Understanding Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is used to assist an individual to learn about their mental health condition, their moods, feelings, thoughts and behaviour. Not everyone who benefits from psychotherapy is necessarily diagnosed with a mental illness, as psychotherapy can help individuals cope with a number of different stresses and conflicts which may affect anyone. Particularly, it may help individuals cope with major life changes, learn to manage unhealthy relationships, help come to terms with ongoing physical health problems or recover from physical or sexual abuse, amongst others. There are a number of psychotherapies, each with its own approach.

Types of Psychotherapy:

  • Psychodynamic Therapy: This approach focuses on changing problematic behaviors, feelings, and thoughts by discovering their unconscious meanings and motivations. Psychoanalytic and psychodynamic- oriented therapies are characterized by a close working partnership between therapist and patient. Patients learn about themselves by exploring their interactions in the therapeutic relationship.
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: This approach aims to help individuals change the way they think (cognitive) and the way they act (behaviour). Rather than looking at past causes, it focuses on current problems and practical solutions to help you feel better now. The way we think about situations affects the way we feel and behave. If we view a situation negatively, we may experience negative emotions and feelings which lead us to behave in an unhelpful way. Your therapist will help you identify and challenge any negative thinking so you can deal with situations better and behave in a more positive way. This approach can be helpful for depression, anxiety, stress, phobias, obsessions, eating disorders and managing long term physical conditions.
  • Dialectical Behaviour Therapy: This approach provides individuals with tools to better manage painful emotions and decrease conflict in relationships, by assisting individuals in experiencing, recognising and accepting these emotions. As you learn to accept and regulate your emotions, you also become more able to change your harmful behaviour. It is mainly used to treat problems associated with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, however it has recently been adopted to treat a number of different types of mental health problems.
  • Humanistic Integrative Therapy: This approach focuses on the individual as a whole. It encourages an individual to think about their feelings and take responsibility for their thoughts and actions. The emphasis is on self-development and achieving your highest potential rather than on a specific problematic behaviour.

Importance of Qualifications: It is very important for you to ensure that your psychotherapist has the necessary validations and qualifications to practice psychotherapy. Trained psychotherapists can have different job titles, depending on their role and their education. These include psychiatrists, psychologists and licensed professional counselors. It is your right to question your psychotherapists credentials and ensure they meet the licensing requirements to proceed with your treatment.

Confidentiality: Conversations with your therapist will remain confidential. In rare circumstances, or if your therapist feels there is a threat to your safety, confidentiality may be broken. Feel free to discuss privacy and confidentiality with your therapist during your first meeting.

Length of Psychotherapy Treatment: The number and frequency of sessions required depend on numerous factors, such as your particular mental illness or circumstances, the severity of your symptoms, your rate of progress, support received by family and friends, and the interference your mental health concerns may have on your day-to-day activities. At times, a few weeks is sufficient to help you cope with a short-term situation. In other cases, long-term treatment plans may be required.

Ensuring Maximum Benefits of Psychotherapy:

  • Working through your symptoms and emotions is a difficult task. Don’t expect instant results. Be patient with yourself, and give yourself a few sessions before you start to see improvements.
  • Make sure you feel comfortable with your therapist. If you don’t, look for other therapists with whom you feel more at ease.
  • It is important for you to be willing to share your thoughts, feelings and experiences, and be open to new ideas and approaches. It is normal for you to feel reluctant to share painful emotions for fear of embarrassment or judgement, but it is important to voice these concerns to your therapist.
  • Set goals together with your therapist. This will assist you and your therapist is measuring progress over time.
  • Sometimes, you may lack motivation and be tempted to skip sessions. Doing this may disrupt your progress and your treatment plan. It is recommended to attend all scheduled sessions.
  • After a few sessions, if you feel your psychotherapy is not working, speak to your therapist about the possibility of trying a different approach that may be more effective.
  • Don’t expect psychotherapy to make unpleasant situations go away. Rather, expect it to give you the tools required to better cope with circumstances and ultimately better your peace of mind.