Does Talking Really Help?

It is not easy to be alone in your mind. Talk to somebody.

Everybody says that people should talk about problems and not bottle them up. Is that good advice? According to both old adages and modern psychologists the answer is a clear yes. Talking through things that are bothering a person allows them to define the problem, keep it in perspective, and look at it more objectively. When people keep all their problems and emotions bottled up it can cause additional stress and may cause all the problems to run together as the mind tries to jump from one to the other until they seem endless and insurmountable.

Talking can allow valuable input from others on how to deal with situations. It allows the person talking to get the benefit of both experience and knowledge of others in processing  problems and issues when the listener gives feedback. Even just affirmation that it is a legitimate problem or feeling has value. The sharing of problems very often gives a feeling of having lessened the burden some because once it is shared there is a perception that you are not alone with the issue anymore.

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So why is it so hard to talk about problems and feelings? Social pressures and stigmas can make some feel weak or needy if they talk about things. The urge to be self-reliant is very strong in many people and even kindled by cultural expectations. Even if one can overcome the cultural or learned social expectations, there are still ramifications about some issues.

Talking about money problems could lead others to believe the person is not responsible or even untrustworthy. Talking about feelings may make others feel they are over sensitive or “too uptight”. Whether people like to admit it or not, even while they tell people to talk about their problems, when the person does finally open up there are far too often real unintended real world ramifications to the way others see them or feel about them. It only takes a couple episodes of negative responses for a person to decide the risk of talking outweighs the potential benefit.

Where professional counselors and therapists come in is they allow the positive benefits of sharing the problems and feelings without the same potential social risks. Moreover, they are trained in how to guide conversations to be more productive, and to see past smaller issues to the larger underlying issues.

An oversimplified example might be the problem wasn’t the spouse forgot to pick up some grocery items on the way home that caused the person to feel like they are in a doomed relationship, the real problem is they feel like they are never listened to or that the person does not care about their needs or desires in general.

From this point the trained professional might help a person go through a logical list of examples where the spouse has done these things many times or that it is actually infrequent and allow a person to determine if the reaction is justified or not, and in that manner to cope with the feelings better; or the opposite and see the reason the person was so upset about a small thing was it is in fact a small example of a recurring much larger problem, so while the specific thing was small, they were correct in being alarmed overall and not over-reacting.

While having a trained professional is a great support, not all have access to counselors and therapists, and it is not reasonable to be able to get a professional for everything that comes up a person might want to discuss. Many people in the world simply do not have a large enough support network of trustworthy friends or family to listen to them. Some issues also have too high of social risk to for many to feel comfortable talking about to friends or family.

If topics like depression and anxiety carry a high social risk, then how does one discuss self-harm like cutting, or actual suicidal thoughts without feeling like they are seriously risking the relationship and trust of their friends and family? If somebody has suicidal thoughts on a frequent basis or has been suffering from depression for a long period of time they cannot see a professional every time a negative thought enters their mind. Friends and family often have no experience in listening and offering feedback on these issues, so that silence comes across as not caring and may make it feel like sharing was  a mistake.

Use of anonymous peer support groups has been proven very effective for many people in dealing with the harder problems and feelings. Everything from addiction to suicidal thoughts has peer groups that will allow people talk to others that have had similar experiences so are not judgmental, and the anonymous nature relieves the social risk of disclosure. Also peer support groups allow far more frequent help than professional services. They fulfill the vital role of sharing thoughts and feelings while relieving the burden of feeling alone, without social risk to the person that is sharing. It is a chance to talk to people that actually understand the feelings and problems because they have had similar feelings or issues currently or in the past. It allows one to not only have a chance to talk, but to be listened to and understood as well.


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    • I couldn’t agree more. Talking is very, very bad advice. People give bad advice that can piss you off even more, or, as it happened to me, they betray you, belittle you, judge you amd go around telling other people what you told them. Every time
      i talked, whoever was on the receiving end, ended up hurting me more and making me feel worse

      • That all seems to be far more of an issue with who you chose to talk with than whether talking is good or not. Poor choices of who to share and what to share with them does not change the value of having somebody besides yourself to try to figure out problems and issues.

      • I too found talking very harmful. This is very bad advice.
        During one major depressive episode I confided to a few church friends about what I was going through. They obviously had never been depressed and came down hard on me for being depressed and expected a few few scriptures said over me to end my suffering. When it didn’t go away after a few weeks then they began to blame the victim. I was the target of prayers (gossip) for their prayer meeting, which I discovered after people I hardly knew came up and started giving me (prophecies) about my faulty thinking. They were way off base and were due to what these friends were saying. I eventually left church, a really good move and learned never to confide in anyone unless I knew they had experienced depression.

        • I think that sometimes when people have never experienced depression or particularly if they have an agenda other than giving support (such as a religious agenda) talking can be damaging. That is why we don’t allow preaching or scripture in our community. It simply isn’t helpful to most people. We do, however, have literally tens of thousands of members who would agree that talking does help – especially in an environment where you can talk to people who understand what it is like to feel suicidal and can share their experiences on what helped them (or made things worse and thus what to avoid) and how to get help. I am sorry that this happened to you when you confided in people that you trusted.

        • I fully understand. i also was, still i am depress but the true is that not everyone understands it. that is why you need to search for the right help. you cant go around telling to just a friend or a family who doesnt have understanding of the subject. You need to look someont who knows how to deal with this. someone that can reallly help you.

          the most important is to search help, where help can be given !

  • How is talking going to help me with my chronic fatigue? I wake up feeling like normal people do at the end of the day; and after years of “therapy” and “medications” I am still exhausted. Imagine this, knowing that tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that you will feel the same way. Imagine. What would you do? What would you consider doing?

    • I do not have to imagine- I have long term chronic , ultimately terminal illness as well, so it is my life also. Which is also how I ended up at this site originally. But what it does do is allow you to talk to peopel that understand instead of pity or nod and then roll eyes when they turn around and instead of being alone in my thoughts talking allows me to participate in life at the level I can since I have many physical limitations now. Talking does not cure problems, and no place does the article imply it would cure or fix any problem- but it does greatly improve the quality of life and get rid of the loneliness that comes from isolating. Talking allows me to participate in the world instead of simply existing in it. Ultimately, whether you choose to keep it all to yourself or have an at least partly social existence is up to you, your choice.

  • I must agree with many here. I would often come out of a counselling session feeling worse than when I went in. Just my opinion, doesn’t mean i’m right.

  • It depends on the state of mind you’re in. Are you against the world and everything they say or are you willing to share your burden with them? I do think you need to speak with someone that you feel absolutely comfortable with, but even they can piss off a person who is depressed, angry, etc. I know this because I’ve been that way before. If it’s too hard to talk to someone, then I think letting it all out in a diary can also help by acting as a release. Once you see it on paper you can also start to view your thoughts and feelings more objectively or at least understand them more clearly. That’s my experience.

  • as people say here… there are a lot of people you should never open up to. during my years of depression i have learned this by trying to talk to a lot of people. nobody has taken advantage of me so far, but i have several times felt as if i have been given a cold shoulder, simply because they dont know how to react or talk about those issues.

    as for the professionals… as soon as you find someone that seems to understand you, they can be a really good help on a day-to-day basis. that being said… i also experienced that the only way to get any better was by talking about what made me worse, thus i left several of the counselling sessions in a horrible mood. however, he helped me get better over time.

  • Although talking helps initially, there comes a time when you have said it all and heard it all and then talking just serves to repeat and increase ruminations of the things that worry you. So Samaritan hotlines become reinforcing for negative thoughts. They are just a listening service and have never shown they reduce suicidal actions

    • And with over 5.1 million calls per year they clear are a needed service and the number of awards they have received is pretty staggering. No, there is not “proof” it reduces suicide- you cannot prove a negative- that this number of peopel did not do something and the the reason why they did not- however common sense says that 5.1 million calls a year is likely a service of benefit. The “reinforcing negative thoughts” falls directly under the “just smile and get on with life” instead of tell people about it and getting help sort of advice as opposed to discussing that is what leads to the helplessness and despair that is part of so many suicide attempts. So far as proof- look at the number of people that straight up say they would have killed themselves if not for Samaritans, or other support / crisis lines )and peer support groups like this one and there is ample evidence of effectiveness.

  • I tried talking and it was a very bad idea. The therapists don’t seem to offer too much, at least the ones I saw, and I went through a dozen in so many years. I felt I was shelling out $95 a week for nothing.

    So I gave up on therapy.

    Then I met a man who also suffered depression and adhd, he claimed to be understanding. For the first year, he was very good, very understanding and always comforted me. I get panic out of nowhere and it’s debilitating. I take herbal remedies, as the cocktail of meds I was on for 7 years stopped having an effect. I exercise, meditate, do yoga, deep breathing, you name it, I TRY TO HELP MYSELF. But there are times when it’s out of my control.

    Anyway, we’ve been together over 3 years and it’ll likely end in the spring when I find the courage to leave. He now uses my emotions against me in anger. If I don’t “calm down” immediately during an anxiety attack, I get a barrage of verbal abuse and threats to leave. Of course, this makes it worse. This from the man who claims to love me and calls me “soul mate”. I feel that this is the biggest betrayal of all. Talking, even to the person you think is the best, the one who can empathize, the one who says he will take care of you…well, that doesn’t work either.

    Now I hide everything from him. I suffer on my own by hiding in the bathroom, claiming IBS or something. I talk to strangers on the internet which isn’t always a good idea either. Those who are ignorant will say “cheer up”, “just get some time outside” or “people have it worse than you”.

    Talking doesn’t help.

    • Actually=- it seemed it did help when it was with the person that cared- the fact that they turned into somebody abusive is not saying talking was bad – it sounds like it was far less lonely and painful than not talking by your own description- it is having the right person to talk to or people that understand- like you mentioned the anonymous people on the internet. So talking did help and now that you cannot it is the problem by your own story….

  • I used to think talking helped; in fact, I think it DID help. I’ve suffered from depression for some 40+ years, and when I get depressed my friends always leave me. In the past I have always tried to think positive and try to keep up some friendships and appearances. Now that I’m 55, I just don’t have the will or the energy. I’ve lost another four friends since my depression got worse 2 years ago, and I just don’t try anymore. There is so much pressure to pretend that everything is OK that I would rather be alone. At least that’s how I am feeling these days.

  • Personally, I don’t feel that it’s the talking that helps. Sometimes talking is the only way you can organise your thoughts. Sometimes it is the only way you have to get a non-depressed opinion about what you’re thinking. Sometimes it’s the only way you have of feeling like someone else cares about you. Sometimes it convinces people that sharing their pain is a way to decrease how much it hurts. Sometimes it makes people feel like someone else understands what they’re going through, to connect with another person.

    So it’s not really that the talking is so helpful – it’s the side affects of talking that helps people.

    Also, just have to point out that you can talk all you want but, if you have a medical problem causing your depression, getting treatment for it will be far more helpful than talking about it. Does talking to your doctor about medical causes count as talking about your mental illness? I’m not sure I would count it as such. My doctor doesn’t want to talk about it – he just needs to know what symptoms I have so he can treat them, if I am taking the medications as prescribed, etc. It’s not a conversation as such. It’s more like a report.

  • “Talking through things that are bothering a person allows them to define the problem, keep it in *perspective*, and look at it *more objectively.*” I disagree. Objectivity requires something be either true or false or that induction strongly and reliably supports a claim/argument. Many of the problems people face are not problems of truth (like whether or not they have a given disease or have failed a qualifying exam). Their problems may concern perspectives/values/sentiment (What’s a good enough life for me?). Which perspective is right? That of the establishment (like the church or the prevailing political party)? That of the majority (who might, for example, think a given religion or sexual orientation or… is “wrong” and should be eschewed)? Why should someone, talking through their problems or otherwise, have as an objective to take someone else’s perspective unless that perspective can be shown to be true? You can hold the perspective that Spain is part of the European Union because this is a verifiable fact. You aren’t intellectually obligated to hold the perspectives of many therapists/psychologists/psychiatrists… because, as more and more scholars around the world are publishing, many of these perspectives are cultural, professional, and individual biases–not objective facts.

    One of the big perspectives many confront is whether their lives, given all their challenges and pains, are worthwhile. To them. Where is the objective scientific evidence that life has the value some/many of us claim it does? Without being able to answer with hard evidence questions like this, it will be hard for psychologists and other behavioral therapists to stop people from doing what those people may reason is best for them no matter how offensive these people’s choices may seem. I’m not advocating any particular action other than asking for hard evidence, and lots of it, in support of any claim that a given perspective is “objective” and right. I’ve never come upon any such evidence in support of the dominant cultural worldview of life’s apparently inexhaustible goodness. Some people’s lives are consistently painful. Only the person living a life should be entitled to judge it as “good” or “bad” for them.

    And none of this even takes into account the strong link between poverty and homelessness and chronic isolation on the one hand and depression and suicidality on the other. According to research by the UN and other international political and health organizations, growing subpopulations of even wealthy countries don’t have the things the best available research tells us they need to be healthy, safe, and cognitively whole–like safe childhoods, affordable housing, enough financial resources to afford their regions’ cost of living, access to competent medical care and both just and reliable legal services… Yet we have the gall to talk about people keeping their problems in (the right) perspective and seeing things objectively. Talking about problems may help some. It doesn’t help many others because talking doesn’t get them what they need, especially in light of the scarcity of resources relative to needy populations’ sizes.

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