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When you think about therapy and employee mental health, what comes to mind? Are you picturing someone in the midst of a breakdown or with a severe mental health condition? Or someone who is trying to navigate anxiety at work, issues with sleep, or even the transition of retirement?
Mental health is not fixed or static. It exists on a spectrum, and is always in flux. Everyone has ups and downs in their emotional lives, contingent upon internal and external circumstances. At times, we can all use a professional listening ear.
No one needs a medical diagnosis to start therapy, and there is no one right reason to do so.
Let’s explore what workplace leaders need to know about therapy: exactly what it is, what happens during a therapy session, and how therapy benefits employees and organizations.
What is therapy?
There are three types of practitioners who can provide therapy, sometimes referred to as talk therapy, counseling, or psychotherapy: psychologists, therapists, and counselors, although all three have different levels of education and expertise. In therapy, an individual meets with a trained professional for a session or series of sessions, usually 50 minutes in length, to talk about whatever they are seeking help or support with. Therapists ask patients questions and actively listen, to gain insight into whatever issues the client is having.
A therapist can provide insight or perspective on feelings, experiences, and specific mental health symptoms while also sharing coping strategies to help the individual discontinue negative thought patterns or even harmful behaviors.
What is the purpose of therapy?
Everyone goes to therapy for their own reasons and with their own goals in mind, but generally speaking, most people go to therapy because they want help with:
- Achieving work or personal goals
- Coping with stress or anxiety
- Solving interpersonal conflict or relationship building
- Healing from trauma
- Getting support during difficult times
- Coping with grief
The main purpose of therapy is to have a safe space to talk through our feelings and circumstances so we’re better able to understand our thoughts and emotions. This leads to feeling emotionally stronger and more resilient, while reducing symptoms of mental health challenges, and developing strategies that can be applied in both their personal and professional lives.
The many benefits of therapy
- Therapy is effective for a variety of mental and behavioral health issues across population groups
- Large meta-analytic studies demonstrate that therapy reduces morbidity and and mortality, improves work functioning, and decreases psychiatric hospitalization
- Therapy teaches life skills that last beyond the course of treatment
If an employee decides to start therapy for a specific set of symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, or insomnia, then of course the mitigation of those symptoms is one of the primary benefits of therapy.
But there are many other benefits—aspects of life that therapy can help us navigate. For example:
- Improved communication and interpersonal skills
- Greater self-acceptance and self-esteem
- Ability to change self-defeating behaviors/habits
- Better expression and management of emotions, including anger
- Relief from depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions
- Increased confidence and decision-making skills
- Ability to effectively manage stress
Choosing the right therapist
So, an employee has decided to start therapy. Now what? Here are some things to think about when looking for the right therapist.
Background: It’s important to know something about a potential therapist's academic background and training to make sure they’re able to treat the individual’s specific condition, or help them meet their goals.
- Experience: What specialities and experience does the therapist have? Do they work primarily with parents? Veterans? LGBTQIA+ clients? What treatment methods do they offer?
- Office protocol: How do sessions work in terms of appointment booking, payment, missed appointment protocol, and cancellations?
- Scheduling and cost: Is the therapist available when the individual is free? Is the provider in their insurance network? What is the fee structure like? How will insurance claims be handled?
- Cultural competence: Anyone seeking therapy should consider who they’ll feel most comfortable talking to: someone with the same cultural, ethnic, or racial background, a male or female therapist, or one who is nonbinary?
- Location: Do they offer online therapy, in-person therapy, or both? Each type of therapy has benefits. Therapy seekers should consider which better meets their specific needs.
What happens in a first therapy session?
During the first therapy session, an individual might expect at least one ah-hah moment of clarity about whatever issue they’re wanting to address, but in reality, that initial session will feel more like a very personal interview. The therapist will likely ask a lot of questions, getting to know the person’s life story, background, goals, and what’s brought them to therapy. The more open the individual is, the better their therapist will be able to help address the issue or set of issues.
The person seeking therapy can talk about anything they want to talk about. The session is about that person, their needs, and it’s their space to talk. The therapist will be listening, likely taking some notes for reminders, and asking questions.
How long does it take for therapy to work?
Therapy can be life-changing, but don’t expect magical results overnight. Real change can take time. Research indicates that it takes an average of 15 to 20 sessions for 50% of patients to show self-reported improvement in symptom relief.
However, there’s no one right length of therapy, and how long people stay in therapy is influenced by a complex set of factors, including:
- What kind of therapy they’re participating in
- What mental health conditions they’re seeking treatment for
- Personal preferences
Many people do feel relief or joy after only a couple of sessions. Therapy can be a kind of pressure release valve. Talking about pent up feelings and emotions with a professional listener is quite helpful to most people.
Over time, individuals can expect to work through underlying issues, improve their general outlook, and develop skills in whatever areas they’re struggling with—for example, managing stress or interpersonal relationships.
Huge epiphanies are rare. Therapy is more about incremental steps toward a deeper understanding of people’s internal and external worlds. It takes time.
How employees benefit from therapy
Everyone struggles at some point, with work stress, relationships, grief, or anxiety. Employees are not exempt from this fundamental fact. It’s part of the human condition.
Offering employees therapy gives them a chance to be heard, to have a professional on their side as they navigate the ups and downs of life. That’s a huge benefit for anyone, in any circumstance.
Other benefits include:
- Improving communication and interpersonal skills at work and at home
- Reduction of symptoms causing mental distress
- Gaining stress management strategies, especially related to work
- New insights into thinking patterns and relationships
- Feeling heard and supported
The benefits for organizations and businesses
When mental health is supported in the workplace, employees are healthier, happier, more engaged, and able to be more present at work.
Organizations who fulfill their duty of care to employees also benefit by:
- Addressing burnout and disengagement
- Improving work performance
- Attracting and retaining top talent
Research shows that comprehensive EAPs, with strong mental health and therapy components, improve the mental health of 70% of participants, with average time to remission in less than six weeks.
Companies also save an average of $7,000 per employee within six months, and experience a 30% reduction in total health claims cost per enrolled employee.
Get your copy of this guide to learn more about why investing in mental health pays off, and the ROI your organization could achieve.