How Psychotherapy Can Help

Psychologist talking with her depressed patient by Nate Prentice, MSW, LCSW, CAS-PC
If you are reading this, it is probably because someone suggested that you may benefit from talking with someone about things which are bothering you.  These issues might be causing problems for you in your home, your work, or your relationships with other people.  It is probably not a comfortable thing to hear, but you want to feel better, so you are considering your options.  Or, perhaps you have tried other things including medication, but feel stuck and are interested in exploring other options to help you, because, after all, you want to feel better.
What are the benefits of psychotherapy vs medicine alone?   Consistently, in study after study, psychotherapy has been shown to be as effective as medication alone with many mental health issues. More importantly, many mental health issues such as anxiety and depression respond even better to a combination of psychotherapy and medication than psychotherapy or medication alone.
Why is this?  Many people do get a sense of relief from taking medication.  However, they may lack the skills to cope with life stressors, especially when nothing else in their life has changed.  So symptoms may persist.  Or, people may use ways of coping that create their own problems, such as substance abuse (self-medicating the symptoms), yelling at family members, workaholism, etc.  Psychotherapy, because it focuses on skill development and problem solving, helps with these issues.Therapist and client (male)

How do you choose a psychotherapist?  There are several kinds of professionals trained to do psychotherapy.  These include psychologists, psychiatrists, clinical social workers, marriage & family therapists, and licensed professional counselors, among others.  The specific degree a person has may be less important than how experienced and skilled they are, and how comfortable you feel with them.  Some other issues to consider may be the therapist’s gender (male or female), age, or cultural background, or their therapeutic techniques and philosophy.

What is a typical psychotherapy session like?  Gone are the days of lying on the couch.  Today most therapy sessions are held face to face.  The first session is usually an evaluation, where you may be asked a number of related and unrelated questions to help the therapist discern what your issues are and what outside influences are impacting on your issues.  During or after that session, a plan for addressing these issues will be created.  Therapy sessions are usually weekly at first, and may reduce to biweekly or monthly as you begin to feel better.

Therapy sessions will then focus on how you are coping with your issues, as well as reasons why you have the issues.  When you are feeling better, and are able to get a lot of support from friends and family or other supports in the community, you and the therapist may talk about ending therapy.

What are the best things to do to prepare for psychotherapy?  First, have concrete and specific goals.  “Feeling better” as a goal is not as good as “Able to reduce crying spells to less than 3x/month”.  When you frame your goals, frame them in terms of what you want to be different in your life, not what you don’t want to experience anymore.  For example, instead of saying, “I don’t want to feel sad daily”, frame it as “I want to be able to list 3 positive things per day that make me feel good”.  The problem with framing them in terms of the absence of negative things is that it doesn’t provide a direction to move towards.  Another thing that is important is to come with an open mind, being honest with yourself and open to new ways of looking at your issues.

Finally, be aware that the therapist may not be as anxious as you are to explore why you have a problem.  When people in therapy are desperate to find the root of a problem, they often end up in “analysis paralysis” because even if they know the root of a problem, it doesn’t solve the problem in and of itself.  In order to solve a problem, one must use good coping skills to put out the fire before poking in the embers.  Cope first, find out why as you look back over your shoulder later.

It is hoped that this introduction to therapy is helpful, and that it answers any questions you may have.  Feel free to contact Psych Choices if you have any questions or concerns, or would like to make an appointment.  Our telephone number is 610-626-8085, ext. 213 for new patients.  You may also make an appointment by email using a form on our website; click on the link to “Schedule an Appointment.”


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