What is Psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy typically involves a series of discussions between a trained professional meeting with a client to discover points of dissatisfaction or discomfort in the client’s life. The sessions usually revolve around a dialogue between the parties, but can sometime include projective activities such as art or play, particularly with children. The goal is to identify patterns occurring in the client’s behavior that serve to perpetuate the feelings of dissatisfaction or discomfort. The therapist and client work together to discover the events in the client’s lifetime of experience that have fostered these patterns, develop an understanding, and find solutions best suited for the client.
Psychotherapy can be an effective form of treatment for anxiety, depression, disturbances in relationships, and a host of other mental health problems. Managing symptoms with psychotropic medications is an available option, however, in most cases it is recommended to combine medication with psychotherapy. An antidepressant might succeed in lifting a client’s mood and functioning, which in turn can lead to greater success in psychotherapy of discovering the underlying elements causing the problem. Psychotherapy serves to create a more complete treatment approach.
A strong support system, including family and a social network is invaluable; however there are situations where a trained, objective professional is necessary to effect lasting change. As well meaning and caring as our friends and family are, they are typically not able to view your experience with clear eyes. There might also be times where you are concerned that you are overburdening loved ones with your distress and might minimize your experiences. The therapeutic relationship is unique in that the prescribed time is devoted to you with no other expectation than relieving your symptoms and creating more satisfying relationships and an overall better experience of life.
Like many other services, recommendations from family or friends who have had a good experience with a particular therapist are useful. We tend to be more relaxed and open to an experience when a trusted friend or family recommends it, which can result in a better experience ourselves. Another great resource is your pediatrician or general practitioner. This, too, is a group of people with whom you have already fostered a trusting relationship and they are typically very knowledgeable with regard to community resources. Another bonus is that they probably have good information related to therapists’ specialties, success rates, and reputations.
If you would prefer to do your own research, most therapists advertise in the phone book and might list specialties that are in line with what you are seeking. You can also do an internet search for therapists where you might look through biographical statements and qualifications of professionals in your community with a greater degree of privacy. This is a great way to get a sense of whether or not the therapist would be a good fit for you. Another source of general information is your health insurance coverage. Most health provider reference books available from your insurance company list a limited number of therapists, usually 2 or 3, in most communities.
Like so many things, what you get from an experience has a strong relationship to what you contribute. Chances are that you are seeking a therapist in an effort to make some positive changes in your life. A key ingredient to success in this relationship is honesty. Your therapist will be unable to help you find the best solution without all of the information. Using your time outside of session to reflect upon what was discussed and being thoughtful about what you might bring into the next session is helpful. Making notes during the week if you find it hard to remember everything that occurs to you, which is absolutely understandable, can help keep your thoughts organized. Talking with your therapist about any changes you notice, the good and the bad, is information that will likely help your treatment. All the information you can provide is invaluable to discovering what will work best for you. You are working with your therapist on the same team; remember to be an active member of that team.
Each situation is different and this is an excellent question to bring up in your first few sessions. The answer will be based on your presenting problem as well as the therapist’s style and plan for treatment. Your needs and expectations are an important part of the answer to this question and ultimately your treatment. For general purposes, you can figure that if you are looking at an issue that has come up fairly recently, treatment may be shorter. If you are addressing some long standing issues, treatment is usually longer. You can typically expect treatment to last about six months. If you are looking to gain greater insight, treatment will likely last more than one year.
The answer to this question is also related to the issues to be worked through. Traditionally, sessions are once per week and last 50 minutes. In some cases sessions might be twice per week, at the beginning of treatment or during crisis. In other cases sessions might be every other week. An every other week schedule is also common once issues have been resolved and termination is being considered.
Many therapists work in the evening hours and some on the weekends. Some clients will make arrangements with their employer to take the time off during the day. You would want to express any scheduling limitations to your therapist and work together to find a time that works.
The term family encompasses so many possibilities. For the purpose of this discussion, it should relate to any persons you consider a member of your family unit (which might include grandparents, close friends, boy/girlfriends, etc.) Family therapy involves multiple members of a family meeting together with a therapist. Family therapy may typically start when a parent notices some changes in a child’s behavior and experiences an uncomfortable level of concern. The idea behind treating the whole family is that rarely are behavioral problems in a child because of something that is affecting only the child. More often than not the child is exhibiting a change in behavior due to something that is affecting the entire family. It is extremely common to focus on the child’s behavior and to identify him/her as “the problem” and can be difficult to see beyond the behavior. It is at this time that a trained professional, with an objective perspective can offer assistance is resolving the issue. Family therapists are skilled at removing the blame in the situation, identifying the underlying problem, and helping families learn ways to respond to one another differently to restore harmony in your home.
Family therapy is also recommended when nobody seems to be able to get along. Sometimes it difficult to identify one person or problem, you just know something is not right and you are ready to try something new. Family therapists can help identify the causes of increased tension like faulty communication patterns or a specific event that triggered the change. A family therapist would then use the time with all the family members to explore different ways of addressing one another, looking at a problem, or bring a normalizing point of view to the family’s response to a single event or trauma.
More specific issues that indicate family therapy are eating disorders, divorce or separation, and abuse in the home.
Couples therapy focuses on the relationship between the two people, married or otherwise, without blaming either person for the problems. People sometimes seek couples therapy prior to moving in together, getting married, or when considering any change in the relationship. Studies support this practice as it is an excellent way to identify areas of potential conflict, establish healthy patterns of resolution, and develop reasonable expectations. Couples might also seek therapy when there is a feeling of dissatisfaction within the unit, following a trauma (i.e. death, infidelity), or a significant change (i.e. a move, birth of a child).
Couples therapy typically focuses on the communication between the partners, either verbal, non verbal, or sexual. During the session, couples will learn to utilize non-blaming “I” statements and learn effective listening skills. The therapist will work to enlighten each partner as to the impact his/her behavior and words have on the other and identify more constructive ways of communicating. Many couples feel as if they are “walking on eggshells” around their each other. Couples therapy will focus on sweeping away the eggshells and finding a way to express feelings and thoughts while minimizing misunderstandings and hurt feelings.