Mark Hillman, Ph.D., (Psy) LMHC
What is Psychotherapy?
In general terms, psychotherapy is a relationship in which one person enlists the professional assistance of another for the purpose of bringing about changes in his or her own feelings, thoughts, attitudes, and/or behavior.
The task of the psychotherapist, therefore, is to help individuals make the changes they wish to make. Sometimes the person entering therapy knows changes are needed but doesn't know what changes to make or how to go about making them. A psychotherapist helps the person figure this out.
What Happens during Psychotherapy?
The therapeutic process varies depending on the orientation of the therapist. It also differs for each individual client depending on the client's circumstances. However, there are some common aspects of therapy that you are likely to experience when you enter a therapeutic relationship.
To begin with, your first session with a therapist should be a consultation session. This consultation does not commit you to working with the therapist. The goals in the consultation are to find out whether psychotherapy would be useful to you and whether this particular therapist is likely to be helpful. During this session, you may want to discuss with the therapist any values that are particularly important to you. If your therapist's views are very different from yours, you may want to find a more compatible therapist.
The first session is a time for you to determine whether you will feel comfortable, confident, and motivated in working with this particular therapist. You should also feel that you can trust and respect your therapist and that your therapist is understanding of your situation.
This is also the time for the therapist to decide whether he or she is a good match for you. At times, a therapist may refer you to another therapist who may be able to work better with you.
After you've decided to work with a particular therapist, the next few sessions are usually devoted to talking about the circumstances that have brought you to therapy. Generally, during this time (assessment) your therapist will be asking quite specific questions about the concerns or challenges causing your distress and about when and where they occur.
Assessment also can be done through the use of questionnaires or tests. A therapist can use a variety of techniques in assessment. Initial assessments are used to get therapy started; however, a good therapist will continue to assess a client's issues throughout therapy and change the direction of therapy, if needed.
After the initial assessment stage, the rest of psychotherapy is devoted to helping you gain insight and solve current concerns and/or help you change the emotions, thoughts, and/or behaviors that you want to change. The goals you bring to therapy are the gist of the therapeutic process. How these goals are accomplished depends a great deal on both the orientation of the therapist and the techniques the therapist may use with you. Some therapists may require more activity during therapy than just talking with you about particular issues. These activities may include such things as role playing or homework assignments in which you practice some of the techniques introduced in therapy (like relaxation skills or communication methods).
Therapists also differ on how strongly they determine how therapy proceeds. Some therapists may take a more directive role, while others let the client direct the course of therapy. The amount of therapy you receive will also vary depending on the orientation of the therapist and/or the specific treatment plan used. Some therapies are relatively short, while others require a longer time commitment.
Each session of therapy usually lasts about an hour, and you generally meet with your therapist once a week. However, such time schedules are rarely rigid and may be changed to fit the needs of you and/or your therapist. It is a good idea to ask your therapist about the general techniques he or she may use with you in therapy, as well as about the length and frequency of therapy you might expect.
Psychotherapy can help you in many ways. Like most human endeavors, it needs time and motivation for the most successful outcomes.
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