Myth Madness: ‘Therapy Is Only for Treating Disorders, Not Growth’

old man holding small plant

Myth No. 3: “Therapy is only for treating ‘disorders’ and not for personal growth.”

Reality: Most Western medicine focuses on the treatment of disease rather than its prevention. I remember when I first came across the decades-old idea of doctors staying in business by keeping people healthy, rather than relying on people getting sick. Thankfully, the paradigm shift toward preventative care has begun to manifest in earnest, especially with naturopathic and holistic approaches.

But where does mental health treatment sit on this continuum? Is therapy warranted only for the treatment of mental health issues or is it a valid form of personal, emotional, and spiritual growth? The answer depends on who you ask.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA), an organization which has taken the liberty of believing it is the authority on everything mental health, has published five versions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Although the APA aimed to be atheoretical when developing past versions of the DSM, it would no doubt rule that therapy should be administered only as part of a treatment protocol for specific DSM diagnoses. At the risk of making an unfair generalization, I’d say the APA would vote in this direction largely because the majority of its members probably have not done their own therapy. Ouch. There, I said it.

No doubt there would be consensus among the APA and health-maintenance organizations. Imagine the financial consequences to insurance companies if preventative mental health treatment was as widely respected and viewed as being as necessary as preventative medical care.

So, do the tens of thousands of mental health providers in the United States also think therapy is warranted only for the treatment of mental health disorders?

My assessment from doing my own psychotherapy and from speaking with hundreds of therapists is that most view therapy as having multiple purposes. Not only can therapy address specific symptoms and “disorders,” it can reduce suffering, teach new skills, build self-compassion, help people find true forgiveness, grow self-esteem, and release long-harbored burdens. In addition, therapy, being a reflective process, can help people to “find themselves,” to self-actualize, to work through spiritual challenges, and to deepen the sense of spirituality, connection, and purpose in their lives.

Editor’s note: For more articles examining common myths and fears surrounding psychotherapy, please click here.

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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.

  • Leave a Comment
  • peyton

    October 10th, 2013 at 3:47 AM

    Are you kidding me?
    I would not be the person that I am today had it not been for the intensive work that I have been able to complete (and still work on every day!) because of woring with my therapist. And not because of an illness, just because I was looking for a way to exorcise some things from my past and grow as a person and this is who helped me do that.
    There may have been a time when this wasn’t acceptable or this wasn’t as widely used as it is today, but now, I think that this is one of the best ways that there is to really get to the heart of who you are and to really get the chance to grow and develop and become the person that you were meant to be.

  • Isabelle

    October 10th, 2013 at 3:05 PM

    You know that the insurance companies are the ones who have made things like this. Heaven forbid we are able to do anything that is considered proactive.

    Oh no, we have to wait until we actually get sick before they will pay for anything, and even then it is a mighty struggle when it comes to getting them to cover great mental health care.

  • clark t

    October 11th, 2013 at 3:48 AM

    This has definitely become a case of someone other than the medical community dictating who gets and deserves what type of care. This isn’t right and we have to start putting up more of a fight about this. Why on earth, when providers everywhere agree that therapy doesn’t just have to be about treatment that has already reared its ugly head but can also be about preventing issues in the future, why have we allowed outside FOR PROFIT companies to tell us that this is not how we should practice and offer care to our patients? This has gone so far away from the direction of real patient health care that it literally makes me sick to my stomach.

  • Fran

    October 12th, 2013 at 4:50 AM

    There are lots of people who think like this
    That there are plenty of self help books available for when you need just a little help
    And that therapy is for when you are actually sick
    I don’t think that this is a new notion

  • Donovan B

    October 15th, 2013 at 10:34 AM

    The sad fact remains that no matter your feelings on this most of us won’t take the time or the effort to work on ourselves until we see something as being “wrong.”
    If it is just simply about “growing as a person” I think that most people would say that they are too busy for that.

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