Is Psychotherapy for me?
Psychotherapy is a collaborative treatment based on the relationship between an individual and a psychologist. This is known as the therapeutic alliance and it is what makes psychotherapy work. Psychotherapy is grounded in dialogue: it provides a supportive environment that allows you to talk openly with someone who is non-judgemental and more objective and neutral than you are. In this collaboration, you and your psychologist will work together to identify and change what is keeping you from feeling your best.
Have you ever had these thoughts about therapy?
- Therapy doesn’t work.
- Therapy is not for me; I am not that bad.
- Talking is not for me.
- Only I can fix my own problems.
- Once I start going to therapy, I’ll have to go forever.
- I can fix everything with a pill.
It may take some consideration before you decide you’re ready for therapy. You might want to wait and see if time, lifestyle changes, or the support of friends and family improves whatever you’re struggling with.
Therapy can help improve the symptoms of many mental health conditions. In therapy, people also learn to cope with symptoms that may not respond to treatment right away. Research shows the benefits of therapy last longer than medication alone. Medication can reduce some symptoms of mental health conditions, but therapy teaches people skills to address symptoms on their own. These skills last after therapy ends, and symptoms may continue to improve, making it less likely people will need further treatment.
Also, untreated mental health issues often get worse and may have other negative effects. They could also lead to:
- Inability to work or go to school
- Difficulty in relationships or taking care of children
- Increased risk of health issues
With regards to the use of medication, psychotherapy can be used in combination with medication to treat mental health conditions. In some circumstances, medication may be clearly useful and in others psychotherapy may be the best option. Checking things out is most important but whatever you opt for make sure that you make healthy lifestyle improvements, such as good nutrition, regular exercise and adequate sleep, which are important in supporting recovery and overall wellness.
Signs that you could benefit from therapy include:
- You feel an overwhelming, prolonged sense of helplessness and sadness
- Your problems don’t seem to get better despite your efforts and help from family and friends
- You find it difficult to concentrate on work assignments or to carry out other everyday activities
- You worry excessively, expect the worst, or are constantly on edge
- Your actions, such as drinking too much alcohol, using drugs, or being aggressive, are harming you or others
What are the benefits of therapy?
These are a few:
- You’ll learn more about yourself. Therapists listen to your story and help you make connections. They might offer guidance or recommendations if you feel lost, but they don’t tell you what to do. Therapy can empower you to take action on your own.
- Therapy can help you achieve your goals. If you aren’t sure of what your goals are, therapy can help you clarify them and set realistic steps to meet them.
- Therapy can help you have more fulfilling relationships. Whether you’re single or in a relationship, therapy can help you address difficulties with relating to others, such as insecurity in relationships or difficulty trusting your partners.
- You’re more likely to have better health. Research supports a link between mind and body wellness. Untreated mental health issues can impact physical wellness. On the other hand, people in good emotional health may be more able to deal with physical health issues that arise.
- Therapy can lead to an improvement in all areas of life. If you feel like something is holding you back from living life as you envision it, therapy can help you address this. When you aren’t sure what’s keeping you from making change, therapy can help you discover the answer.
Even if you aren’t sure you want to commit to therapy, many therapists offer a free first session or phone consultation to talk through what you’re dealing with. Based on your symptoms, they might encourage you to get help.
Does Psychotherapy Work?
Research shows that most people who receive psychotherapy experience symptom relief and are better able to function in their lives. Most people who enter psychotherapy show some benefit from it. Psychotherapy has been shown to improve emotions and behaviours 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.
With the use of brain imaging techniques researchers have been able to see changes in the brain after a person has undergone psychotherapy. Numerous studies have identified brain changes in people with mental illness (including depression, panic disorder, PTSD and other conditions) as a result of undergoing psychotherapy. In most cases, the brain changes resulting from psychotherapy were similar to changes resulting from medication.
To help get the most out of psychotherapy, approach the therapy as a collaborative effort, be open and honest, and follow your agreed-upon plan for treatment. Follow through with any assignments between sessions, such as writing in a journal or practising what you’ve talked about. Follow up with reflection about yourself including what you are learning and what you need to put in place to bring about change. Take your questions and difficulties to the next session. Psychotherapy requires commitment and hard work you need to put on your behalf. The sessions on their own are not enough to bring about the necessary change and development that has to happen.
So be an active, engaged participant in psychotherapy. Help set goals for treatment. Work with your psychologist to come up with a timeline. Ask questions about your treatment plan. If you don’t think a session went well, share that feedback and have a dialogue so that the psychologist can respond and tailor your treatment more effectively. Ask your psychologist for suggestions about books or websites with useful information about your problems.
And because change is difficult, practice is also key. It’s easy to fall back into old patterns of being so stay mindful between sessions. Notice how you’re reacting to things and take what you learn in sessions with your psychologist and apply them to real-life situations. When you bring what you’ve learned between sessions back to your psychologist, that information can inform what happens in his or her office to further help you.
Through regular practice, you’ll consolidate the gains you’ve made and maintain your progress after you’re done.
What if I have already tried therapy and it didn’t work?
Sometimes therapy doesn’t help right away. It can take time for symptoms to improve and change to happen. Going to therapy and seeing no change may cause frustration. It may seem like a waste of time and money. Many people stop going to therapy as a result.
Other factors can impact how effective therapy is. There is no single, correct approach that works for everyone. Keep in mind different approaches may be better for different issues. Look for a therapist who can treat what you’re experiencing. An ethical therapist will let you know if they’re able to treat your concern, and if they can’t, they may be able to recommend someone who can.
Not every therapist will work for everyone, either. Therapeutic fit, where both therapist and client feel comfortable is a sign that therapy can happen. Having a negative experience with a particular therapist or a certain type of treatment can make it hard to try therapy again, even if you want support.
Can you explain more about confidentiality?
Maintaining your privacy is extremely important. It is a part of the psychologists’ professional code of ethics. It is a condition of the professional license. Psychologists who violate patient confidentiality risk losing their ability to practice psychology in the future.
To make your psychotherapy as effective as possible, you need to be open and honest about your most private thoughts and behaviours. That can be nerve-wracking, but you don’t have to worry about your psychologist sharing your secrets with anyone except in the most extreme situations.
If you reveal that you plan to hurt yourself or others, for example, your psychologist is duty-bound to report that to authorities for your own protection and the safety of others. Psychologists must also report abuse, exploitation, or neglect of children, the elderly, or people with disabilities. Your psychologist may also have to provide some information in court cases.
Of course, you can always give your psychologist written permission to share all or part of your discussions with your physician, teachers, or anyone else if you desire.
Psychologists take confidentiality so seriously that they may not even acknowledge that they know you if they bump into you at the supermarket or anywhere else. And it’s OK for you to not say hello either. Your psychologist won’t feel bad; he or she will understand that you’re protecting your privacy.
What if psychotherapy doesn’t seem to be working?
When you began psychotherapy, your psychologist probably worked with you to develop goals and a rough timeline for treatment. As you go along, you should be asking yourself whether the psychologist seems to understand you, whether the treatment plan makes sense, and whether you feel like you’re making progress.
Psychotherapy may take some time work – remember some behaviours and ways of thinking and feeling have been reinforced for years, they are entrenched. But if you don’t see signs of progress, discuss it with your psychologist. Your psychologist may initiate a conversation about what to do. If he or she doesn’t, bring it up yourself. You could ask your psychologist about additional or alternative treatment methods, for example. Speaking up to your psychologist can be very empowering, because your psychologist will be understanding and non-judgmental instead of offended.
Keep in mind that as psychotherapy progresses, you may feel overwhelmed. You may feel more angry, sad, or confused than you did at the beginning of the process. That doesn’t mean psychotherapy isn’t working. Instead, it can be a sign that your psychologist is pushing you to confront difficult truths or do the hard work of making changes. In such cases, these strong emotions are a sign of growth rather than evidence of a standstill. Remember, sometimes things may feel worse before they get better.
If the situation doesn’t improve, you and your psychologist may decide it’s time for you to start working with a new psychologist. Don’t take it personally. It’s not you; it’s just a bad fit. And because the therapeutic alliance is so crucial to the effectiveness of psychotherapy, you need a good fit.
If you do decide to move on, don’t just stop coming to your first psychologist. Instead, tell him or her that you’re leaving and why you’re doing so. A good psychologist will refer you to someone else, and urge you not to give up on psychotherapy just because your first attempt didn’t go well. Tell your next psychologist what didn’t work to help ensure a better fit.
You might think that undergoing psychotherapy means committing to years of weekly treatment. Often this is not the case at all.
How long psychotherapy takes depends on several factors: the type of problem or disorder, the patient’s characteristics and history, the patient’s goals, what’s going on in the patient’s life outside psychotherapy, and how fast the patient is able to make progress.