Are My Problems Too Small for Therapy? Navigating Survival and Thriving

In the vast landscape of mental health, the question often arises: Are my problems too small for therapy? It’s a common misconception that therapy is only for those with severe trauma or PTSD. In this blog post, we’ll explore the nuances of therapy, debunk myths, and shed light on the importance of addressing not just survival but also thriving. Let’s delve into the intricate journey from surviving to thriving and understand how therapy can play a crucial role in both phases.

Surviving vs. Thriving:

Survival mode is a natural response to acute stress or trauma, triggering psychological and physiological reactions geared towards immediate threat response. Heightened awareness, increased heart rate, emotional numbness—these are all survival mechanisms that help individuals navigate through life-threatening situations. But survival is just the beginning.

Survival during trauma is a crucial aspect of mental health, but it’s not where the journey ends. The aftermath of trauma can lead to survival mode persisting, shaping day-to-day life. Hyperarousal, flashbacks, avoidance—these are elements of survival mode following trauma that can impact overall well-being.

Surviving is about enduring and overcoming challenges, meeting basic needs, and coping with immediate threats. It involves navigating through difficult situations using instincts and adaptive responses. On the other hand, thriving transcends survival. It signifies flourishing, growth, and overall well-being. Thriving individuals actively engage in personal development, pursue meaningful goals, and experience fulfillment.

Survival Mode: More Than We Can Ask For

When you’re in survival mode, the primary focus is evident: to survive. Whether it’s grief, struggles, or trauma, getting through each day is an accomplishment in itself. Surviving entails using coping mechanisms, adaptive responses, and instincts to ensure physical and psychological well-being. It’s a testament to resilience and strength.

The Work on Trauma: A Continual Process

Contrary to a common belief, working on trauma is not a one-time fix. The work on trauma is indeed crucial and important, but it is not where it ends. Trauma can have lasting effects on mental health, and prolonged exposure to traumatic stress may lead to conditions like PTSD. Seeking professional support is vital for processing experiences and promoting healing.

Survival Mode Following Trauma:

Survival mode following trauma involves ongoing psychological and physiological adaptations. It goes beyond the immediate crisis and shapes a person’s day-to-day life. Hyperarousal, flashbacks, avoidance, and emotional numbing are aspects survivors may grapple with. Seeking support, whether through therapy or support groups, is crucial for navigating these challenges and promoting healing.

Surviving to Thriving: The Transition:

The transition from surviving to thriving involves more than just addressing trauma. It’s about creating a life that one wants and deserves, actively working towards happiness, and building tools for future challenges. Thriving can serve as a cushioned fall during the next survival mode, providing individuals with coping skills and resilience.

The Importance of Therapy for Small Problems:

Now, let’s address the idea of problems being “too small” for therapy. It’s crucial to understand that therapy is not exclusively reserved for monumental issues. In fact, addressing smaller problems through therapy can be proactive in preventing these challenges from escalating into more significant issues.

Therapy provides a safe space to explore and understand one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, regardless of their size. It offers tools and coping mechanisms that can be applied not only to immediate concerns but also to enhance overall well-being and resilience.

Furthermore, what may seem like a small problem on the surface can often be connected to deeper emotional or psychological patterns. Therapists are trained to help individuals uncover these connections, fostering self-awareness and providing strategies for positive change.

Surviving, Thriving, and the Role of Therapy:

In the context of therapy, both surviving and thriving are valid and essential aspects of mental health. Therapists work with individuals to address immediate challenges, navigate trauma, and develop strategies for surviving. Simultaneously, they assist in building a foundation for thriving—creating a life filled with purpose, meaning, and fulfillment.

Therapy provides a toolkit for individuals to manage stress, enhance coping skills, and cultivate resilience. In the process, individuals not only overcome obstacles but also learn to thrive in the face of adversity. This proactive approach can be particularly valuable when facing future challenges, helping to prevent a return to survival mode.

Thriving and Mental Wellbeing: A Spectrum of Colors

As we explore the spectrum from surviving to thriving, it’s beneficial to envision this journey as a gradient of colors—moving from red to orange to yellow to green. This color gradient mirrors the emotional landscape individuals navigate as they progress from survival mode to thriving.

problems too small for therapy- gradient of surviving towards thriving
Surviving to thriving scale

Red (Surviving): The red phase symbolizes the intensity and urgency of survival mode. In this phase, individuals may experience heightened stress, anxiety, and a constant state of alertness. Therapy during this stage focuses on immediate coping strategies, emotional regulation, and building a foundation for healing.

Orange (Transition): The transition from surviving to thriving is often represented by the orange phase. During this stage, individuals start to explore deeper aspects of their experiences. Therapy emphasizes processing trauma, understanding emotional responses, and developing self-awareness. It’s a phase of building resilience and laying the groundwork for positive change.

Yellow (Thriving): The yellow phase signifies the thriving stage. Here, individuals actively engage in personal development, pursue goals, and experience a sense of fulfillment. Therapy in this phase becomes a tool for personal growth, enhancing strengths, and navigating life challenges with a proactive mindset.

Green (Sustained Thriving): The green phase represents sustained thriving. In this stage, individuals have integrated positive coping mechanisms into their daily lives. Therapy continues to play a supportive role in maintaining mental well-being, providing a space for reflection, and addressing new challenges that may arise.

Thriving and Mental Wellbeing:

Now, let’s delve deeper into how thriving contributes to one’s mental well-being. Thriving is not merely the absence of challenges; it’s an active pursuit of a fulfilling and meaningful life. Here are key aspects of how thriving positively impacts mental well-being:

  1. Positive Emotions and Resilience: Thriving individuals often experience a range of positive emotions, including joy, gratitude, and contentment. These emotions act as buffers against stress and contribute to overall resilience in the face of life’s ups and downs.
  2. Purpose and Meaning: A sense of purpose and meaning in life is a cornerstone of thriving. Individuals who actively pursue goals aligned with their values tend to have a greater sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. Therapy in the thriving phase can help individuals explore and clarify their life purpose.
  3. Healthy Relationships: Thriving extends to interpersonal relationships. Individuals in the thriving phase tend to cultivate healthy, meaningful connections with others. Therapy provides a space to navigate relationship challenges, set boundaries, and foster positive social interactions.
  4. Self-Efficacy and Empowerment: Thriving individuals often have a strong sense of self-efficacy—believing in their ability to navigate challenges and achieve their goals. Therapy supports the development of this belief, empowering individuals to take proactive steps towards their desired outcomes.
  5. Physical Well-being: Mental and physical well-being are intertwined. Thriving individuals often prioritize self-care, including regular exercise, proper nutrition, and sufficient rest. Therapy can address any barriers to adopting healthy lifestyle practices and promote holistic well-being.
  6. Adaptability and Growth Mindset: Thriving involves adaptability and a growth mindset. Individuals with a growth mindset see challenges as opportunities for learning and growth. Therapy in the thriving phase reinforces adaptive thinking patterns and encourages a positive approach to setbacks.
  7. Enhanced Coping Skills: The tools acquired in therapy during the survival phase become integral in thriving. Individuals have a repertoire of coping skills to manage stress, regulate emotions, and navigate challenges effectively. Therapy continues to refine and expand these skills for sustained well-being.
  8. Life Satisfaction: Thriving individuals report higher levels of life satisfaction and overall happiness. Therapy plays a role in exploring values, setting realistic goals, and aligning daily actions with long-term aspirations, contributing to a sense of fulfillment.
  9. Reduced Mental Health Symptoms: As individuals progress from survival to thriving, there is often a noticeable reduction in mental health symptoms. Therapy supports ongoing mental health maintenance, addressing any residual symptoms and preventing relapses into survival mode.
  10. Contribution and Impact: Thriving extends beyond personal well-being to making a positive impact on others and the community. Individuals in the thriving phase often seek avenues for contribution and find fulfillment in making a difference. Therapy can explore avenues for meaningful contribution and purposeful engagement.

Thriving, represented by the yellow and green phases in our color gradient, is a dynamic and ongoing process. It involves intentional actions, self-reflection, and a commitment to personal growth. Through therapy, individuals in the thriving phase continue to refine their skills, explore new possibilities, and maintain a proactive approach to mental well-being.


In the journey of mental health, the question shouldn’t be whether your problems are too small for therapy. Instead, it should be about recognizing the spectrum from surviving to thriving and understanding that therapy is a valuable tool in every phase. Whether you’re navigating survival mode or actively working towards thriving, therapy provides support, coping strategies, and a path to healing. Remember, your struggles are valid, and seeking help is a sign of strength, regardless of the size of the problem.

As you progress along this spectrum, envision the vibrant colors of the gradient—from the intense red of survival to the sunny yellow and lush green of thriving. Embrace the journey, seek support when needed, and empower yourself to not just survive but to thrive in the intricate tapestry of life.

probelms too small for therapy - author
Author, Stephanie Boucher
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