Nothing fazes a therapist. By the time they’re in private practice, they’ve seen it all and can handle a vast array of mental health situations. Therapists’ training gives them the skills needed to support clients who struggle with anxiety, depression, stress, grief, and many other general issues. However, did you know that therapists can also offer specialized treatment for insomnia, adoption issues, or hair-pulling?
There are many types of therapy under the umbrella of “psychotherapy.” You might be surprised at some of the conditions and treatments that therapists specialize in. Read on to learn about 10 surprising things that therapists can help you with.
1. Defeat insomnia & sleep issues
Many therapists promote holistic wellness, not just good mental health. This includes taking care of your body physically by getting enough sleep. When clients have insomnia or sleep issues, it makes it hard for them to get through the tasks of daily life. They might lose their ability to focus or begin feeling chronically cranky, grumpy, or impatient, which has a ripple affect on jobs, relationships, and hobbies.
When a client presents with insomnia or sleep issues, a therapist can help them with their sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is the “cleanliness” of sleep and includes the pre-bedtime rituals — some of which can start midday, such as not having coffee after lunch. More examples of healthy sleep hygiene include placing your phone in a different room at night and making a routine out of getting ready for bed by doing things in the same order each night.
It may take several sessions for you and your therapist to find the perfect bedtime routine. There will likely be trial and error, which may lead to frustration. Your therapist will be there to help you process through the emotional reactions that arise as well as boost your confidence in your ability to handle the situation.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) is a therapy modality that was designed to help clients fall and stay asleep. CBT-I focuses on the client’s thought patterns, especially when it comes to sleep. By putting your thought patterns under a microscope, you’ll address the harmful thoughts and habits that frequently lead to negative feelings like disappointment, anxiety, and anger.
2. Cope with and work through infertility
Having a baby is hard — equally as hard, though, is not having a baby when you want one. Infertility issues can leave individuals and families feeling helpless and dejected. It’s vital to have the support of a therapist as you go through this experience.
Therapists trained in infertility counseling will draw from narrative therapy, grief and loss counseling, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) amongst other modalities. Most important is that they provide individuals and families with a place to express their emotions. When clients can talk about what they’re going through, they start processing through the experience. Therapists will challenge clients to do away with negative self-talk and internal judgement. They’ll also teach clients coping skills, which are helpful for clients going through infertility challenges or waiting to see how treatments progress. Therapists will also provide a supportive atmosphere to discuss the excitement and joy of the anticipated major life change.
Many infertility therapists have previous experience working in a medical setting, which is helpful as you navigate the healthcare system to get pregnant. There are also often certifications for therapists in this area, so be sure to check out prospective therapist credentials.
3. Stop hair-pulling and skin picking habits
Trichotillomania and excoriation may not be conditions that you’ve heard of. They describe the compulsions to hair-pull and skin-pick, respectively. Individuals who have these conditions often feel relief when they do the behavior. Generally, people engage in these behaviors in the face of stress, such as being in new situations or feeling out of control. This may leave them with bald spots, open sores, or scarring. It also can result in feelings of shame or guilt, as well as the inability to stop the habit.
Therapists who treat clients with trichotillomania and excoriation use habit reversing therapy modalities. This includes behavior therapies like Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Therapists will address the behavior by discussing possible rewards for not pulling or picking, as well as converse with the client about the reasons behind the behavior in the first place. They’ll support clients in exploring their thought patterns and fears. Once the behavior is better understood, including the identification of triggers, the therapist and client will come up with a list of other coping behaviors to do in the place of pulling or picking.
4. Move past creative blocks (including writer's block!)
Whether you’re creative for work or for pleasure, hitting a creative block can feel disappointing, frustrating, or distressing. And if this creative block exists for more than a few weeks, there can be a lot of pressure on you to perform, create, or build.
There are many therapists who focus on clients in creative fields. Often, therapists who specialize in working with artists, writers, designers, or actors have backgrounds in the creative field themselves. There are therapists who are dancers, actors, directors, potters — you name it! Some of these therapists go through additional training to become certified in dance or music therapy. These therapy styles use the innate power of movement or sound to get you out of your usual thought patterns. Combined with mindfulness exercises, they’re a great way to physically process emotions that you might not be able to put into words. Therapists not only facilitate these therapies but also help you process through any reactions that come up during the exercises.
If dance or music therapy isn’t for you, many therapists specialize in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), or a mindfulness-based therapy. In these modalities, a therapist will help you examine the thoughts, judgements, or fears that hold you back from your creative energy.
5. Adjust to new family structures, including adoption, foster care, and blended families
When children join a family through adoption, foster care systems, or as stepchildren, the family structure shifts, and all members of the family unit may benefit from therapeutic support.
Therapists that specialize in family therapy might have additional training in adoption & foster care or blended families. They have experience working with the whole family on communication, bonding, and roadblocks to closeness. Therapists may meet with everyone in the family for a group session or individuals, one at a time. It’s helpful to get third-party support and helps parents and children find common ground.
The adoption and foster care processes can take months, if not years. Having a therapist there throughout the process gives you someone to turn to with the ups and downs. Therapists who specialize in this area may also be particularly knowledgeable about these processes and help set expectations, explain complex jargon, and provide validation for any frustration, hopelessness, or even anger. After a child or children join a family, a therapist can help integrate them by giving the family ideas for bonding activities or conversation starters.
The same goes for stepfamilies. Therapists who work with blended families may start their work before the marriage happens or before the families move in together. Having a designated objective, non-biased therapist gives each family member a space to express themselves and their feelings — which is especially helpful for children.
Therapists who support non-traditional families may draw from a Family Systems approach. Family therapists can also become certified in parent-child interaction therapy or play therapy to best support the relationship between parent and child.
6. Lessen chronic pain & manage chronic illness
For those who experience chronic pain or have a chronic illness, having the support of a therapist is crucial for the development of coping skills. Chronic pain or illness is often frustrating, debilitating, and isolating. Therapists who specialize in working with individuals with chronic pain or illness support their clients as they navigate the healthcare system, starting at diagnosis (or lack of diagnosis) and lasting throughout symptom management. With a professional understanding of medical culture, they’ll provide you with space to explore your understanding of what’s going on with your body as well as what emotions surface as a result.
Some people with chronic pain or illness hesitate to rely on their loved ones for caretaking, and may be concerned about what they perceive as a burden. While many friends and families are outstanding with their caretaking and don’t mind the responsibility, having a therapist to take on some of the extra emotional work might feel more comfortable for clients, and leave space for loved ones to cope on their own as well.
Therapists that specialize in working with clients who have chronic pain or chronic illness have certifications in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), mindfulness practices, or hypnotherapy. Therapists will work with clients to find coping skills (such as deep breathing or visualization) that give them comfort in times of difficult health or pain. They’ll address internalized beliefs, especially instances of negative self-talk or guilt.
By providing safe space to vent, cry, shout, or complain, clients release the pent up emotions caused by their disabling physical health. Many therapists feel passionate about helping these clients, and despite not being able to cure their physical conditions, they offer warm, empathetic support.
7. Get mentally and physically healthy after a concussion
Whether you get a concussion from an accident, a sport, or another event, they can have serious mental health impacts. Not only is your brain physically damaged from the injury — and therefore the central force behind your emotions — but treatment can be draining or isolating. You might also find the experience of your injury traumatic, which could cause anxiety or depression over time if not comfortably processed.
Mental health professionals can help the concussed get mentally and physically healthy after a concussion. In treatment, people with concussions will complete neurological assessments with psychologists to monitor brain function. Providers will note any deficits and prescribe rehabilitation regimes.
In addition to these assessment based practices, speaking with a therapist regularly throughout recovery gives you the chance to express your emotions regarding the injury. You’ll have a space to talk about frustration, fear, or whatever else comes to mind as you rest your brain. Therapists who specialize in working with brain injuries will frequently draw from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and mindfulness approaches in their sessions. They help clients better understand their experiences and make meaning of the event and what followed.
Many therapists who work with concussed or injured clients have a background in working with clients in medical settings. Because of this experience, they’ll have the tools to help clients navigate doctor’s visits, test results, and treatment plans.
8. Feel more comfortable integrating into a new culture
Moving to a new city, state, country can be exciting, but it can also be quite stressful. A big move, especially to a culture quite different from your own, is a major life transition best navigated with the support of a therapist. Cultural adjustment, or exploring and integrating yourself into a new culture may result in anxiety, depression, or feelings of isolation. This often happens because of temporary lack of connection to the community or because of stigma or prejudice experienced in your new home.
Many therapists specialize in working with multicultural or immigrant clients, offering culturally-sensitive care. There are certifications for therapists who are passionate about supporting people from different cultures on their mental health journeys. They support clients as they process through their excitement about the prospects of the future as well as the grief of leaving home or a familiar place.
Therapists who specialize in this topic may draw from narrative therapy, a therapy approach that encourages clients to explore their internal and biographical stories and make sense of their backgrounds. You may also be able to find a therapist who speaks both your native language and the language of your new home, to help further ease that transition.
9. Reduce caregiver stress
For many people who begin taking care of a loved one because of an illness, debilitation, or significant need, the caregiver role is new, which can lead to high levels of caregiver stress. Supporting a loved one by helping with grocery shopping, medication management, financial tasks, or their physical health can add up and become overwhelming. This overwhelm can also lead to feelings of guilt about not being a good enough caregiver for a spouse, parent, or other loved one.
A therapist who specializes in helping caregivers opens the door for their clients to express frustration, disappointment, sadness, or any other emotion without passing judgement. Therapists who focus on caregivers teach their clients coping skills, relaxation techniques, or mindfulness practices to help them handle the high-stress responsibilities of taking care of a loved one. Boundary setting or communication skills also benefit caregivers. Therapists may teach time management or prioritization skills, if their client needs help finding more time to take care of themselves.
It’s important for caregivers to listen to their own needs and remain healthy in their own physical and emotional lives. Therapy is a time that caregivers can claim as their own and a time for healing their own wounds. Having a compassionate, empathetic therapist who specializes in caregiving is vital for self-preservation and to prevent erosion of the relationship between the caregiver and the loved one.
10. Enhance sports performance
Many athletes will attest that sports are matters of the mind just as much as they are matters of the body. No matter the sport, feeling mentally strong helps you succeed. In extreme cases, the emotional aspects of sports could become overwhelming, leading athletes to substance abuse or eating disorders. In less extreme cases, athletes feel frustration, disappointment, low self-esteem or self-worth, fear, or anger as a result of their connection to sport.
Sports therapists promote the strength of the mind-body connection. They teach their clients tools for stress management and how to stay calm in high-pressure situations. They help clients grow their self-awareness, especially when it comes to thought patterns around a specific game, skill, or personal record. They’ll often share relaxation or mindfulness exercises to help the client feel emotionally comfortable in their bodies before or during a sport.
Therapists who specialize in working with athletes also may encourage individuals to develop stronger communication with their coaches and teammates. These communication skills could even be helpful off the field or outside of the gym, with friends or family members.
All therapists have competency in supporting clients with general mental health goals. However, if you’re looking for a more specific type of therapy or would like to address a particular need, you'll still be able to find someone in that niche. These 10 examples are just a few of the varied, and often surprising, specialities that therapists have.