Personal Growth Is for Everyone (And Therapy Is the Answer)
At OpenCounseling, we believe therapy is an essential tool for personal growth and that everyone should be able to use it for exactly that purpose.
Sure, therapy is one of the best methods for treating mental health conditions, healing trauma, and helping you overcome negative thinking and behavior.
But therapy is more than just symptom management. It’s more than just a way to fix problems and more than just treatment for when you’re not well.
In this article, we’ll explain what personal growth is and how therapy can be an essential part of your journey. Read on to learn more.
What Is Personal Growth?
Let’s start with the basics. What is personal growth?
Personal growth is the process of personal evolution that helps you finally break through a creative block, walk away from a bad relationship, embrace a new spiritual path, or find a new passion. It’s something we all want, even if we don’t always know what to call it or how to get it.
Yes, “personal growth” can mean a lot of things. It’s a vague term that’s easy to dismiss. It’s impossible to measure, so scientists and psychological researchers are often reluctant to refer to it.
It’s not entirely a bad instinct to treat it with skepticism. Its elusive qualities make it rife for abuse as an empty marketing term. People with minimal skills or formal training can set themselves up as “personal growth coaches” and charge people hundreds of dollars for not much at all.
But personal growth is real, however hard to pin down it may be.
One thing that makes personal growth seem vague is that it’s different for everyone. Sometimes it’s learning a new skill or philosophy. Sometimes it’s simply shedding some of the doubts that hold you back from being more open with the people you love.
Sometimes it’s developing enough courage or self-confidence to finally make a major life change. You might simply find a new hobby or you might do something as significant as quitting your job, breaking up with your partner, or moving overseas.
However different these may seem, these results all have one thing in common. While the process of personal growth can’t be measured, the result is nearly always a measurable change in how you live your life.
There’s another common thread in all personal growth journeys: self-knowledge. Personal growth is what happens when you get to know who you really are, who you want to be, and who you have the potential to be—and start living your life accordingly.
When Do You Need Help with Personal Growth?
Usually, by the time you’re in your late twenties or thirties (and certainly by midlife), you’ve developed a sense of self that’s rooted in suppressing or denying at least some authentic parts of who you are.
You might pride yourself in your timeliness, for example, when deep down, you resent how strict your schedule is. You might make excuses about why you have the job you do even though you hate it and dread going to work every day. Or you might think of yourself as just “a mom” or “a dad” when, while you love your kids, you know there’s more to your life—and you—than that.
Maybe you’re a “helper” who feels invisible in that role. Maybe you’re in a sexless marriage or a loveless relationship. Maybe you wish you were wilder and more rebellious, or maybe you wish the opposite—that your life was more respectable and organized.
You might tell yourself these compromises you’ve made are as good as it gets. Thank your ego for that. It’s perfectly content with maintaining the status quo. In response to whatever isn’t working or doesn’t feel good, it busies itself with keeping your mind off of it and saying, “This is fine.”
But on some level, you know it’s not fine. Maybe you’ve developed anxiety or depression. Maybe you’ve gotten caught up in an addiction or compulsion that’s starting to harm you. Or maybe you simply have a vague sense something isn’t right or that something is missing. But on some level, you know your life isn’t working and needs to change.
How Can Therapy Help You with Personal Growth?
Therapists have many theories about what causes personal growth. Most of these theories are based on the idea of the subconscious.
Therapists—especially psychodynamic therapists—believe that a lot of what drives us lies beyond our conscious awareness. According to them, we rarely know our own motives. We often feel conflicted about, if not totally horrified by, our deepest desires, if we even know them at all.
You can get walled off from your real thoughts and feelings for a lot of reasons. One of the big ones is other people. Even if they don’t say they think something is wrong with you, your friends, parents, and partners can react in ways that make you feel guilty or ashamed for feeling, thinking, talking, or acting the way you do.
Even if your family or home life is encouraging, the social pressures you encounter when you go to school or work can cause you to start shutting down. First, you learn not to tell others what you really think. Eventually, you might get to the point you don’t even know what you really think or feel anymore. You just do what’s expected of you and feel a little numb. And tired.
The reason you feel tired is that a conflict is raging inside you like a forest fire. Your fatigue is an emergency siren but you can’t see or sense the flames, so you push to keep going.
Over time, the person other people know you to be starts to separate from the person you know—or once knew—yourself to be. Sometimes, you’re aware of it, but sometimes, you start to identify with your false self and forget who you really are. Joy starts to disappear from your life.
Therapists can help by guiding you to and through your subconscious. They can help you find the lost parts of you so you can put the puzzle of self back together. They can scare the monsters out of your mental closets and arm you with what you need to defeat them. They can guide you in your journey to uncover desires, passions, and dreams you buried so deeply it would have been almost impossible to find your way back to them on your own.
One of the most healing aspects of therapy is being known and accepted by your therapist. Your therapist is interested in and will embrace your whole self—including and especially the parts you hide from everyone else. What makes this possible is the special nature of the therapeutic relationship.
Good therapists are curious, empathetic, and want to help other people feel better. This, and the fact they don’t know or rely on you outside of the therapy office, allows them to regard with openness what other people resist or reject. Being known like this by another person helps you get to know and accept yourself in the same way.
Why Is Personal Growth So Expensive?
Personal growth is for everyone, but society might make you think otherwise.
When you start to look into it, you often find your way to options with a big price tag.
Whether it’s a retreat, a writing workshop, or sessions with a therapist or life coach, when someone offers a service to help you become your best self, they often ask you to pay a lot for it—even though there’s no guarantee that what they’re offering will get you there.
Watch Out for High Prices
Personal growth is as natural and essential as breathing. Just like a plant stretches toward the sun, we reach toward the golden rays of what helps us grow more vibrant and fulfilled.
But growth toward our better selves—what some therapists call “self-actualization”—is not treated as essential in our culture. It’s treated as optional, even a luxury, and often comes with a high price tag. For example:
- Insurance will cover therapy for the treatment of a mental health condition, but it won’t cover therapy for personal growth.
- Retreats and workshops designed to help with personal growth can cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.
- Therapists who focus on personal growth instead of diagnosing and treating mental health conditions tend to charge high rates and to not accept insurance.
The message you get when you start shopping for help with growth is that working on your personal growth is fine if you’re rich and have a lot of free time, but not if you’re a working person on a budget.
We couldn’t disagree more. Personal growth is for everyone. It’s not a luxury—it’s a human necessity.
Fortunately, there are ways to get help with your personal growth goals that are accessible and affordable. You just have to know where to look. Community organizations might offer free classes, and some therapists offer personal-growth-focused sessions for low sliding-scale rates.
When you feel like something is missing or like you’ve lost your spark, therapy can help.
Therapy can help you answer your deepest questions, recover a sense of personal authenticity, and feel excited about life again. It can give you the tools to unlock your greatest potential and become the best possible version of yourself.
And it doesn’t have to be expensive.
While some therapists and coaches who specialize in personal growth charge a lot, not all of them do. Many of the ways and places therapists offer affordable therapy are places you can go no matter what your therapy goal might be.
So, if you’re looking for affordable help with personal growth, consider looking for a therapist (or coach) who specializes in it and who charges an affordable rate.
What Are Your Options for Affordable Therapy?
There are many ways to get affordable therapy. One of the easiest is to use insurance. Whether you have Medicaid, Medicare, or private insurance, co-pays are generally less than out-of-pocket rates. So, if there’s a good therapist who’s a good match in your insurance network, that’s often your best option.
However, it might not be an option if you’re looking for help with personal growth. To get reimbursed by insurance, a therapist has to give you a diagnosis—and prove they’re providing you with clinical mental health treatment for that diagnosed condition.
So, if your yearning to grow has uncovered painful feelings or memories and you’ve developed anxiety or depression as a result—or you happen to have a mental health condition you need to treat as well as personal growth goals—a therapist in your insurance network might be able to help you.
Otherwise, they might not, and you might have to explore other options.
When Shouldn't You Use Insurance?
Sometimes, it can be worth it to not use insurance. Why? Finding a therapist who’s a good match is essential for good therapy and insurance isn’t a great option if it blocks you from finding the right therapist.
If you can’t find a therapist who’s a good match in your insurance network, but you can find someone outside of it who is, that might be better, especially if they offer a sliding scale. You might pay a little bit more to get a whole lot more out of therapy.
And when you don’t have a diagnosable mental health condition, insurance isn’t even an option. To reimburse therapists, insurance companies require them to prove that their services are “medically necessary” for mental health treatment.
Fortunately, insurance isn’t the only way to get affordable therapy. You can get therapy for a low fee—or even for free—from university psychology or counseling departments, community counseling agencies, charitable or nonprofit agencies serving specific groups (such as veterans or trauma survivors), and your state’s public mental health system.
Unfortunately, however, these options often have the same catch as insurance. They almost always focus on providing therapy to treat mental health conditions. Which is great if you have a mental health condition! But if you don’t, and just want to see a therapist to work on personal growth goals, you might not meet the criteria to be accepted into free or low-cost therapy programs in your area.
Don't Assume—Always Ask
Affordable nonprofit and publicly-funded therapy programs often have the same restrictions as insurance and can only help if you have a diagnosable mental health condition.
But that isn’t always true and some of them can be great ways to get therapy for personal growth as well as for clinical treatment of a mental health condition.
So, we encourage you to fully explore all your local low-cost therapy providers before assuming a specific therapist or program isn’t an option for you.
Sliding-scale therapists can be an excellent option if you’re looking for therapy for personal growth, but whether you can find a therapist who’s a good match and whose sliding scale is truly affordable for you depends on where you live and how many options you have.
Looking online can help. The same insurance rules apply to both online and offline sessions, but when you search online, you can search for all therapists licensed to practice in your state who offer a sliding scale. This increases your chances of finding an affordable therapist with the right expertise.
And if you’re looking for help with personal growth on a budget, therapy isn’t your only option. There are many ways to begin your journey that don’t cost a lot of money—a lot of them are even free. Read the tips box below for things you can try instead of (or in addition to) therapy.
When You Want to Grow, Get Creative
Therapy is one of the best ways to supercharge your personal growth journey.
But it’s not your only option.
The funny thing about personal growth is that it can be expensive, but it can also be pretty cheap—or even free. If you’re looking for a way to get started that doesn’t cost a whole lot, consider the following options:
- Check out your local library. Not only can you check out personal growth books for free, but you can also often find free classes, groups, and meetings related to your goals or interests at the library.
- Look up your local recreation department. Rec centers and departments typically focus on fun and fitness, but they also offer classes where you can go pretty deep, learn a lot about yourself, and build amazing skills—often for a really low price.
- Explore your spiritual side. Whatever you do or don’t believe, there’s probably a spiritual group where you can find like-minded people. In addition to worship services, spiritual organizations often offer classes focused on different aspects of personal growth. These are usually either free or very inexpensive.
- Look online. When local options are limited, or the topic you want to explore is sensitive, you can almost always go online and find websites, forums, and groups focused on the aspect of personal growth you’re interested in. This is a great way to start building connections and learning.
- Go outside. Many people who make major changes in their lives or who discover their authentic selves start—or end—their journey outside. Being in nature can clear your mind and inspire you. It can help you regulate your nervous system. It can also help you gain a new perspective and expand your sense of what’s possible.
Honestly, these are things you need whether you get therapy or not: nature, community, and knowledge. If you’re in therapy, you may find any of these options useful if you get to a stuck point or feel like you need more.
On the other hand, you can start with any of them if you don’t quite feel ready for therapy. You’ll probably eventually get to the point where you hit an emotional block, and that will probably be when it starts to feel like the right time to try therapy, too.
Our sponsor, BetterHelp, can also be a great option when you’re looking for affordable online therapy for personal growth. Because they don’t accept insurance, they don’t have the restrictions that come with insurance.
On BetterHelp (a sponsor), you don’t have to justify therapy as mental health treatment to start working with a therapist—or to qualify for financial aid or a discount. All you need to get discounted therapy through BetterHelp is to want therapy and to meet the income parameters to receive a discount.
Whether BetterHelp (a sponsor) is the right option for you depends on what you’re looking for. You can read our BetterHelp FAQ for more information to help you decide.
Treating mental health conditions and working on personal growth goals can often be the same thing, but not always.
When you want to change your life or even just suspect that something isn’t quite right, it isn’t always because you have a mental health condition.
The good news is that you don’t have to know whether you do, because therapy can help either way. The bad news is that whether you have a mental health condition can determine whether insurance covers your therapy or if you qualify for low-cost therapy programs in your area.
Going to therapy isn’t the only way to get help with personal growth. You can go to workshops or retreats, try something new that challenges you or ignites a passion, or spend more time outside. You can take a class or read a book, meditate or pray, or share more of yourself when you talk to others.
However, there’s often a point in the journey where therapy can help tremendously—or even when it’s necessary. You might hit an emotional or psychological block and get stuck. Therapy can help you break through that block and go even deeper in your quest for growth, meaning, or self-knowledge.
One of the major barriers to therapy is cost. And options that can make therapy affordable don’t always work if your main reason for seeking therapy is personal growth. To get therapy covered by insurance, a therapist has to prove your sessions are medically necessary mental health treatment. Some (but not all) non-profit and publicly-funded mental health programs have the same restrictions.
Look for Therapists Who Offer a Sliding Scale
One way to find affordable therapy for personal growth is to look for therapists who offer a sliding scale. You don’t have to meet insurance criteria to work with them. You can use our site’s database to find local community clinics and sliding-scale therapists that may offer therapy for personal growth.
Going online can help. Not only can you expand your search radius for sliding-scale therapists, but you can also try an online therapy platform like our sponsor, BetterHelp. They offer financial aid that can help make therapy more affordable and you don’t have to have a mental health condition to qualify.
That said, BetterHelp isn’t for everyone. We strongly encourage you to research and learn more about BetterHelp and other online (and local) options to find which one is the best fit for you. The more you explore, the more options you’ll find. You might find the perfect therapist in your local community or online.
When you find the right therapist, you might be surprised by just how much they can help you change for the better. They can help you grow in ways you’ve always wanted to grow and in ways you didn’t even know were possible. So reach out—life-changing therapy could be just a call or click away.
Stephanie Hairston is a freelance mental health writer who spent several years in the field of adult mental health before transitioning to professional writing and editing. As a clinical social worker, she provided group and individual therapy, crisis intervention services, and psychological assessments.