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Psychotherapy — also called talk therapy, therapy, or counseling — is a collaborative treatment based on the therapeutic relationship between the client and psychologist, with a focus on helping the client heal and learn constructive ways to deal with a specific problem or issues. Within the context of the relationship, together, the client and psychologist build a supportive environment, which allows them to work collectively to identify, challenge, and change maladaptive thoughts, beliefs, and behavioral patterns that prevent the client from living their best life.
Psychotherapy tends to focus on supportive problem-solving and is goal-oriented. This means that at the onset of treatment, the client and psychologist talk extensively about the client’s background and experiences, and decide upon which specific changes he or she would like to make in their life. These goals will often be broken down into smaller attainable objectives in the form of a treatment plan. This is done simply through talking and discussing techniques that the psychologist can suggest that may help the client better navigate those difficult areas within their life.
Psychotherapy is most successful when the client enters therapy on their own (without coercion), and has a strong desire to change. Change means altering those aspects of one’s life that aren’t working or leading to an optimal outcome. It is also best for the client to keep an open mind while in psychotherapy, and be willing to examine and modify their current beliefs and employ new strategies that he or she would not ordinarily do.
When should you consider therapy?
All of us face struggles at some point in our lives. These struggles may include stress at work, difficulty with a romantic partner, interpersonal conflict, problems with a family member, or life transitions. Alternatively, struggles may include emotional symptoms such as depression or anxiety, behavioral problems such as lashing out at others or increase use of alcohol, and cognitive symptoms such as repetitive upsetting thoughts or uncontrolled worry. Sometimes, life’s struggles can be eased by taking better care of yourself, and perhaps talking about the issues with a supportive friend or family member. However, there may be times when these steps don’t resolve the issue. When this happens, it makes sense to consider seeking the help of a qualified licensed psychologist.
How do you know if therapy is needed? Answering two general questions can be helpful when considering whether you or someone you love could benefit from therapy.
- Is the problem so distressing that it causes disruptive thoughts and emotions?
- Is the problem currently interfering with your day-to-day functioning?
When thinking about distress, here are some issues to consider:
- Do you or someone close to you spend a significant amount of time every week thinking about the problem?
- Is the problem embarrassing, to the point that you want to hide from others?
- Over the past few months, has the problem reduced your quality of life?
When thinking about interference, some other issues may deserve consideration:
- Does the problem take up considerable time (e.g., more than an hour per day)?
- Have you curtailed your work or educational ambitions because of the problem?
- Are you rearranging your lifestyle to accommodate the problem?
A “yes” response to any of these questions suggests that you (or someone you care about) might wish to consider seeking professional help. Remember that sometimes a problem might be less upsetting to you than it is to the people around you. This does not automatically mean that you are in the know and your friends or family are over-reacting to you. Rather, this situation suggests that you may wish to think about why the people who care about you are upset.
Clearly, the decision to enter into therapy is a very personal one. Numerous advances have been made in the treatment of psychological disorders in the past decade and many therapies have been shown scientifically to be helpful. As you think about whether therapy might be helpful to you, remember that many psychological problems have been shown to be treatable using short-term therapy approaches. Learning more about different approaches to therapy might also help you to discern if one of them sounds like a good fit with your personality and approach to life. Given the range of therapeutic options that are available, you don’t need to continue to struggle with a problem that is upsetting and/or getting in the way of other parts of your life. Dr. Mike and his team are here to help.