How Common Are Mental Breakdowns During Therapy Sessions?

Written By

Erica Barnes


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Experiencing strong emotions during therapy sessions is quite common. However, full-blown “mental breakdowns” are less frequent. This article explores the prevalence of emotional distress and crying in therapy.

What Qualifies As A “Mental Breakdown”?

Key Signs Of A Breakdown

  • Uncontrollable crying or agitation
  • Panic attack symptoms
  • Feeling detached from reality
  • Urges to harm oneself

Breakdown Severity Scale

MildBrief crying spell
ModeratePanic attack
SevereDetachment from reality
ExtremeSelf-harm urges
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Crying Is Surprisingly Common

Research on crying in therapy indicates:

  • Clients report crying in up to 73% of sessions
  • Therapists report clients crying in up to 61% of sessions
  • Crying is often associated with discussing traumatic memories
  • Women cry more frequently than men

Risk Factors For Distress

Individuals Prone To Distress

  • Those with histories of trauma or recent major stressors
  • People with borderline personality disorder (BPD)
  • Those withdrawing from alcohol or drugs
  • Individuals in crisis from suicidal ideation

Therapists’ Crisis Training

Deescalation Techniques

  • Calm, non-judgmental communication
  • Grounding strategies to reduce dissociation
  • Finding the emotions behind behaviors

Good Therapy Often Involves Some Distress

Emotionally intense therapy sessions can indicate positive progress, rather than problems. The expression of feelings held back for many years facilitates healing. With support from a skilled professional, clients learn they can safely face extreme emotions without completely breaking down. This leads to empowerment and growth.

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About the author

Erica Barnes

Erica Barnes

I’m an African American woman living in New York, with a Bachelor's degree in Communication. I’m passionate about researching mental health topics, spirituality, and breaking down stigma in my community. I’ve dedicated my life to shedding light on important issues surrounding mental health and working towards creating a more understanding and compassionate society. As a researcher at Therapy Helpers, I’m here to use my skills to educate and inspire others through insightful articles. Thank you for being here!Social

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