions 

Still hesitant about trying online therapy?

What should I do if therapy isn't helping? 

Many people may worry that therapy isn't effective when they have a poor experience. However, you can control whether you continue your sessions, switch providers, or request a new treatment approach. Therapy can be a collaborative process, so let your therapist know if you're not receiving benefits.  

Before changing providers or stopping services, you can also consider the following: 

  • It can take some time to see improvements. 
  • Not all therapists are necessarily a fit for their clients.
  • You might resist treatment because it is working and scares you. 
  • You might have unrealistic expectations. 
  • You may not be putting in the work requested by your therapist. 

How can I be sure counseling would benefit me? 

Many individuals feel they shouldn't reach out for therapy if they don't have a mental illness or aren't experiencing a "severe" symptom. However, ignoring any symptom may cause it to worsen, and you do not have to have a mental illness, diagnosis, or “severe” reason for attending therapy. 

When you start therapy, explain your hesitance and ask the therapist how they may be able to benefit you with your concerns. You can leave therapy at any time if you find that it isn't serving you. 

How to find a psychology professional? 

There are various ways to find a therapist. Many clients ask their family doctor for a referral to a provider in their health insurance network. Others might ask friends and family for recommendations or utilize their local human services department as a starting point. However, if you've been trying to find a therapist and are struggling to find a match, you can also consider online counseling. 

With online counseling, you can take control of your therapy sessions by choosing the format (phone, video, or live chat sessions), having the option to change your therapist at any time, and ensuring your preferences are selected when signing up. In addition, studies show that online therapy can be as effective as in-person therapy for treating common mental health concerns like stress, anxiety, or depression. 

If you're interested in signing up for a platform to get matched with a provider within 48 hours, consider a website like BetterHelp, which offers over 30,000 therapists specializing in various areas of mental health and general wellness. 


Many options are available if you're experiencing distressing symptoms or feel you might benefit from therapy. Consider reaching out to your doctor for a referral, searching online, or reaching out to an online therapist for further guidance and support. 

Explore mental health and healing in therapy
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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