A wooden decorative door hanger in the shape of a sewing machine. The phrase "Sewing is my therapy" is imposed in black script.

Sewing is not my therapy (and it shouldn’t be yours either)

The sewing community loves its little catchphrases: “Thread chicken,” “measure twice, cut once,” or any sewing-related pun. One that caught my attention — and aggravation — is how casually people throw around “sewing is my therapy.”

I deeply hate the phrase “sewing is my therapy,” and it’s everywhere. On door hangers. On tote bags.

Yes, this might be a head-scratcher for some of you, especially because the word “therapy” is in the name of this blog. But I’m pretty clear about this: Sewing is not a replacement for psychotherapy.

“You’re being too serious! “It’s just a little fun!” “Don’t be such a downer!”

Hello. 👋🏽 I am depressed. I am always down. And when it comes to that phrase, I am a downright cantankerous grouch about it. Here’s why.

Sewing is an escape. Therapy forces you to face it.

If I just sewed, without any intervention from a therapist, I’d likely be dead—but perhaps well-dressed.

Job from Arrested Development does interpretive dance in front of a coffin. The GIF caption reads "'The Final Countdown' continues."

I’ve taken medication since I was 19, but I only started going to therapy consistently in the last year. I should’ve started at 19.

You see, I have dangerous, self-destructive thoughts. I catastrophize things. I can be obsessed with control. It’s not pretty in my head.

It feels good to not think about whatever worries you have while you’re sewing. I understand that. You need to get away from the pressures of daily life and have time for yourself.

There is a big difference between stress-relief and working through deep, personal issues.

Therapy doesn’t always relieve stress. It forces you to confront the things you’re running away from. It’s not fun. I often end a therapy session exhausted, and sometimes in tears. And sure, maybe you’ve cried over difficult fabric or bias binding that is a bitch to attach, but you’re not going to experience the same catharsis as you would talking to a professional and working through issues in your life.

I need to confront those issues in therapy. I’ve stuffed emotions down for so long, my body has a visceral reaction because I’m afraid of my own emotions. Sure, I’d rather go down familiar roads and forget about them. Sewing will help me forget briefly, but you know what’s healthier? Sitting with those emotions with a trained, licensed therapist and working through them. I’m going to get that from therapy, not sewing.

Saying “sewing is my therapy” glosses over deeper issues that may require the help of a trained professional to work through.

If I told you I was depressed right now, would you tell me to sew something to solve my problems? Hopefully not, but it’s been suggested to me. People tend to try everything else before attending therapy as a last resort. And that can be dangerous.

Sewing won’t help you navigate deep-rooted issues

Peer-reviewed studies have found some health benefits to leisure activities.

A 2015 study in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that engaging in leisure activities improved mood and stress levels and lowered heart rates. In 2017, a small study in Psychosomatic Medicine found that pleasant leisure activities lowered the blood pressure of Alzheimer’s disease caregivers.

American Heart Association

Nice.

Despite the dumpster fire that is 2020, people are rediscovering joy in their forgotten hobbies.

I’m happy for everyone. I love my hobby. Hell, I like hobbies so much, I have more than one. I need exercise to physically relieve anxiety. But I still take medication and talk to my therapist about my fears and thought patterns. Sewing doesn’t fix my spiraling anxiety, negative self-talk, or family issues.

Here’s where it can get tricky: For many sewers, our hobby has helped us with body issues by fitting garments to our unique bodies. The frustration and fitting-room meltdowns are mostly a thing of the past because we don’t need to shop for ready-to-wear as often if we can make our own clothes.

Minju Kim, a fashion designer on the Netflix show Next in Fashion, looks pensive as her face pokes out of a lace veil.
We are all Minju Kim.

However, the deep issues I still have about my body — which resulted in full-blown, undiagnosed depression and an eating disorder as a teen — haven’t gone away, just because I learned how to make tops or pants that fit.

Measurements still bother me, even though I suck it up for the purpose of my hobby and I know no one will ever see them but me. The #measurementsmovement — encouraging sewists to share their height, bust, waist, and hip measurements in their Instagram bios — bothers me deeply, as someone who used to be a regular member of pro-Ana forums in my darkest moments.

I need to go through the work in therapy to hopefully, someday, be more body neutral. As long as I sew, I will always be confronted with body measurements.

But is therapy really better?

About 75 percent of people who enter psychotherapy show some benefit from it. Psychotherapy has been shown to improve emotions and behaviors and to be linked with positive changes in the brain and body. The benefits also include fewer sick days, less disability, fewer medical problems, and increased work satisfaction.

American Psychiatric Association

Brain scans also show positive changes in the brains of those who attended therapy to treat a mental illness. So while sewing improves your mood, akin to a “runner’s high”, therapy is good for your brain.

Saying “sewing is my therapy” trivializes therapy as a practice and minimizes its value, implying that you’re going to get the same benefits from picking up a needle and thread. You’re not.

There is still a stigma attached to therapy—and mental health

When I first suggested I get therapy to my mom as a high-schooler, her first reaction was, “what do you have to be sad about?”

A gif of a woman saying "I'm screaming for help" with a blank expression.

It’s a typical reaction from someone who grew up in the barrio and worked to give her kids a better life than she had. Don’t worry, she’s turned around.

My mom’s a great example of how therapy and discussions around mental health are still taboo in BIPOC communities, especially in older generations.

While people are more open now about talking about mental health, therapy is still associated with people who have mental illnesses. However, you don’t need to have a mental illness to qualify or experience the benefits of therapy. People attend therapy to deal with emotional issues, family issues, marriage counseling, self-esteem, and so much more.

As a high-schooler, I was desperate for help to deal with the way I felt. I was always called “the weird one” by family members. My mom took me to one session with a faith-based counselor. It went fine, I think. After that session, I asked my mom if I’d be going back and she snapped at me about the cost.

I didn’t go to therapy again until I turned 30.

My mom knows better now, but there are many people out there who are dealing with that same pushback. There are people suffering under the weight of really difficult circumstances who would love to get help from a therapist but don’t have access or are afraid to ask for help because of the stigma. They’re told “pick up a hobby,” “see some friends,” ” just pray about it,” or something else. Therapy can be the difference between life and death.

When people casually throw around the phrase, “sewing is my therapy,” they’re downplaying the hurdles people still face to access therapy: Stigma, cost, and acceptance that they need help.

But what about your blog name?

Straight from the horse’s mouth:

Sewing and ongoing therapy really helped me get through those tough times, hence this blog’s name: Thread & Therapy.

Note the name is NOT Thread is Therapy, because sewing isn’t my therapy. Sewing and therapy each have their own place in my life, and my life is much richer because of it.

Chris Traiger, a character from the show Parks & Recreation, smiles and gives a thumbs-up to the camera, saying "therapy!" Text is superimposed on the GIF.

With any hobby that has a ton of enthusiasts, there’s bound to be the inside jokes and catchphrases. I urge you to consider the impact your words may have on another the next time you think of saying “sewing is my therapy.”

— Krystina

If you need help finding a therapist, check out these resources.