Psychotherapy is the process of providing support to a person who might be experiencing emotional distress. The cause of distress can be anguish, stress, low self-esteem, insecurity, obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors, among others. Psychotherapy is carried out by a psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, or other qualified mental health professionals.
The person who seeks psychotherapy may present some more severe mental condition such as bipolar disorder, depression, or borderline personality. These conditions can prevent or limit the functioning of the person in different areas of their life.
The word psychotherapy comes from two Greek words: “psyche” which means soul and “therapeia” which means healing or service to those who are ill. It refers to a process that heals the soul.
The psychotherapist uses different strategies and techniques to help the client identify, understand and modify their emotions, thoughts and behaviors. The therapist also works with clients towards understanding the events (personal history) associated with their problems.
Other possible treatment goals are learning to distinguish what is possible to change and accept what can’t be changed. Practicing new strategies and behavior helps the person achieve greater autonomy. Clients usually develop greater clarity to achieve their purposes and goals, as well as more peace, happiness, and vitality.
Psychotherapy can be performed in combination with medications, especially when it is directed to the treatment of serious mental conditions. These include severe depression, bipolar disorder, or psychotic disorders. However, in other cases, its administration must be carefully evaluated and less invasive psychotherapeutic methods should be implemented.
When to Seek Psychotherapy?
You might decide to go to psychotherapy when you:
- Are experiencing constant stress and dissatisfaction at work. This is having an impact on your work performance.
- Want to understand a difficult relationship with someone in your family, and learn how to relate better with them. You are aware that this situation also affects the way you relate to other important people in your life.
- Suffered from abuse, abandonment or abuse (psychological or physical) in your childhood. These traumatic experiences are intensely affecting your current life.
- Experience constant anxiety, characterized by fear or occasional panic attacks. This “paralyzes” you and prevents you from living your life with joy and freedom.
- Feel an underlying state of apathy or a deep depression that immobilizes you, moving you away from others. You do not have the energy to carry out your daily activities.
- Suffer from some type of phobia, for example, phobia of heights or closed spaces. Your life is limited in many ways.
- Your couple relationship is deteriorating because the fights are more frequent. The damage, instead of being repaired, tends to deepen.
- Have lost a very important relationship because of divorce or death. You need help to assimilate the emotional impact and mitigate the repercussions of this event in your life.
- Your self-esteem is low. You feel ashamed of your body, or you feel that others do not really appreciate you. This may be generating discouragement, devaluation, and attempts to please others to the detriment of your own well-being. This might be ALSO affecting your sexual life.
There may be more serious emotional and mental conditions. It is very important to seek psychotherapy if you experience permanent depression, have noticed impulsive behaviors in yourself or drastic changes in your mood in a few hours, or are experiencing feelings of disconnection or dissociation.
Benefits of Psychotherapy
In general, psychotherapy will help you:
• Understand better your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. You will also understand how they contribute to creating and maintaining your current difficulties.
• Learn specific techniques and strategies to overcome problems that you can apply in your daily life.
• Know yourself better, and prioritize your values and goals. Obtain a sense of greater purpose in different areas of your life.
• Process traumatic experiences and regulate your nervous system, achieving calm, balance and emotional strength.
• Experience more happiness and greater ability to enjoy life
• Accept the positive and negative experiences of life, achieving the capacity to learn from them and overcome adversity.
How Does Psychotherapy Work?
Psychotherapy is a science and an art. But it isn’t an “exact science” or a linear process of causes and effects. The unique characteristics of each client and their difficulties define the course of the therapeutic process and its unrepeatable quality. Psychotherapy depends to a great extent on the knowledge, dedication, and mastery of the psychotherapist. The therapist weaves together each session while applying different strategies and techniques. The therapist listens attentively, respectfully, and without judging the client.
Psychotherapy is not a common conversation: it is a dialogue between the person who consults and the psychotherapist. Both have to be actively involved. The “therapeutic alliance” is a key aspect to the success of psychotherapy. It is based on the trust and relationship that develops between the client and the psychotherapist.
This relationship deepens and strengthens during each session. Studies have shown that the therapeutic alliance is one of the main factors for the success of psychotherapy.
Every psychotherapist is obliged to maintain strict confidentiality, not revealing personal information about the patient. There are some exceptions to this code of professional ethics. For example, when the life of the patient or another person is at risk.
Frequency of sessions
Sessions are usually held weekly or biweekly, lasting generally one hour or 50 minutes.
Length of the therapeutic process
Depending on the client’s situation, psychotherapy can be brief (a few weeks), mainly focused on immediate problems. It can be more extensive (months or years), when its purpose is overcoming traumatic experiences and serious mental conditions.
Face-to-face or Internet-assisted psychotherapy
Psychotherapy can be face-to-face, that is, in the professional’s office, which has been the traditional scenario of psychotherapy. However, there is an increasing trend to perform psychotherapy online.
Online psychotherapy is available to everyone with a computer and an Internet connection. It can be a convenient way of obtaining psychotherapy. Benefits people who do not have professional services nearby or can’t move easily to attend their therapy session.
Different Psychotherapy Approaches
Before going to a psychotherapist, you should know the main approaches or therapeutic models. Explore those approaches that are more suitable for your reason for consultation. It is valuable to analyze which models resonate best with you. Consider your beliefs, values and what you want to get from the therapy.
Currently, many psychotherapists use an integrative approach, combining elements of different models. This allows adjusting the treatment to the specific needs of the patient, increasing the effectiveness of the treatment. However, other therapists prefer to use only one particular model that best fits their training, style or personality.
If you go to a psychoanalyst, for example, psychotherapy will be more focused on dialogue. The aim will be knowing the causes of your problems. Instead, if you decide to start cognitive-behavioral therapy, the therapeutic process will begin by setting goals. You will also accomplish certain tasks to develop specific skills.
In the following article, you will learn more about the different types of psychotherapy: Main approaches to psychotherapy
Nature of the Therapeutic Relationship
The relationship that you have with your psychotherapist is very different than relating to your family and friends. It is a strictly professional relationship, characterized by open and empathetic communication, emotional support, respect, ethics, and confidentiality.
Therapists will not reveal aspects of themselves or their personal life unless this information helps your progress. Instead, you will always be the center of attention. You can express in detail your experiences, difficulties, achievements, emotions, thoughts and more difficult situations.
Your psychotherapist will listen to you and ask pertinent questions that will guide the course of therapy. Other times, your psychotherapist will make observations or pose ideas for you to reflect on them.
During your psychotherapy sessions, you can express difficult emotions within a relationship that provides you with security and support. Examples of these emotions are frustration, helplessness, sadness or anger. With psychotherapy, you can better understand your emotions and overcome the painful aspects related to them.
The possibility of expressing yourself without being negatively judged will allow you to learn and grow as a person. You will learn new skills, such as expressing your emotions more constructively to your partner. Or learn to communicate more effectively at work.
Although the psychotherapeutic relationship is strictly professional, it requires support and trust. These aspects help generate bonds of secure attachment between you and your therapist. Through this relationship, you can also overcome the profound lack of affection and trauma, which might have occurred during childhood.
Your psychotherapist will never ask you to relate outside of the psychotherapeutic setting, such as establishing a friendship relationship. However, it may happen that you meet him or her casually in public places. A brief and friendly social contact on these occasions is enough. Like you, your psychotherapist is also a human being and could frequent these spaces.
As a general rule, it is not advisable to start psychotherapy with a person you know. This includes a friend, relative or someone with whom you have had a romantic relationship. The code of ethics of professionals dedicated to psychotherapy usually prohibits this type of relationship with their patients.
Psychotherapy for Different Needs
In this case, the sessions are only between the patient and the therapist.
When two or more patients share their experiences in a group therapy context. By sharing experiences and noticing the
Recommended when one of the partners is experiencing emotional or mental problems that affect the relationship. It is also advised when the couple has difficulties with some aspect of their relationship. Communication problems, constant arguments, power struggles or sexual difficulties, are some examples.
Psychotherapy for children and adolescents
A psychotherapist specialized in children and adolescents is essential for situations that require this type of psychotherapy. Appropriate strategies are used for the emotional and cognitive development stage of the child or adolescent.
Integrating the family is useful when one of its members is suffering from some emotional or mental disorder. This therapy will help to discover internal dynamics that are contributing to create and maintain the problem. Strategies are implemented to develop positive and healthy relationships that support the patient and the whole family.
Many psychotherapists specialize in one of these types of therapy, for example, family psychotherapy. Others perform various types of therapy, for example, individual, group, and couple psychotherapy.
American Psychiatric Association. What is psychotherapy? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/psychotherapy
American Psychological Association. Understanding psychotherapy and how it works. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/understanding-psychotherapy
Hersen, M. & Sledge, W., Eds. (2002). Encyclopedia of psychotherapy. Academic Press.