What is Psychotherapy?

Everyone experiences hard days or tough times in their lives when they feel overwhelmed by stress, emotion or other environmental factors. For many, these feelings pass with time. For others, it is a persistent and recurring emotion that plagues their daily life. This is known as a mental illness. Over the last decade, our society has grown and evolved, destroying stigmas and overcoming barriers yet many of those suffering from mental illnesses feel shame when considering to seek help. Mental illness unlike many other common illnesses we know of, does not simply pass with time. It is persistent and if left untreated, can affect other aspects of life. Seeking help from a certified professional is neither a sign of weakness, nor is it shameful. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health states that more than 30 million Americans will need help managing problems they can’t handle on their own – you are not alone.

Mental illnesses, disorders, and diseases are all serious issues that millions of children and adults suffer from and cope through on a daily basis. According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness while 1 in 25 live with a serious mental illness. Half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14 and three-quarters by the age of 24. Many Americans are sufferers of depression which has been named the number one leading cause of disability worldwide. These numbers, more than anything else, prove that mental illness is a widespread issue that needs serious attention. Millions of people suffer in silence due to a lack of diagnosis, fear of diagnosis, or undue shame.

Psychotherapy is the diagnosis and treatment of any mental illness or disorder through psychological methods. Psychologists, psychotherapists, and general therapists have the joint goal of helping those who suffer from mental illnesses to lead happier, more fulfilling and more productive lives. Psychotherapy involves integrating scientific and medical procedures with deep understanding of human behavior and psychology to help overcome or manage the effects of a mental illness.

Like all other forms of therapy, the success of psychotherapy is heavily dependent on a safe, supportive, and welcoming environment, an attentive and empathetic therapist, and consistent collaboration. As it is a treatment grounded in dialogue, it requires open and honest communication. While psychotherapy is usually approached for the problem solving it provides for current issues, the skills and methods learned during sessions are effective ways to help cope with future challenges.

How Does It Work?

Psychotherapy is a living process. It involves a continuous exchange of thoughts, ideas and feelings to problem solve, correct behaviors, and develop a deeper understanding of yourself. By using mentally and emotionally engaging dialogue as treatment, it allows patients to express themselves, ensuring a clearer analysis of their situation and feelings. Psychotherapy is a way for patients to find answers and gain understanding about their mental illnesses or emotional state and wellbeing. Understanding changes the outlook of a problem, and makes it manageable.

Being able to understand yourself, why you react a certain way, what triggers certain responses, and what aspects of your life affects others, gives problem solving a new meaning. From understanding stems new and innovative methods of coping. It reduces mental illnesses from large and foreboding issues to manageable and ultimately conquerable situations. The key to unlocking this realization comes from the therapeutic repetition of constructive dialogue.

The key aspect of therapeutic treatment is reflection. Through reflection, patients can properly analyze their thoughts and actions with the help of a trained psychologist and learn why they have certain reactions and how to overcome them. By setting new behavioural patterns of finding different ways to cope, they are able to avoid the feelings or situations that provoke negative thought or destructive patterns.

The Different Approaches

Counseling: Counseling is most likely one of the more common types of talking therapy. They are usually anywhere between 6 to 12 sessions and involve engaged discussions about any negative feelings or emotions you may have. This form of therapy is particularly helpful after a recent loss, in helping to cope with depression and/or anxiety and in dealing with stress. During counseling, patients are encouraged to share prevalent thoughts and emotions, so a counselor can help them gain a better understanding of what they feel and why they feel it.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT is especially common amongst those suffering from anxiety or depression. It is also effective for patients with eating disorders, OCD and PTSD. This form of therapy aims at changing or developing the way patients think and behave in order to better manage problems. The goal of each session is to disassemble problems into smaller pieces and analyze your thoughts and actions, identify those that may be unrealistic or unhelpful and work towards changing them.

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT): The world around us affects us just as much, if not more than our personal thoughts. As humans, we are social beings and find joy, happiness and fulfillment in the relationships we maintain, so social interaction becomes a fundamental part of our mental well being. Interpersonal therapy focuses on depression and relationship-based issues, and takes an in-depth look on how the connections and relationships in the patient’s life affects their mental illness. It takes into consideration recent major relationship changes, such as divorce, recurring conflicts with others, and grief. The goal of each session is to explore the emotional reactions you have in any of these situations and evaluate your personal expectations, how to communicate them, and analyzing and correcting any negative behaviors. Relationship and family counseling and therapy also fall under this category.

Group Therapy: In group therapy sessions, attending patients who have a unifying problem or illness share their thoughts, emotions and experiences in a supporting environment. It increases personal awareness of others who share similar problems and creates a comforting sense of community. The role of a therapist in group settings is to encourage personal and collective reflection to encourage growth and understanding.

When to Consider Therapy

It is important to note that therapy is not synonymous to giving up or lack of strength. Therapy, by its simplest definition, is the need for professional help to help cope with daily issues that arise from mental and emotional problems or illnesses. An illness is never a sign of weakness nor is the victim ever at fault. Depression, anxiety, uncontrollable phobias, and more are all manifestations of problems that exist beyond our control. Therapy provides you with the tools and skills to gain control over these problems.

Unfortunately, there are still many misconceptions and stigmas associated to seeking professional help for mental health problems. The reality of the situation is that sufferers of mental illnesses are not alone, and therefore should not feel alone. Seeing a therapist opens a door of reliable communication, allowing emotions that would otherwise fester, to be expressed in a helpful and meaningful way. Therapy sessions alone can be helpful because they encourage a purging of emotions or cathartic release. The first step to achieving this progress however, is connecting with someone that can help. The difficulty lies in knowing when you need help.

There are very often many readily available signs that suggest that it’s time to involve a professional:

  • You suffer from prolonged feelings of overwhelming anger, sadness, fear, emotional pain, or hopelessness. Regardless of what you do, these feelings are persistent and oftentimes mentally and physically debilitating.
  • Despite continuous effort from not only you but friends and family, these issues are never resolved or diminished. Progress seems impossible.
  • Your mental and emotional state often render you physically incapacitated, diminish your appetite, and affect your mood.
  • You have an uncontrollable sense of worry and anxiety.
  • You contemplate either harming yourself and others or contemplating suicide.
  • Your mood strongly and negatively affects your day-to-day life and limits your productivity.

If any of the above apply to you, then it is time to take the first, but crucial step of consulting a psychotherapist.

How to Find and Choose a Psychotherapist

Before you are able to seek help, you will need to find and choose the right psychotherapist, but choosing one should not be a random selection or based on chance. Firstly, it is important to ensure you find psychotherapists who are properly trained and certified.

Psychologists and psychotherapists undergo rigorous schooling, training and internship to receive their degrees. They are highly-trained and highly qualified professionals, who undergo about eleven years of schooling to obtain their doctoral degree, so finding the right therapist is not a matter of education but of research and personal preferences.

It is important to note that therapy and therapists are not one-size-fits-all. Oftentimes trial and error are both needed and crucial to personal growth and striking the right balance:

  1. The first step to finding a psychotherapist is research. Whether this research takes the form of a google search or is through personal connections or both, is up to you. If you choose the former route, help narrow your search by selecting specific keywords. “Psychotherapist near me” or “psychotherapist in New York” narrows the type of therapist as well as the location, creating a much smaller shortlist of names and practices than “therapy sessions”.  If you find a therapist directory like TherapyTribe, you can do a location search from the homepage as will as select what you are looking for help with.  The latter route involves asking your friends and family. This method is especially helpful if you know anyone who had previously or is currently undergoing therapy. It also widens your reach as they can join you in the search. If neither yield the expected results, consider visiting your local mental health center or talking to your doctor for recommendations.
  2. Besides research on therapists, take the time to research the cost implications. Seeking help should not run you out of house and home. Help narrow your list down by setting a price range or budget you can comfortably work within.
  3. When you’ve successfully compiled a list of possible candidates, it’s time to reach out and set your first appointment. These meetings will serve as a meet and greet for both you and your potential therapist to introduce each other, and see if their approach and general atmosphere of their office and personality are compatible to yours. Remember: just because you set an appointment does not mean you are under any obligation to continue treatment. Your level of comfort, safety, and eventually, trust is crucial to your growth. If you choose a therapist who you don’t feel comfortable around, that limits your trust in them, stifles the flow of dialogue, and ultimately affects your treatment.
  4. It’s important to think outside of the box. Contrary to popular belief, not all therapists own a private practice or make you recline in a chaise lounge and talk about your childhood. Although it may be important to reflect on your past, many of the several other misconceptions of therapists may unknowingly narrow the scope of your search. Many practicing psychologists work in institutions whether it be educational like primary schools, colleges and universities or medical like hospitals, medical centers and rehabilitation clinics.

When it comes time to finally make a selection, here are a few questions you should ask yourself:

  • What are your main goals for seeking psychotherapy? What do you hope to accomplish?
  • Is it covered by your health insurance or work benefits?
  • If not, how much can you spend or are willing to spend?
  • How far are you willing to commute?
  • Would you consider attending sessions with your spouse, significant other, or family members?

It is also helpful to compile a list of questions for your list of therapists as well:

  • First and foremost: are they accepting new clients?
  • Are they licensed in your state?
  • What is their approach to assessment, diagnosis, and treatment?
  • How many years of experience do they have?
  • What are their areas of expertise?
  • Do they have the ability to prescribe medication? Do they work with a psychiatrist who can?
  • Do they have any experience in dealing with patients with similar symptoms and/or mental illness?
  • What are their sessions like?
  • What policies do they have?