How can therapy help me?
A variety of benefits can come from participating in therapy, whether short-term or long-term. Therapists can provide a unique degree of highly attuned, nonjudgmental listening and collaborative support as clients sort through frustrations, griefs, confusions or conflicting goals in moments of upheaval or anticipated need for change that warrant a professional with no conflict of interest in their lives, someone who can listen effectively and help the client not only feel truly heard but also probe for a determination of their own evolving true wants and needs.
Pivotally, as therapists increasingly come to know their client's past and present experience and future goals and dreams, the therapist's ear attuned to recurrent patterns and struggles or sometimes discrepancies across the client's stories of lived experience often leads to asking the kind of questions people don't ask themselves, which can unearth new understandings and point you in the direction of greater insight into one's own wants, needs, and preferred solutions to perceived problems. In my experience, this can be one of therapy's greatest benefits - asking the questions that lead clients to explore connections where they find answers inside themselves that they didn't know they possessed. Most importantly, through this process, the client in the right combination with the right therapist for them comes to feel a kind of safety that gives them a place to turn where they know they can say and explore whatever distresses them and feel heard and unjudged to sort through decisions and choices in matters where any other person in their life they would trust to confide in might well have a conflict of interest.
Therapy routinely draws on the expertise of the therapist about causes and effects of psychological, emotional, and physical signs and symptoms sometimes shedding light on a diagnostic path (including recognition of symptoms that warrant medical attention the client may not have considered) but almost inevitably leading to an exploration of existing coping strategies, reviewing or teaching self-care, mindfulness, and problem-solving skills, and ultimately enhanced or healthier, more desirable coping strategies – for issues such as depression, anxiety, grief and loss, stress management, relationship troubles, unresolved childhood issues, body image issues, creative blocks, identity crisis and crossroads-in-life crises, self-esteem and personal growth, interpersonal relationships at work and school, family concerns, marriage and parenting issues, or overwhelmedness from a periodic sense of inability to manage the hassles of daily life. Therapists can provide awareness of relevant community resources and facilitate access to ones that may benefit the client's situation. The benefits you obtain from therapy depend on how well you use the process and put into practice what you learn. Some of the more specific benefits available from therapy include:
Attaining a better understanding of yourself, your coping strategies and how they match your goals and values
Developing or tweaking communication and problem-solving skills for improving your relationships
Finding resolution to the concrete issues or concerns that led you to seek therapy
Learning new ways to cope with stress and anxiety
Managing anger, grief, depression, and other emotional pressures
Improving communications and listening skills (the untaught skill) in particular
Changing old behavior patterns and developing new ones
Discovering new ways to solve problems in your family or marriage
Improving your self-esteem and boosting self-confidence
Do I really need therapy? I can usually handle my problems.
Everyone goes through challenging situations in life, and while you may have successfully navigated through other difficulties you've faced, there's nothing wrong with seeking out extra support when you need it. In fact, therapy is for people who have enough self-awareness to realize they need an outside ear, and that is something to be admired. You are taking responsibility by accepting where you're at in life and making a commitment to understand more fully and potentially change the situation, for which seeking therapy is a most appropriate place to begin. As detailed above, therapy provides long-lasting benefits and support, giving you the tools you need to avoid triggers, re-direct damaging patterns, and overcome whatever challenges you face or at least keep them from paralyzing, depressing, or haunting you.
Why do people go to therapy and how do I know if it is right for me?
People have many different motivations for coming to psychotherapy. Some may be going through a major life transition (unemployment, divorce, new job, etc.) and may not be handling stressful circumstances well, or to their own satisfaction, including situation-induced anxiety or depression. Some people need assistance managing a range of other longer-term issues such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, addictions, relationship problems, spiritual conflicts, and creative blocks. Therapy can help provide some much needed encouragement and help with problem-solving, self-awareness, mindfulness, and communication skills to get them through these periods. Others may be at a point where they are ready to learn more about themselves or want to be more effective with their goals in life. In short, people seeking psychotherapy are ready to meet the challenges in their lives and ready to make changes in their lives.
What is therapy like?
Because each person has different issues and goals for therapy, therapy will be different depending on the individual. In general, you can expect to discuss the current events happening in your life, your personal history relevant to your issue, and report progress (or any new insights gained) from the previous therapy session. Depending on your specific needs, therapy can be short-term, for a specific issue, or longer-term, to deal with more difficult patterns or your desire for more personal development. Either way, it is most common to schedule regular sessions with your therapist (usually weekly).
It is important to understand that you will get more results from therapy if you actively participate in the process (rather than expect therapy to be something that happens to you or transforms you as if by magic). The ultimate purpose of therapy is to help you bring what you learn in session back into your daily life and into your decisions about your big-picture priorities. Therefore, beyond the work you do in therapy sessions, your therapist may suggest some things you can do outside of therapy to support your process - such as reading a pertinent book, journaling on specific topics, noting particular behaviors or taking action on your goals. People seeking psychotherapy who are ready to make positive changes in their lives, who are open to new perspectives and who take responsibility for their lives will show the greatest gains in self-actualization and with the soonest pace of turnaround. Typically, such change begins paradoxically with accepting rather than indicting oneself for being where you are now, releasing oneself from the self-berating than often brings about internal resistance and/or paralysis.
What about medication vs. psychotherapy?
It is well established that the long-term solution to mental and emotional problems and the pain they cause cannot be solved solely by medication. Instead of just treating the symptom, therapy addresses the cause of our distress and the behavior patterns that curb our progress. You can best achieve sustainable growth and a greater sense of well-being with an integrative approach to wellness. Working with your medical doctor you can determine what's best for you, and in some cases a combination of medication and therapy is the right course of action. In some cases, a client may seek medical consultation or psychiatric evaluation as a basis for making a more informed choice about whether to consider psychotropic medication in addition to therapy, and a therapist can help facilitate this referral process.
Does what we talk about in therapy remain confidential?
How do I choose a therapist or know if I'm well served?
It is essential that clients feel a good fit with their therapist. Trust and safety, as in any relationship, will take time to develop, but there should be no red flags or gut feelings of distrust, shame, or rebuke. Ideally, if there are, you should try to air them immediately, in part because all good therapy requires that clients feel free to express displeasures with the therapist and it's informative if clients test this out at the earliest opportunity.
In their book Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice, authors Robert W. Firestone, Ph.D, Lisa Firestone, Ph.D, and Joyce Catlett, MA, suggest asking yourself these questions (with my parenthetical inclusions) during and after your first session:
* Did you feel comfortable with the therapist?
* Does this seem like a safe place to express your thoughts, concerns, and feelings?
* Did you feel heard (and understood) by the therapist? Does it seem like the therapist will be open to hearing about all your feelings, including frustrated feelings relating to them?
* Did you feel like the therapist respected you? Or was the therapist condescending (or did you feel judged)?
* Does the therapist seem like a real person or were they playing a role?
* Was the therapist passive or active in the session? What do you like better?
* Did the therapist seem to have a positive outlook on life?