Because highly sensitive people get overstimulated easily, the right therapist can help them navigate their internal and external worlds.
I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a few months ago, my highly sensitive friend Julie asked me if I thought she needed therapy — and if so, how to find the right therapist. She was having a conflict with her boyfriend and felt down and depressed when they fought. Her question prompted me to reflect on why highly sensitive people (HSPs) benefit greatly from therapy — and how important it is to find the right therapist to work with to reap those benefits.
Julie told me it was hard to trust people because she’d gone through life with few people understanding and supporting her in the way she needs. And trusting the wrong person had been deeply upsetting and harmful. I explained to her how beneficial it would be to find a nurturing and compassionate therapist. That way, she could feel safe enough to be herself and explore all of her feelings without judgment.
Why Highly Sensitive People Seek Out Therapy
Highly sensitive people flourish with the right amount of emotional support from others. Many HSPs spend their entire lives feeling misunderstood and that something is “different” about or “wrong” with them. That internalized message is why learning about the sensitivity trait is so important, along with having someone validate your experiences.
Therapy is a place where you can begin valuing yourself, learn to create a life that supports your strengths, and change the narrative of “There’s something wrong with me” to something more empowering, like “My sensitivity allows me to experience life in a unique way and contribute to the world with passion.”
There are several reasons an HSP may seek out therapy, including:
- They process things deeply and are more inclined to seek out healing
- They may have low self-esteem because of negative stereotypes about sensitivity
- They have unresolved family-of-origin issues
- They struggle with perfectionism, people-pleasing, and/or are self-critical
- They have difficulty navigating conflict or closeness in relationships because of emotionally complex reactions
- They have unhealed trauma
- They have trouble with changes/transitions and making decisions
- They frequently feel worried, anxious, or emotionally exhausted
- They feel down and depressed — and don’t know why
Most people start therapy in a crisis, but you don’t have to wait until you are falling apart to get help. In fact, going to therapy when you are not at your breaking point can be a great opportunity to do some of the deeper work on yourself that might help you cope better with difficult experiences in the present and future. Here are some ways HSPs can benefit from therapy — with the right therapist, that is.
6 Ways Highly Sensitive People Benefit From Therapy
1. It lowers stress, anxiety, and/or depression.
It’s been proven that depression and anxiety push people away from living in the present moment. Individuals with anxiety are continuously worried about the future while people with depression are often focused on what has happened in the past. Therapy can teach you how to live in the present mindfully and how to practice meditation.
Your therapist can teach you to change your negative thought patterns and replace them with healthy, productive ones, which lowers stress levels and anxiety. When you learn how to relax and reframe your experiences, you can look at situations in new, less frightening ways, and develop better coping and problem-solving skills. This will allow mood and stress levels to naturally improve.
2. It’ll improve your confidence and self-esteem.
The primary aim of psychotherapy for highly sensitive people is often to promote and support self-love. Many who are highly sensitive struggle with low self-esteem, for which they try to overcompensate for by setting extremely high — and sometimes unrealistic — standards for themselves. They get caught in vicious circles. These high standards mean that the highly sensitive person repeatedly experiences failing, which then has a negative effect on their sense of self.
The goal of therapy is to help you feel comfortable in your own skin and improve self-love. A good therapist will encourage you to know you are deserving, capable, and good enough, which allows you to feel more confident, content, joyful, loved, and connected. A skilled therapist can also work with you on creating small, incremental goals that help you to slowly build your confidence and your experience of mastery in the world.
3. It’ll help you have closer relationships and the ability to handle conflict more effectively.
Being in therapy can help improve communication skills, empower you to make healthier choices, and develop coping strategies to manage distress. You will begin to see conflict as an opportunity to develop your character and improve your relationships. You’ll learn to successfully manage stress, control emotions, and focus on resolving the issue(s) at hand.
You will also find that you are better able to actively listen to your friends and family with genuine interest and empathy, withholding judgment or criticism. And you’ll learn how to handle conflict in calm and healthy ways — managing conflict is not always easy for HSPs — instead of reacting out of anger, which only leads to more tension.
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4. You’ll have even more compassion toward yourself and others.
Self-compassion is extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. Dr. Kristin Neff, the pioneer on self-compassion, has defined it as being composed of three main elements: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.
Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or emotionally beating ourselves up with self-criticism. When you are more compassionate with yourself, you naturally develop more compassion for others.
5. You’ll be able to take steps to heal your trauma(s).
Trauma is defined as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. If you feel shocked, saddened, anxious, or otherwise overwhelmed by an occurrence, you’re probably experiencing trauma. And because of how HSPs are wired, they may experience trauma on an even deeper level.
The trauma isn’t the event or experience itself, but your body and mind’s response to it. There are many methods to treat trauma and you can look specifically for a trauma-informed therapist to get the best help. With the right trauma therapist and learning the tools that are vital to overcoming trauma, those with trauma-related issues can make significant breakthroughs and will also be able to create a strong foundation for recovery.
6. You’ll learn how to resolve family-of-origin issues.
People often get stuck because they are living out reactive patterns (rather than proactive ways) of thinking, feeling, doing, and relating — which is largely developed in your family of origin. Our early experiences help shape the narratives we carry about ourselves, our “stories” or core beliefs about who we are and whether we can safely rely on others.
When you gain an understanding of the impact of your family history and attachment style, you can shift how you feel about yourself and others. Family-of-origin work is the process of removing the obstacles that block you emotionally and/or in your relationships.
Research shows that highly sensitive children thrive in supportive and nurturing environments — and tend to feel and function much worse in stressful ones. Therefore, HSPs often need a reparative experience with a therapist where they feel nurtured and supported for who they are, especially if that was lacking as a child. Creating a secure attachment with a therapist can help highly sensitive souls have better relationships with others and make better decisions with more confidence.
Finding the ‘Right’ Therapist Makes All the Difference
Finding the right therapist you connect with — and who can make you feel confident — is the biggest predictor of success. You want to feel like the therapist “gets you” and can provide hope and a path for healing.
Julie ended up taking the risk of finding a therapist and found one well-suited to her needs. She interviewed several and trusted her gut (after all, intuition is an HSP superpower) around the one she’d work the best with.
After a few months of therapy, Julie says her life and relationships have improved immensely. The safe space to express herself allowed Julie to explore parts of herself she didn’t even realize needed healing. She figured out the patterns she was replaying from childhood with her boyfriend, and was finally able to communicate and navigate conflict better.
Plus, the empathic support improved her stress levels, coping skills, and connectedness with herself and others. Julie is on a path to embracing her temperament and seeing it as a strength. She’s more conscientious of increasing her self-care and self-compassion. She told me she’s a work-in-progress, but is so relieved and thankful that she took the step to get help.
If you are wondering whether you need therapy, give it a try. Seeking out growth is beneficial and lays the foundation for a better quality of life. And it’s better to go sooner rather than later, when things get worse. Take the time to find the right therapist for you. As a therapist, I can tell you it’ll be well worth it.
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