Does Talk Change Anything?

In short, yes.

For a much longer and more thorough answer, keep reading.

First, there is a presumption that talking to a friend or family member is the same thing as talking to a therapist. Yet what a therapist offers their clients is very different from the interactions between friends or family. Therapists often pride themselves on “not giving advice” but instead offer reflections and interpretations that help clients open new areas for self-exploration, understanding, and emotional regulation. It is true that talking with friends and family who are very other-focused can also be helpful, but the main difference between a trained therapist and a concerned friend is that training helps therapists maintain a special and confidential relationship where clients can express hidden emotions and topics that they feel are taboo. In other words, you can talk about anything and anyone with a therapist.

Second, there are a number of different models of healing. One of the most dominant models in our age is the Medical Model, which has its basis in the idea that everything is biologically determined. You may have encountered this in the idea that mental health issues are solely a matter of “chemical imbalances” or that “certain genes predict the development” of one disorder or another. According to this model, the first line of treatment for any disorder would be one targeted at a person’s physiological functioning: medication. Several studies have shown that brain activity changes with medication (e.g., Martin, 2001), which likely correlates with changes in brain function and overall improvement in mental health.

However, the same effects are seen in studies that have compared psychotherapy with medication (e.g., Karlsson, 2011), with relapse rates even lower for patients who undergo psychotherapy (Hollon, 2005). These findings contradict the idea that your biological predispositions are fixed and that complex phenomena like mental health difficulties are predetermined by your genetics and “chemical imbalances.”

If you’re wondering whether you should seek medical help or psychotherapy, the answer is “it depends.” Medication is very helpful for people experiencing moderate to severe mental health difficulties. But for many years, the “industry standard” of mental health treatment is medication and psychotherapy. It would seem that talk, especially in the context of a therapeutic relationship, is not an idle thing. Talking can change a great many things, not the least of which are our thoughts, emotions, perspectives, and relationships. It is an essential part of the healing process.

 

 

References

Hollon, S. D., Jarrett, R. B., Nierenberg, A. A., Thase, M. E., Trivedi, M., Rush, A. J. . (2005). Psychotherapy and medication in the treatment of adult and geriatric depression: Which monotherapy or combined treatment? Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 66, 455-468.

Karlsson, Hasse. (2011). How psychotherapy changes the brain.   Retrieved March 10th, 2016, from http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/psychotherapy/how-psychotherapy-changes-brain

Martin, S.D., Martin E., Rai S.S., Richardson M.A., Royall R. (2001). Brain blood flow changes in depressed patients treated with interpersonal psychotherapy or venlafaxine hydrochoride: preliminary findings. Archives of General Psychiatry, 58(7), 641-648.