Cathartic Emotional Release: Powerful Benefits Of Crying In Therapy

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated May 3, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Imagine you're watching a heart-wrenching movie, and you suddenly find tears streaming down your face. You might feel embarrassed or try to hold back the tears, but what if you just let them flow? Crying in therapy can be a powerful way to heal from emotional pain, and it's something we all do naturally. Due to its potential benefits, crying in therapy can be a useful way to manage emotions and mental health problems. When you let yourself cry, you allow your body to release strong feelings, which can help you feel better both in the moment and over time. While often considered a sign of vulnerability, crying may also serve as a healthy way to cope with stress and past traumas. Read on to learn more about the potential benefits of crying in therapy and how it could help you. 

Releasing pent-up emotions can be a powerful way to heal

What is crying therapy?

Crying in therapy is a healing method that supports emotional release through tears. This approach helps people work through and let go of emotional pain, which may be helpful for managing mental health challenges. 

Origins behind these sessions

The concept of crying therapy has its roots in various cultures and traditions. One notable example is Japanese cry therapy. In Japan, Hidefumi Yoshida, known as the "tears teacher," leads crying sessions to help people cope with stress and experience more positive mental health. These sessions are often accompanied by sad films or stories that encourage emotional release through tears.

Science behind crying

There are several reasons why crying can have therapeutic effects on both our physical and emotional health. First, crying may help release certain hormones and toxins that can build up in the body due to stress. This process results in a natural detoxification that can ease our mental strain and help us feel better.

Crying also promotes the release of oxytocin and endogenous opioids, also known as "feel-good chemicals." These substances help counteract feelings of sadness, shame, fear, and frustration, leading to a sense of relief and even increased happiness. These feel-good chemicals also help boost our immune system by reducing inflammation and encouraging healthful behaviors, such as resting and healing from physical or emotional pain.

Reflex tears 

Reflex tears are a type of tear that our eyes produce in response to irritants, such as dust, smoke, or strong odors. Their main purpose is to defend the eyes by flushing out these irritants and keeping the eye surface moist and nourished. 

Reflex tears are different from those shed during therapy, as this focuses on emotional tears that we shed during moments of intense feelings, like sadness, pain, or joy. Emotional tears help us process and release emotional pain, while reflex tears serve a defensive function for our eyes.

This can be an effective way to spur emotional healing and stress relief, and it's a natural part of our lives. In fact, research shows that people cry in about 21% of therapy sessions, highlighting the importance of crying as a tool for personal growth and more positive mental health.

The benefits 

Crying in therapy may offer several different health benefits for people experiencing anxiety, depression, or other types of emotional pain. This form of therapy can help manage mental health conditions and improve both emotional and physical health. Listed below are several of these benefits. 

Reduces anxiety and depression

Crying helps release stress hormones and promotes the production of oxytocin and endogenous opioids (endorphins), which are natural feel-good chemicals that help ease emotional pain. As a result, this can be effective in relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression, like constant worry or feelings of hopelessness. For example, a student experiencing test anxiety might find that a crying session helps them regain composure and focus.

Releases emotional pain

Shedding tears provides a cathartic experience, allowing the processing and release of old pain and trauma. For example, someone dealing with a past loss, like a breakup or the death of a loved one, may find relief through tears. As individuals express their grief and emotions through tears, this method promotes emotional healing and prevents feelings from becoming buried or bottled up inside.

Improves mood

The act of shedding tears can lead to instant mood improvement. By releasing negative feelings and relieving emotional pain, individuals can experience a lighter and more positive outlook on life after a crying session, like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders. This can be particularly helpful for someone who's been struggling with persistent sadness or irritability.

Reduces stress and tension

As emotions are expressed through tears, the body experiences a reduction in stress hormones, such as cortisol. This can lead to lower blood pressure and a slower heart rate, promoting relaxation and decreasing tension. For instance, after a tough day at work or a tense situation with friends, crying might help a person feel more relaxed and focused.

Strengthens immune systems

Stress is known to impair the function of the immune system. By reducing stress hormones and tension in the body, this may help support a stronger immune system. A healthier emotional state positively affects physical health, enabling the body to fight off sickness more effectively. This means that the benefits of crying in therapy may go beyond emotional healing and can also support physical health, like improving resistance to common colds or other illnesses.

When is it too much?


Crying is a natural emotional response to pain, stress, and other emotions. But how much crying is considered too much? Research has found that women cry an average of 5.3 times per month, while men cry about 1.3 times per month. While these figures provide a general idea, the frequency of crying can vary among individuals. 

In some cases, crying can be a sign of healing, especially during grief. However, it can also be important to recognize when crying might be an indication of a deeper issue. If crying becomes overwhelming or uncontrollable, it can be crucial to seek help from a doctor or mental health professional. To identify whether you or a loved one is crying too much, pay attention to the following factors:

  • Timing: If crying becomes a constant or disruptive element in daily life, then it might be too much.

  • Relationships: Crying that interferes with or strains personal relationships could indicate a problem.

  • Cause: If a minor event or no apparent cause leads to excessive crying, this might be excessive.

  • Duration: Prolonged periods of crying without relief might be a sign to seek help.

if you feel like your crying is preventing you from managing your day-to-day, it is recommended to seek help. However, for many people, crying can be an effective form of therapy. A mental health professional, such as a therapist or counselor, can help guide you through therapy. Trained professionals can provide support, techniques, and a comfortable environment for emotional healing and personal growth.

Seeking support in times of need

In times of emotional distress, you may benefit from seeking additional support. Whether you're struggling with fear, depression, or other challenges, a therapist or counselor can provide the guidance you need. One option is to consider online therapy, which offers services from the comfort of your own home and can be particularly useful during crises or when physical distance may be a factor.

Online platforms like BetterHelp connect people with licensed mental health professionals who can help them work through tough emotions and teach coping skills. These websites provide a safe space for users to express their feelings in a healthy way. With online therapy, you can choose a therapist based on your needs and preferences, as well as the expertise and qualifications of the therapist. You can also choose to connect with your therapist through video chats, phone calls, or in-app messaging, according to what feels most comfortable for you. 

Many people may feel afraid or apprehensive when thinking about therapy, and these emotions can prevent them from reaching out for help. However, these concerns are common, and seeking support can be a courageous step toward healing. Here are some ways to make seeking support more manageable:

  • Discuss your feelings with a trusted friend or family member – they might offer valuable insight or suggest a therapist they know and trust.

  • Research different mental health professionals and their areas of expertise to find one that fits your needs.

  • Consider attending therapy sessions with a group if you don't feel comfortable starting one-on-one sessions.

  • Remember that your therapist is there to help you. Being honest and open about your feelings and experiences can be beneficial to your mental health.

Explore various resources and therapy options, such as online platforms like BetterHelp, to find the right fit for your individual needs. Remember, it's never too late to ask for help and make a positive change in your life.

The efficacy of online therapy

Releasing pent-up emotions can be a powerful way to heal

Those considering online therapy may wonder how it compares to traditional interventions. Research has consistently shown that online therapy is just as effective as face-to-face therapy in treating a variety of mental health concerns. Further, in one study, researchers found that a crying therapy intervention successfully induced positive emotional changes and physiological effects in breast cancer survivors, illustrating its effectiveness in improving quality of life. 


A good cry offers several health benefits for mental and emotional well-being and stress relief. It acts as a natural way to comfort oneself by offering instant mood improvement and emotional release. In therapy sessions, crying can lead to deeper personal understanding, strengthen the connection between therapist and client, and help let go of tension. Crying in therapy can help create a safe space for people to express their emotions without worrying about judgment and several studies have highlighted the importance of emotional expression and its link to overall mental health. Whether you pursue therapy online or in person, crying can help you be more open and honest about your feelings and experience greater levels of healing.
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