Therapy Basics

Therapy has often been called the “talking cure,” since the exchange of words between the client and therapist can appear to be the most obvious form of communication that is going on. In reality, therapy can offer a much richer experience than the simple exchange of words and advice. The thoughts and feelings you share and the professional techniques the therapist uses are not nearly as important as the relationship you build together. Because the relationship with the therapist is so essential to the effectiveness of the process, it is very important that you find someone with whom you feel a comfortable connection, a therapist who makes you feel understood.

As therapy progresses and your trust in the therapist’s non-judgmental acceptance of your thoughts and feelings is established, you will actually use the relationship as an opportunity to reshape significant emotional experiences and work through problems in your life. In therapy, you intentionally make yourself vulnerable to another human being and you may talk about some things that are very painful for you. However, it is the very process of trusting that it’s safe to release your feelings (the good and the bad) and knowing that the therapeutic relationship permits you to safely explore deeply felt sources of conflict and dissatisfaction that will finally allow you to make lasting, positive changes in your life.

Anxiety and reluctance to enter into therapy is normal. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go. The first step of asking for help is one of the hardest things to do. You will be talking about very personal things with a person you do not know well. People often confide things to their therapists that they may not confide in any other people, or at least a very select few. Being a little anxious about doing this is a good thing; it’s healthy.

Therapists often encourage clients to “sit with their feelings”. This is a basic therapeutic strategy used to help clients learn more about themselves by learning to listen to themselves more. Sitting in sadness, anger, anxiety, fear, or despair isn’t a fun thing to do. After doing this in therapy, it is common for a client to feel vulnerable and want some distance from the therapist. This is natural and self-protective. It is a healthy and natural response to experiencing pain. This doesn’t mean it is time to leave therapy; in fact, just the opposite. It means you are doing some of the major work of therapy and are in the middle stage of your treatment.

Misconceptions about Therapy

If I need therapy, I must be crazy. Needing therapy does NOT make you crazy. Knowing when to reach out for help and support is a strength. The majority of people who see a therapist are strong, mentally healthy people who understand the need to seek support during certain challenging times. They find their life is more satisfying and rewarding because of participating in therapy.

Media: What you have seen on television or in the movies isn’t really what therapy looks like. It usually is a misrepresented idea of what therapy is, and has made many people a little uneasy about participating in therapy. Instead of the stereotypical “therapists” you often see on television, (who tend to be cold, removed, and sometimes judgmental) you should feel supported and engaged when talking to your therapist. I believe in the healing power of laughter, so therapy can actually feel fun and enjoyable.

What Makes a Good Therapist?

Ultimately, the best evaluation of a therapist’s worth is YOU. If you believe you are getting good service and find your relationship with your therapist helpful overall, then it probably is. If you have a nagging feeling that something just isn’t right between you and your therapist, listen to it. Talk with your therapist about this. If you and your therapist discuss your feelings and that voice is still nagging you, perhaps you need to find another therapist that suits your needs better.

The styles between therapists are going to be very different. Each individual therapist will favor the type of therapy that he/she uses over other theories, but it doesn’t mean that one is better than the other. Studies of the different schools of thought in therapy, the different “theoretical orientations”, show that it isn’t the theory your therapist believes in and uses in therapy that makes the therapy good, it is the relationship that you and your therapist build. If you have a good relationship with your therapist, you are likely to get more out of your therapy than if you don’t have a good relationship. The style your therapist uses may not make any difference to your experience of therapy at all.

Good therapy is an art, not a science. What works for one person won’t work for another. The art of therapy is finding what works for each client at a particular time and being flexible enough to change the approach when the client’s needs change. However, ultimately, the healing is up to YOU.

Therapy is a process of uncovering, learning, and exploring yourself and your world. The goal is to help you gain a better understanding about yourself and your interpersonal relationships. People in therapy go through many personal changes as they discover more about themselves and their relationships with the people around them. Sometimes they learn that some relationships are problematic and need to be terminated while others can be strengthened and nurtured to be more satisfying. Therefore it is important for you as a consumer to be aware that by committing yourself to this process of self-exploration, there will be risks of experiencing more pain in order to heal emotionally, and things in your life may get worse before they get better. Unfortunately this is a part of therapy and healing. There isn’t any way around this, but if you are able to make the commitment to therapy, it should prove to be ultimately very rewarding.

Why Should I Seek Therapy?

Psychotherapy, sometimes called counseling or therapy, is a healthcare service that helps individuals, couples and/or families who are having difficulties. Many different life circumstances can bring people to therapy. Psychotherapy can help individuals with a wide variety of life difficulties. Most research finds that 65% to 85% of the people who have completed psychotherapy are helped by the therapy. Of course, the specific success rate varies according to the type of difficulty one is experiencing.

Some of the most common reasons for seeking help from therapy include:

Emotional Distress
From time to time, everyone experiences emotional pain. But sometimes the distress is particularly severe or long-lasting and interferes with your ability to function in your daily life. If you are experiencing sadness, grief, or anxiety that is persistent, therapy can help relieve the symptoms, address the underlying causes for your distress, and provide you with help in restoring emotional well-being.

Personal Growth
Therapy can help you overcome obstacles that have kept you from reaching your goals and becoming the person you want to be. Although you might not have a clinical condition or symptoms, therapy can help you learn more about yourself, as well as others, and how you can live your life with deeper personal satisfaction.

Relationship Issues
Your distress may be coming from difficulties in your relationship with a spouse, parent, child, co-worker or significant other. Therapy can be valuable in helping you understand the root of the problem and providing you with the understanding and skills you need to improve the relationship.

Coping Mechanisms
Sometimes emotional distress or relationship problems are associated with coping mechanisms, such as excessive shyness, weak communication, lack of assertiveness, or poor anger control. Therapy can enable you to acquire or strengthen skills that can benefit many of the most important areas of your life.

Experiencing a break from someone who is important to you (through death or separation) can result in great emotional pain. Therapy can be significantly helpful in coping with the loss.

Clinical Disorder or Condition
Those who have certain disorders or conditions can benefit from an overall treatment plan which includes therapy and another form of treatment, such as medication. For instance, research shows that individuals with conditions such as ADHD, eating disorders, major depression or anxiety disorders benefit significantly more from a combination of therapy and medication than just medication alone.

When to Seek Therapy

Therapy is the most helpful to you before a crisis gets out of hand. Prevention is always better than dealing with the aftermath of a crisis. So if you are able to, seek out treatment BEFORE the crisis begins. But, if you are like most people and have waited until a crisis has happened, therapy can still be very helpful to you.

Recognizing the need for professional help is a good first step towards improvement. Therapy can be of real benefit, providing help for a wide range of problems such as depression, loss, marital strife, parent-child concerns, or emotional distress. It can also help fulfill aspirations for personal growth or self-improvement. Therapy has one clear and definite purpose: that something of positive value and constructive usefulness will come out of it for you.

Does therapy really even help, anyway?

Statistics from the American Psychological Association:

• Therapy may reduce the chance of future episodes of depression.
(APA, How Psychotherapy Helps People Recover from Depression, 1998)

• Through therapy, people can learn coping techniques and problem solving skills to deal with depression and other mental health disorders.
(APA, How Psychotherapy Helps People Recover from Depression, 1998)

• Having good mental health helps you make good decisions and deal with life’s challenges at home, work and school.
(APA, How Psychotherapy Helps People Recover from Depression, 1998)

• Chances for recovery for depressed individuals who seek professional care are very good.
(APA,How Psychotherapy Helps People Recover from Depression, 1998)

• Therapy can help improve a person’s overall health status.
(APA, How to Find Help Through Psychotherapy, 1998)

• Therapy can help you learn effective ways to deal with stressful and problematic situations.
(APA,How to Find Help Through Psychotherapy, 1998)

• Research suggests that therapy effectively decreases patients’ depression and anxiety and related symptoms — such as pain, fatigue and nausea
(APA, How to Find Help Through Psychotherapy, 1998)

• Research shows that 50 percent of patients noticeably improved after eight therapy sessions while 75 percent of individuals in psychotherapy improved by the end of six months.
(APA, How to Find Help Through Psychotherapy, 1998)