The #1 Reason People Go to Therapy

The #1 Reason People Go to Therapy

Why do people go to therapy? You might think the top reason is that they have depression, anxiety, phobias, ADD/ADHD, addictions, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or some other mental health issue. Wrong!

After over 30 years of clinical practice and tens of thousands of patients at Amen Clinics, it has become abundantly clear that the #1 reason why people go to psychotherapy is to deal with the people in their lives who won’t go to therapy. It’s often the family members, friends, coworkers, and loved ones who don’t get the help they need for mental health problems (which are really brain health problems) that make everybody else’s lives so challenging.

When someone in your life has an undetected or untreated condition, it can make you want to get a divorce, quit your job, or take some other life-altering action. This can have a lasting impact on your own mental well-being and on your future. This is why going to therapy is important for anyone who’s in a relationship—whether it’s a romantic, work, or friendly relationship—with someone with a psychiatric illness.

Here are 5 things you can get out of psychotherapy if you have a relationship with someone with a diagnosable condition.


1. Learn what to expect.

Going to therapy can help you understand the symptoms and behaviors associated with various mental health issues. When you understand that the things other people say and do—or don’t do—are related to a condition, it can help you be less judgmental, less frustrated, and less hurt by them.

2. Discover how to communicate better.

If you’re married to, work with, or are friends with someone who has a psychiatric condition, going to therapy can give you tools to learn more effective ways to communicate with them. For example, let’s say your spouse has ADD/ADHD. You routinely ask them to do the dishes after dinner and they say they’ll do them, but when you wake up the next morning there’s still a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. You get frustrated and irritated and snap at your spouse, which leads to a full-fledged argument. Not the way you want to start your day.

In therapy, a mental health professional might teach you that when asking someone with ADD/ADHD to complete a task, it can be more effective if you:

  • Make sure you have their full attention by making eye contact.
  • Get a verbal response from them to ensure they’ve heard you.
  • Give them a deadline—rather than saying something vague like “after dinner” say something specific like “before 8 p.m.”
  • Give them a gentle reminder.

As another example, let’s say you have a coworker with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). These individuals tend to have rigid thinking and to say “no” a lot. With these people, it’s best to offer them options. Instead of asking, “Do you want to set the meeting for Friday afternoon?” try asking, “Would you prefer to have the meeting on Friday, or would another day work better for you?” With options, people with OCD are less oppositional.

3. Don’t take things personally.

When you’re around someone with mental illness, it can be hard to look at their words and actions objectively. You may take things personally and feel like their behavior is directed at you or that it is somehow your fault, which can make you feel bad, mad, sad, or defensive. In therapy, you can learn that their actions aren’t necessarily a reflection on you, which helps you maintain your self-esteem and a positive mood.

4. Learn about treatment options.

Going to therapy can introduce you to numerous beneficial lifestyle changes that can make a big difference for you and your loved one. A therapist who has expertise in integrative psychiatry can offer suggestions for foods, mental exercises, supplements, and other strategies that can help minimize symptoms commonly seen in mental health conditions.

5. Practice self-care.

Many people who go to therapy have devoted so much attention to their loved ones that they have neglected their own well-being and exhausted their inner resources. But if you’re emotionally and physically depleted, you’re more likely to get irritated, frustrated, or fatigued, which may exacerbate your loved one’s issues. This can lead to a downward spiral that doesn’t serve anyone. A trained therapist can help you stop feeling guilty about dedicating time to take care of yourself. In fact, going to therapy is often a first step to regaining a sense of control over your life and feeling like you deserve to be happy and healthy. And that’s an attitude that is beneficial to everyone in your life.

Anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD, addictions, and other mental health issues can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.


  1. After over 40 years of marriage, family and child counseling I have to respectfully disagree. Most people come to therapy because of their own emotional/behavioral problems and not because of other people – except perhaps children where as they come because their parents or guardians have problems with them.

    Comment by Steven Bulcroft — July 31, 2020 @ 3:05 AM

  2. This is true for me.

    Comment by Kathie — July 31, 2020 @ 5:58 AM

  3. As therapists we often see the people who are distressed by their spouse or adult child or parent or boss who is in need of help but never gets it. People in our lives have a great effect on our emotional and physical well being. People effect people.

    There are so many of us, especially today, who deal with depression, anxiety and trauma. I’m beginning to think that with the pandemic and aftermath all of us carry an underlying sense of fear or angst or concern. The problem is that after a while people get used to feeling the way they feel and it becomes normal to them. But it still severely impacts their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

    Therapy/counseling/mental health care provides such a loving opportunity for a person to step out of the upset and into a life that is better.

    Comment by Laura Temin — July 31, 2020 @ 6:56 AM

  4. Honestly, it is just like the response in comments show, not even the experienced and professional therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist and counselors can agree on what is “true”. This is why it is so hard for patients and potential patients to reach out. You never know if what you are being told is the “best” information for you. I realize everyone (for the most part) has the best of intentions, I understand that there will be difference of opinions, there are many people who desperately need psychological help but find it easier to just “let it go” because the “cure” or trial and error process, is just adding more stress. Just my opinion!

    Comment by Brent G Johnson — July 31, 2020 @ 8:19 AM

  5. I think it is quite reasonable to expect that we will go therapy for our own anxieties, depression and, also, to learn how to deal with the mental health concerns of our spouse, child, parent or co-worker. We know so very little about these conditions. My spouse is a manic depressive or bi-polar. He is in full manic phase right now. It is no one’s fault that he is like this but I have a lot of difficulty understanding how to counteract his behavioural/mood swings. I must protect myself from his erratic behaviour and therapy has proven to be invaluable. Also helpful for me as I also have my own issues of depression and anxiety.

    Comment by Joanne R — July 31, 2020 @ 8:41 AM

  6. I have several women friends whose husbands clearly have issues. But, because the husbands don’t recognize their issues, the wives suffer and need counseling.
    One friend’s husband is a hoarder & has ADHD; she leaves the house daily to get away from the clutter. Another’s husband controls his wife’s every move, especially now in the pandemic. He doesn’t allow her to think for herself. Another’s husband has tired of his wife’s physical ailments and often leaves her helpless on the weekends to go hunting. She has to reach out to neighbors or friends if she has an issue while he’s gone. Men need to get over their pride and stop denying their issues.

    Comment by Lily — July 31, 2020 @ 9:35 AM

  7. Yes, of course. The article is obviously very misguided. People don’t spend time and money going to therapy because someone else in their life is “mentally ill”.

    Comment by El — August 1, 2020 @ 3:43 AM

  8. At least someone has apparently concluded that these are male issues.Now,everyone may be able to move in a positive direction realizing this.

    Comment by DAVE REICHERT — August 1, 2020 @ 3:43 AM

  9. Odd that the article refers to people as “mentally ill ” when Dr. Amen’s lectures and presentations talk about the end of so called mental illness and the move toward brain health. Isn’t the writer familiar with Dr. Amen’s work?

    Comment by El — August 1, 2020 @ 3:51 AM

  10. Sue they do. Everyone’s situation is different. Some go for themselves to resolve their own issues they are struggling with, but some go as a couple to try to help solve the issues between them. In many cases, it comes to this point because one of the partners has serious issues, you love them and want to try to pinpoint the issues to the partner from a third party and try to save the relationship. Many people try to work it out first for a long time. Once the frustration sets in, we find that only a third party might be helpful. It really depends on your life situation when reading this article and relating it to your life situation.

    Comment by Charmaine — August 1, 2020 @ 6:32 AM

  11. I definitely agree!

    Comment by Cynthia Shackelford — August 1, 2020 @ 6:57 AM

  12. I went to therapy for my mental health issues that were due to trauma. I drank too much to relieve my anxiety which of course just made things worse. I went to a nutritionist and he helped me cure my Leaky Gut. I feel like a new person thanks to my therapist, nutritionist, and acupuncturist.

    Comment by Jan — August 1, 2020 @ 9:56 AM

  13. I was a therapist for 26 years and interacted with many other therapists. People tend to choose therapists for different reasons, and therapists tend to attract clients in areas that the therapist may specialize in or be informally known to be skilled. People who come in for personal reasons vs. those who are referred by a physician will also tend to have different issues. Clients who come in for treatment of a specific issue such as childhood trauma may be there because the original underpinnings of their issues lie elsewhere, but the results leave them needing therapy as much as those who abused them. I think the differences in the answers posted above reflect these differences more than disagreement.

    That said, many therapists may joke (knowing that it frequently isn’t just a joke) that the people who need therapy the most are not the ones coming in but the the other significant people in their lives. Often those people are from family or work settings.

    Comment by Candace Dorsey — August 1, 2020 @ 11:01 AM

  14. I agree completely with Steven’s comment. I have treated around 11,000 in family, conjoint, and individual therapy. Most, in my experience, seek therapy because they have issues, that often means problems in relationships.

    Comment by Robert Campbell — August 1, 2020 @ 4:08 PM

  15. I completely agree with Dr. Amen’s observations. I am surrounded with toxic people.. one of them has adult ADD at least with OCD issues… Another definitely has OCD and age related problems and many people use me as their excuse for their bad behavior. It makes me question myself and kills my self esteem. I know I’m right. I’m the one they come to for help. My foundation is strong but there is still erosion from acid rain hitting me in the face. Everybody needs support and encouragement when faced with these individuals. Love can cover a multitude of sins but the scars remain.

    Comment by Mary Brock — August 1, 2020 @ 4:08 PM

  16. Actually, Dr. Amen is so right about why we go to therapy.

    I am a living witness of several family members who are ripe for therapy and won’t go. They don’t even realize that they need to go. But they cast their demons onto others and it can make our lives a living nightmare. I suffered for years and didn’t really know how to handle it until I became a counselor. I then realized that I needed to be the one to take care of myself. I wish people would see their weaknesses and mental decline and wake up to therapy.

    Thank you, Dr. Amen!

    Comment by Vivian Johnson — August 1, 2020 @ 4:21 PM

  17. I agree with the article’s premise: as a practicing therapist of over 30 years I can tell you the healthiest people in a ‘system (work, family, relationship) usually reach out for help first. I also know that many times it’s the one with the most power in the system that causes the most dysfunction in the system. It’s often the male. Yes~I’m not blaming men, all of us have created the limits and dysfunctions of the system we’re in. That’s why you see so much geared towards equalizing the patriarchy with a more feminine energy.

    Comment by Barb Elgin LCSW-C — August 1, 2020 @ 8:49 PM

  18. I just posted and thought I’d add/clarify what I said earlier. As a therapist for over 30 years, I believe there IS something important Amen is trying to get at in this article. I think power in the system is pivotal – often those most oppressed in a system, those who have less say so, decision-making power, etc., in a system – will ‘rebel’ or otherwise get attention if the one(s) with power are acting in an authoritarian (or hands off) matter. It’s like parenting styles. If you can’t as a parent balance care with discipline your child might very well ‘act out’ by bringing attention to himself (say gets in trouble at school and school calls in the parents). So the ‘identified patient’ might not be the ‘healthiest’ person in the system, but he or she has less to lose by speaking up and, more likely, is in a great deal of ‘pain’ due to the more powerful member’s problem behaviors. Another way of saying it: if no one complains about the problem behavior of the other, then the other doesn’t have to change. Why would the one with the power want to change? They would need a reason. A motivation.

    Comment by Barb Elgin, MSW, LCSW-C — August 1, 2020 @ 8:58 PM

  19. I agree with the articles premise. I have gone to therapy because of toxic people I have been surrounded by but also because I want to be able to respond well and deal with my own emotions. I also agree with some of the other responses because I do know that every situation is different. This article most likely is not designed to fit everyone. However, there is one point I must make and that is Dr. Amen mentions dealing with dishes in the sink and the affect it has on a relationship with someone who has ADD or ADHD. I have found myself to not be dramatically impacted by single events like dishes being left in the sink. I am more influenced by circumstances that create large lists of toxicity. One thing or two or three or even four can be disregarded as a quirk in someones personality or just having a bad day or something just not going the way you had hoped it would go. I am currently in a dysfunctional relationship which really has me angered and saddened. I have tried to be patient and kind, and have sought to change my point of view. I have tried to think how he would want things to be seen. It is never just one or even a few things. It is the feeling that this is not a normal relationship. It is knowing that I can’t tell the difference between how he is acting and how a stranger would behave. It is that there is no contribution toward our life, no sharing of lifestyle. It is the negativity in each and every exchange. It is dreading walking into the room that he is in because I don’t know what kind of comment he will make. It is the lens in which he views life. It is hoping that he will want to work on the relationship and knowing deep down that he will not. It is knowing that he self isolates and wouldn’t know many times if I left the house because he is not interested in spending time with me.

    Comment by Diane — August 3, 2020 @ 11:05 AM

  20. Thanks for explaining that therapy can help you learn to communicate better with people that have mental illnesses. My daughter has severe anxiety, and I’m hoping she will go to a counselor. I think it’d be beneficial for her to learn more about what she’s suffering from exactly.

    Comment by Eve Mitchell — January 26, 2022 @ 4:05 PM

  21. I developed social anxiety over the years, and it’s been hard for me to communicate with other people, especially at work. It’s good that you mentioned how counseling can help you understand your condition and behavior related to mental health issues to better understand yourself and other people. I’ll be sure to set an appointment with a counselor soon so I can improve my lifestyle and work performance.

    Comment by Anna Collins — May 23, 2022 @ 8:42 PM

  22. I thought this article was fantastic. I have been in therapy due to mental illness in my father, sister and 2 husbands. I have depression because of the relationships with these people. I address all of my own causes of depression, use anti-depressants when necessary and seek to be as healthy as possible. Thank you for this article.

    Comment by Jennifer Litz — July 28, 2023 @ 4:19 AM

  23. Does it matter what reason is the most common? This is an interesting article that is a huge help to someone like myself that needs to learn the details and decisions involved with a relationship with a challenged person. Thank you for writing it.

    Comment by Diane Conroy — July 28, 2023 @ 2:51 PM

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