June 12, 2024

The Benefits of Psychotherapy in the Modern World

For 90 percent of human existence, we were predominantly nomadic hunter-gatherers living in groups of typically between 10 to 50 but occasionally up to 100 people.

As evolution is generally a slow process, we are biologically extremely similar to these hunter-gatherer ancestors, even though our modern life would be unrecognizable to them. According to evolutionary psychology, this mismatch between our contemporary world and the environment in which our species evolved is an enormous factor in the epidemic of anxiety, depression, and chronic stress sweeping the Western world.

Here’s why:

The greatest stressors that our ancestors faced were typically immediate and physical -  for example, being chased by a predator. Our stress response system evolved to meet those demands by producing surges of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol - for example, so we would have the energy to run away from said predator. However, nowadays our stress is predominantly chronic and psychological. Hormonal surges are not only often ineffective in responding to these stressors but also can lead to psychological and even physical problems like mood issues and immune dysfunction.

Modern Stress vs. Older Stress

There are several other ways in which contemporary stressors differ from those of the past. While our ancestors had more physically demanding jobs, they also had significantly more hours of leisure throughout the day. Additionally, the meaning associated with their jobs was obvious and direct - gather food, build shelter - and they did not experience the nowadays-common existential crisis of wondering whether their job “matters.” Moreover, the perilousness of their environment meant that they were never alone. The degree of isolation which is now considered the norm would have signified danger and triggered immense anxiety in our ancestors… who, remember, we are extremely similar to!

Plus, there are countless demands in the modern world that our visual, auditory, vestibular, and other sensory symptoms must contend with despite not having evolved alongside such challenges. Imagine how overwhelming an Instagram feed would be to somebody who has never encountered a screen before! While contemporary life has extraordinary conveniences - toilets, hospitals, and supermarkets, to name just a few - there are several overt and subtle stressors that our brains and bodies just aren’t prepared to handle. So if you ever find yourself wondering why you’re so susceptible to anxiety and depression despite the seeming “ease” of daily life… well, there’s your answer!

Psychotherapy Can Help

Fortunately, psychotherapy can help. While of course you cannot recreate the ideal conditions for which our species evolved, you can collaborate with a psychotherapist to tackle your current stressors and make perspective and lifestyle shifts to potentially cultivate a greater sense of emotional wellbeing, possibly guided by a evolutionary psychological lens if that’s what resonates with you.