Is Therapy Worth It?

Obviously, as a therapist I believe in the value of therapy. But I understand that it takes time and can be a significant financial investment, and it makes sense that people who have never been in therapy before would wonder whether it is worth the effort. I encourage prospective patients to think about therapy as investment in oneself that will allow them to have strong foundation of emotional well-being to build their future around. Our symptoms are frequently signals that there is something going on underneath that needs to be addressed and worked through in order for us to thrive. If your car’s engine started to make strange noises and the gear shift stopped working properly, you would know that it’s time to take your car to the shop. Your symptoms are trying to tell you the same thing--that it is time for an emotional course correction. Unfortunately, so many of us have lived with our symptoms for so long that they feel like the norm and we do not realize that it is possible to feel any other way.

How might making this investment in therapy work out? One study compared the cost effectiveness of providing direct financial compensation to alleviate psychological distress versus providing psychotherapy to alleviate psychological distress and found that psychotherapy was about thirty-two times as cost-efficient (Boyce & Wood, 2010). Another study quantified how much money a person would have to be given to get an equivalent increase in life satisfaction that they would get from having their symptoms reduced by psychotherapy. The study found that a person would have to be given $314,000.00 to get the equivalent benefit of having their neuroticism (i.e. low emotional stability, a common target of intervention in therapy) substantively reduced (Boyce, Wood, & Powdthavee, 2013). Those people who have had a successful therapy can understand these findings and attest to how it can be a transformative experience.

One of the reasons that therapy can be so powerful is that it actually alters the functioning of our brains. A literature review of studies on the effect of psychotherapy on the brain found that a variety of therapies (e.g. cognitive-behavioral, dialectical-behavioral, psychodynamic) had similar impacts on the brain:  after treatment areas of the brain associated with the processing of threats and the generation of negative emotions were less active, while areas of the brain that are associated with problem-solving and the regulation of emotions were more active (Karlsson, 2011).


Boyce, C. J., & Wood, A. M. (2010). Money or mental health: the cost of alleviating psychological distress with monetary compensation versus psychological therapy. Health Economics, Policy and Law, 5(04), 509-516.

Boyce, C. J., Wood, A. M., & Powdthavee, N. (2013). Is personality fixed? Personality changes as much as “variable” economic factors and more strongly predicts changes to life satisfaction. Social Indicators Research, 111(1), 287-305.

Karlsson, Hasse. "How psychotherapy changes the brain: understanding the mechanisms." Psychiatric Times Aug. 2011: 21. Academic OneFile. Web. 28 July 2016.