How a Therapist Can Help with Sleep Disorders

Chronic sleep problems are common and can have serious mental and physical consequences. “Sleep deprivation at its worst is literally torturous; even mild chronic sleep deprivation changes brain chemistry and physiology, leading to deterioration of cognition, memory, and mood,” said Dolores T. Puterbaugh, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of a recent article emphasizing the therapist’s role in helping a client overcome sleep problems. Puterbaugh believes that many of the techniques being used for various mental health challenges can also be used to improve a client’s sleep patterns. “Counselors are trained in addressing the intersection of cognition, behavior, and emotional distress; their code of ethics also emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary consultation in treating complex client problems whenever that is appropriate, said Puterbaugh.

Experts agree that people should try to get at least seven hours of sleep each night in order to maintain optimal physical and mental health. “Sleep disruption and poor sleep are primary symptoms of many disorders, including depression and bipolar disorder,” said Puterbaugh. “Anxious patients may have difficulty sleeping or maintaining sleep due to raised levels of norepinephrine. Sustained periods of stress and poor sleep increase levels of Cortisol, which in turn leads to loss of cells in the hippocampus.” She added, “Because of the interplay between sleep and mental health, whether a client is seeking assistance for anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, adjustment issues, or other difficulty, interventions to normalize sleep may help relieve symptoms and build confidence from self-efficacious action. Like exercise for depression, cognitive-behavioral interventions for sleep are actions the client takes that may bring improvement.”

Puterbaugh noted that cognitive-behavioral strategies tend to be very effective for sleep disturbances, and do not carry the risk of overdose or side effects like medication. “There is a growing body of research regarding the efficacy of cognitive behavioral, psycho-educational, and behavioral interventions in treating insomnia.” Puterbaugh added, “Continued research of specific protocols can help the counseling professions to define best practices supported by scientific research. In the interim, counselors’ current skills, enhanced by insights from the psychological and medical literature, are invaluable assets in addressing the national crisis of poor sleep.”

Puterbaugh, Dolores. “Searching for a Good Night’s Sleep: What Mental Health Counselors Can Do About the Epidemic of Poor Sleep.” Journal of Mental Health Counseling33.4 (2011): 312-26. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Randall


    November 22nd, 2011 at 4:52 PM

    Why is it that some sleep mmedications like Ambien work for some people but not for others? I have a theory. There are some people who just kind of have some problems sleeping, and for those people those are the ones who benefit from that. But for those who suffer from sleep issues because of depression and anxiety, those are the ones who could probably really benefit from therapy to help resolve those sleep issues. Lack of sleep can be a real detriment to one’s health, so if CBT works, then I say let the referrals for treatment begin.

  • miley


    November 23rd, 2011 at 7:36 AM

    sleep difficulties have haunted me for at least the last two years and nothing seems to work…listening to soft music,going to bed at different times,sleeping in different beds,and even places,nothing seems to work for me.

    should I go to therapy for sleep or is it not really required?because I do not suffer from depression or only problem is sleep.

  • Leigh


    November 23rd, 2011 at 3:27 PM

    what about hypnosis?
    do you think that there are any benefits to trying this?
    i have thought about it but was not even sure that i could be hypnotized.

  • Bree Kalb, LCSW

    Bree Kalb, LCSW

    November 23rd, 2011 at 6:50 PM

    Leigh: Yes, hypnosis can help. I make sleep recordings for my clients. Some people don’t respond to general hypnosis, but almost everyone benefits from it for sleep. Find a licensed therapist with specialized training in hypnosis for the best results. Sleep is one of the first things I focus on with my clients who are depressed or anxious.

  • Leigh


    November 24th, 2011 at 2:55 PM

    Thanks Bree. I have thought about trying for a while but I wasn’t sure if that could help. I have always had problems with sleeping- sometimes I can go to sleep and then wake up an hour later and never be able to go back to sleep. And then sometimes I lie awake all night and never get one minute of relaxation. I know that my work and my life in general suffer as a result but I have never been able to find anything that really helps. I mean, there are sleep meds but I tell you, those things just make me feel drunk the next morning! And that is when one is a “success”. Other times I will take something and still be awake and groggy all night long. I am getting pretty depressed about the whole thing.

  • Theodore


    November 25th, 2011 at 12:38 AM

    I’m in college and as you would guess sleep issues have us as their hotspot! There’s no time to sleep and rather than actually trouble falling asleep most of us are just too busy to get any sleep time.I don’t know how the any things are common between the two but I have observed that lack of sleep leaves you feeling low and depressed and short of energy.

    What would be the best way to go about things when you have just so many things to balance? There’s activity even in the night and no real quiet time.

  • brandon


    November 26th, 2011 at 2:37 PM

    Unless someone has been referred by a general physician or maybe a doctor who has been helping them manage their sleep issues, I would be willing to bet that most of those who suffer have never given much thought to going to a therapist to address this.

  • Inez


    November 27th, 2011 at 2:00 PM

    Advanced Training in this area is the key to having a good specialist and someone who knows exactly what things could be your triggers and how to best help you to manage and cope with these issues.

  • jacobus erasmus

    jacobus erasmus

    July 27th, 2013 at 2:29 AM

    hi i am looking for a good therapy persone to help me i have probleems to get out of me .Please help me

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