Well, that really depends on why you want to see a therapist. If you are going to see them with the hope that they will solve your problems, then perhaps not. If, however, you are going to them with the hope that they will help you to solve your problems, then that’s another matter. You see, the job of a therapist is not to “fix,” but instead to help you to mobilise your resources. A good therapist does not solve your problems, but helps you to develop the capacity to solve your own problems.
People often look to have therapy when they have a major life crisis, such as a death, the end of a relationship or the loss of a job. Sometimes people feel empty or inadequate inside, or they may feel that life is not going right and they may feel unfulfilled.
It can take courage to go and see a therapist, after all, firstly the person has to admit they have needs and then they have to face them. Fear of facing painful feelings can prevent people seeking help and many turn to work, alcohol or other coping strategies to push thoughts and feelings out of their consciousness. Therapy does require a commitment from you, but it is worthwhile and talking about difficult emotions in a safe space can be very liberating. Expressing your thoughts and feelings in such a way as to clarify your own situation, come to terms with painful emotions and see your difficulties with greater objectivity can really be helpful.
It is the therapist job to provide you with a space where you can talk without fear of judgement. In other words, a confidential place where you can feel held, secure and safe. For many, the therapy room is a refuge, a sanctuary. I like to think of it as your room, your space within my world. A place where you can return to at any time in your life should you need.
A good therapist will make you feel at ease, they may even feel more like a friend than a professional therapist, someone with whom you may feel you can tell anything. Whilst friendship and friendliness may be an important ingredient, along with warmth, genuineness and congruence they can never be a friend as such. You are seeking their help as a professional not as a chum, buddy, lover or any other relationship. It is precisely because of the uniqueness of this relationship where warmth and friendship in the therapy space combined with professional integrity come together in the service of your difficulties. Next time you are telling a friend something notice how they will often come back and try to tell you a worse story, or perhaps they will tell you what to do or simply rubbish what you say. A good therapist won’t do this. Of course, there may be a value in the therapist sharing or disclosing something of themselves, they will only do so really if it is deemed to be helpful and supports the therapeutic endeavour. You can be sure of one thing though, unlike a friend or acquaintance, a good therapist won’t dump their garbage on your shoulders!
The term psychotherapist is one that I really like. Not because it is a lovely grandiose title… but because of the original Greek meaning of the word. Here the word therapist literally means “attendant” and the word psyche literally means “spirit” or “soul.” So a psychotherapist is literally a “Soul Attendant.”
One of the problems when deciding that you want to take up therapy is to find the right type of therapy for you. The problem is that there are just so many different types of therapy to choose from. Therapies vary from analytical laying on the couch type therapy, to body therapy, cognitive behavioural, transpersonal to neurolinguistic programming. The list is seemingly endless. I suggest you go to a good bookshop and look for books on therapy in the psychology section, alternatively contact a few therapists and ask them to tell you more about their particular approach.
Probably the best way to find a therapist is through personal recommendation. This may be from your doctor or a friend. The key thing is that the therapists approach has to feel right for you.
These days a lot is spoken about a type of therapy know as cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT, which is my own speciality. This is an action-oriented as well as word-oriented therapy. It helps people understand what is happening and what they can do to change the way they feel and react. CBT looks at the way thoughts (cognitions) and beliefs affect our emotions and the meaning we give to events. This affects our emotions and our reactions (behaviours). Unlike some other approaches, CBT is a relatively short term psychotherapeutic approach. The length of therapy tends to depend on the complexity of the presenting problem. A block of sessions ( usually six) may often be enough for a noticeable difference to emerge. Improvement to “quality of life” is often the best measure of success. The goal of CBT could be said, to enable the client to learn ways to address problems and difficulties in order to become their own therapist.
If somebody asked me what do you do? I would reply that I do many things, but one of the most important things is”tilting the mirror.” In other words. Reflecting back in such a way as enable the client to glimpse a slightly different perspective. Helping the client gain insight and understanding. This may be helping the client to see how unhelpful thinking traits, such as catastrophizing mind reading, black and white thinking distort their view of reality. We may look at the meaning they give to events creates a huge emotional upheaval and how stepping back and distancing can help. Then together we look at the problem area and the way it impacts on the person’s life. We consider how life would be different if the problem was resolved. We look at what may need to happen or change, then we look at the emotions arising out of the event or situation and talk about them. Together we identify what needs to happen to bring about resolution of the problem area. Then we identify strategies and goals (or aspirations) to aim for. Working within a specific time frame, using measures and behavioural experiments to help us. Through the course of therapy the client and therapist walk “shoulder to shoulder,” addressing the difficulties In a collaborative way.
Some people say, “I felt worse after my first session,” for others, getting it out in the open can be a great relief. Problems rarely resolve themselves without action, and if they do so, it may not be in the way we desire. Having the opportunity to explore them with another person may help a great deal.
Don’t expect miracles, but don’t dismiss the possibility that resolution of difficulties can feel like a miracle. Therapists are not “miracle workers” and if they present themselves that way, don’t go anywhere near them! The therapist is there to guide you to achieve your goals, not to do the work for you or “make” you feel better. Every session you attend is one step closer to feeling better.
Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.