What is Psychotherapy?

At some point in the therapy process clients will ask me,” what is psychotherapy and how does it work?”

They have been coming faithfully and are delving into the issues they want to address: grief, loss, marital issues, etc. They want to see the bigger picture.

This is what I tell them about the therapy process works:

1.     Therapy is about having a therapeutic relationship. The relationship that you are having with me and I am having with you in the office. That is why it is so important we both feel that there is a good “fit” between us. You were hurt in your first relationship with your parents. Therefore, it makes sense that the healing needs can come from a therapeutic relationship. It must include corrective experiences for the unhealthy ones that happened in your family. Such as finding validation, empathy and at times challenges to keep your life moving forward.

2.     Our [therapeutic relationship and the trust that develops creates a place where you can come and talk about anything and everything this is difficult in your life. And, a place where you can share the things you feel good about; especially that you are learning about yourself. If anything comes up that makes you question my motives, etc. we need to address it. We need to build and maintain a trusting relationship.

3.     Therapy often starts with feeling better as you have a place to talk and be heard, seen and encouraged.

4.     Later it starts feeling less good as the list of things that are not healthy in your life become more evident. Maybe relationships you thought were good turn out to be co-dependent or toxic. There is a sense that this is all too much to fix and this is also the call to keep working. Hearing the affirmation that you are on your “healing path” and that you can create the life you want to be living. The problem is that you are now feeling more of the pain that you have kept buried through denial, being busy or a thousand other ways we all have of avoiding pain.

5.     Depending on what happened to you in your childhood there will be different things you will need to learn and heal in your therapy sessions. It has been described by John Mosher in his book, The Healing Circle as being one of four journeys or quests. They are:

A.    The Quest for Love: if you were unloved or unwanted as a child

B.    A Search for Identity: if you were not seen for who you are and what you really wanted

C.     A Quest for Mastery: if you were disempowered through shame or humiliation

D.    A Search for Meaning: if you were traumatized so that you could not make meaning out of the experiences you were having.

6.     Know that the deep changes that are needed to shift your mistaken beliefs about yourself and others takes a long time. It is usually measured in years to become more loving and compassionate with yourself, stop judging yourself and others harshly, set healthy boundaries and heal the childhood wounds that keep you isolated or stuck.

7.     Knowing that you are making a huge commitment of your time, resources and energy puts you in the driver’s seat. So speak up if you are not sure the therapy is helping you, if there are things that you are not talking about bring them up. By doing those things you will be learning to be your own advocate; an essential life skill you can use throughout your life.

Psychotherapy is a life changing process so make the most of it by working hard and speaking up for what you want and need in your therapy.