Below is a list of some frequently asked questions.
What is psychotherapy? What can I expect to gain from it?
Psychotherapy is a process of discovery by which thoughts, feelings, actions and relationships are explored. This journey intends to empower clients to take control of their lives, sort through concerns, and make meaningful and lasting changes. Psychotherapy may encompass coaching, education, behavioral and emotional analysis and feedback, emotional support, cognitive and behavioral skills training, and assistance in defining life goals and plans to achieve them. The psychologist and the client together work on identifying life areas that are causing distress and interfering with over-all life satisfaction. These stressful areas are explored in order for the client to develop an understanding of the origins of the problem, the thoughts and beliefs that contribute to the problem, and variables that have maintained and perpetuated the problem over time.
Ideally, psychotherapy is described as a powerful and constructive experience that results in the development of insight, a deeper appreciation for oneself, and a plan for change. Psychotherapy may at times be experienced as emotionally uncomfortable or challenging. It requires great courage to examine oneself and make changes. The therapeutic process entails motivation and commitment, and often results in developing a sense of peace and the capacity to maximize ones potential, effectively cope with life challenges, make healthy choices, have satisfying relationships, and achieve personal goals.
How is talking to a psychologist different than talking to a friend?
While you can talk to your family or friends and they can help you feel better or provide you with advice, this is not psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is much more than simply sharing about problems. Psychotherapy is a professional relationship between a psychologist and a client, based on therapeutic principles, treatment goals, structure and technique. Therapists are trained to understand and treat people with various symptoms and concerns. They have a solid understanding of the essence of your words, the questions to ask to facilitate your thinking and problem-solving process, and the tools and techniques you will need to manage your stressors or symptoms.
Unlike most other relationships, the communication between the client and the therapist is not equal. Therapists rarely will reveal their opinions or stances on various issues. They share very little about themselves with clients. This ensures that therapists do not influence how clients present themselves.
Also, the therapeutic relationship is unique in that the client is encouraged to speak freely and honestly. As you become comfortable with your therapist, you can share things without worrying about judgment, offending anyone, talking too much about yourself, or having your information told to others. The therapist-client relationship exists only and solely for the purpose of helping the client. The therapist is there for the client and expects nothing in return but the fee for the time.
Is it ok to feel uncertain about whether I need therapy or not?
Most people who consider therapy experience some ambivalence about initiating the process. Some may feel unhappy or stressed, but are unsure as to why. Others may know why, but feel that they should be able to cope with things on their own. It may feel uncomfortable to seek help from a therapist, especially for those who may believe that therapy is intended only for people with “serious” problems or “dysfunctional” lives. These are natural and common feelings.
Therapy is designed for people from all “walks of life” whose concerns may be mild, moderate, or severe. Many who choose to pursue therapy find that a therapist can provide an objective, safe, and non-judgmental environment conducive for inner exploration, growth, and change.
How do I know if I need therapy?
Psychotherapy may be helpful for different reasons. These may include, but not limited to the following:
Feeling stuck or that life is out of control.
Finding yourself unable to find pleasure in activities.
Finding relationships not fulfilling or having trouble with current relationships.
Feeling anxious, sad, irritable, angry, or guilty.
Struggling with parenting your children.
Wanting to take preventive measures such as pre-marital counseling.
Unable to get things started or accomplished.
Finding it challenging to cope with life transitions, stressors, or decisions.
Unsatisfied by where you are in life.
Lacking motivation or energy.
Experiencing isolation and loneliness.
Seeing yourself as repeating the same mistakes or “bad” habits.
Having fears that keep you from living your life fully.
Feeling overwhelmed by work, family, or relationships.
Having difficulty letting go of painful experiences from the past.
Experiencing a crisis.
Wanting a better understanding of yourself.
Being destructive to yourself. For example, drinking too much, taking pain medication to ease the emotional pain, or eating too much or too little.
How do I choose a therapist?
The therapeutic relationship is essential for a successful and rewarding experience in therapy. You are encouraged to shop around in order to find a “good fit”. Psychotherapy is a very personal and special process. Therefore, you have the right to choose the best therapist for yourself in order to gain the most you can from this process.
Overall, you want to ensure that the therapist is competent in treating you and that there is a natural “click” between the two of you. Otherwise, obtain additional referrals so that you can find a therapist who is a good match for you.
How long will therapy last?
The length of therapy is not pre-determined, rather it is linked to the nature of each client’s reason for seeking therapy and the severity of symptoms and stressors. Some concerns may be resolved in a few sessions, whereas others may require more time. The length of therapy is thus individualized for each client.
What is a typical frequency and length of sessions?
Sessions are typically scheduled on a weekly basis and are 45 minutes in length. This allows for a steady and consistent progress towards reaching treatment goals, and allows enough time between sessions for the client to work on the issues addressed in the session.
Frequency and the number of sessions may vary based on each individual’s unique needs. For instance, if a life crisis occurs, or if depression or anxiety is severe, sessions may be scheduled more frequently. As treatment goals are achieved, the frequency of sessions are decreased and the termination process begins.
What is expected of me in therapy?
Your level of commitment and motivation increases the likelihood of achieving your set tratment goals. It is important for you to be honest and open in therapy about your thoughts, feelings and behaviors in order to create an opportunity for insight and change. If goals are set at each session, it is the your responsibility to work towards them in between sessions. Consistent attendance to scheduled appointments enhances your progress with treatment. Also, it is helpful to keep an open and flexible mind and heart as you engage in this process of self-discovery and change.
What is the difference between psychologists, psychotherapists, psychiatrists, and therapists?
Psychologists typically go through five years of academic graduate study and often one to two years of post-doctoral felloship training, culminating in a doctorate degree. They may hold a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. Psychotherapists refer to Marriage and Family Therapists or Clinical Social Workers. Psychotherapists typically go through two years of academic graduate study, culminating in a masters degree. Psychologists and psychotherapists focus treating emotional symptoms with “talk therapy” as a course of treatment. Psychiatrists are medical doctors. They can prescribe medications, and they spend much of their time with patients on medication management as a course of treatment. Therapist is a broader umbrella term that may encompass psychologists, psychoanalysts, marriage and family therapists, social workers and life coaches, among other specialties.
What should I do if my partner won’t go to therapy with me?
Sometimes people will not seek help even when it is necessary. If your partner won’t go to therapy, try to encourage them. You can remind them that it’s unrealistic to try to fix a distressed relationship on your own.
If they are still unwilling to attend, you can begin therapy on your own. A psychologist may be able to facilitate some insight about the dynamics of your relationship, the roles you each play, and provide some helpful tips for improving the relationship. You may also consult with the therapist about ways to approach your partner about participating in therapy together.
Dr. Carla Elia
Consulting and Adult, Adolescent and Couples Psychotherapy