Talking has enormous therapeutic benefits. It strengthens our ties to other and having someone listen to you promotes the feeling that others care and are interested in what you have to say.
You mull and worry about many things, often without conscious awareness of its pattern and purpose. When these worries are left unattended they can take a pathological form and contribute to the difficulties. When you verbalise and hear your thoughts then you experience a sense of relief from quiet suffering. It is after the catharsis that the process of self-awareness and change takes roots.
We benefit from talking to friends and family, but sometimes it isn’t enough, as they may not be attentive, offer advice before listening and offer untimely advice & assurance. Therefore, it is sometimes easier to talk to someone (a trained professional) who has no prior knowledge or expectation of you, and to whom you can disclose your deepest fear and emotions without worry of being judged.
However, something holds us back from seeking psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy). Perhaps the misconception that you have to be ‘little mad or harbour some strange & odd ideas’ to see a therapist. This is a myth that psychotherapy is only for mental illness and associated disturbances. However, isn’t it entirely normal and human to be confused and nervous and become overwhelmed by work stress, career angst and relationship challenges? In fact, those who seek early help and therapy to unravel their inner-self are more mature than those who wait until life issues trigger breakdown and illness.
What is psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy is a psychological method used to address and treat emotional and mental health problems, and its impact on life, family and relationships. It’s also for self-improvement and to do what one does, better.
Psychotherapy is not a therapy that is ‘done to you’ by someone else but is ‘done by you’. You play an active part with the therapist as a facilitator. The process can be empowering.
The process involves talking to a professional, either on a one-to-one basis or in groups, to get a deeper understanding of thoughts, feeling, worries and troublesome behaviour, with a view to raising awareness and bring about changes – from a less adaptive to more adaptive state, as deemed desirable by the participant or client.
As per Carl Jung “The principle aim of psychotherapy is not to transport one to an impossible state of happiness, but to help (the client) acquire steadfastness and patience in the face of suffering”.
I think psychotherapy is much more than just listening and guiding and change. It’s about building trust and rekindling hope that life is fluid (and ever changing) and that problems are an opportunity for transformation and psychological growth rather than a hindrance.
Types of psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy can be directive or non-directive. In directive therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT, one can learn to identify and change unhelpful negative & pessimistic patterns of thinking, take note of and build on positive events, or apply relaxation techniques. Equally, develop skills set to address social anxiety, low self-esteem and damaging anger problems. Here the emphasis is on the present rather than past.
In non-directive therapies like psychoanalysis or psychodynamic psychotherapy emphasises on exploring the past including early family and other important relationships, and how it may be impacting on the present manner, reaction, behaviour and relationships.
Then there is systemic therapy, which looks at the relationships between individuals as part of a unit and how systems and interpersonal dynamics work together. Examples of this approach include group and family therapy.
Guiding principles of psychotherapy?
A psychotherapist should provide confidential physical and emotional space where conversation can flow and deep recesses of mind can be accessed more readily. It’s about enabling the participant to describe difficult issues and exploring deeper meaning that he/she may be unaware of.
Take a holistic approach and see the person as a whole rather than from a narrow perspective of reported problems. The body, mind and conscious (and unconscious) thought, feelings and emotional reactions, interconnectedness to their world, are all taken into consideration.
Each person has a unique personality, perspective and preferences. A good therapist removes himself (his biases and opinion) from the therapy sessions and speaks from client’s point of view. Freud’s famous metaphor of the analyst as mirror conveys this: “doctor should be opaque to his patients and like a mirror should show them nothing but what is shown to him”.
The sessions enhance participation by reflecting and paraphrasing. Reflecting is a method where an attempt is made to reconstruct client’s thinking and associated feeling and conveying that back in an understandable manner. And paraphrasing is simply repeating back parts of the story so that the client feel that they are being heard.
Continually assess readiness for change and/or resistance in form of uncooperativeness or sabotaging progress by erratic attendance. The therapist must be attentive to these factors and provide timely guidance.
A therapist manner is ideally marked by curiosity, honesty and deep interest in exploring human behaviour and feelings. Have unconditional positive regard with a belief that everyone has inherent ability to heal themselves, and are capable of recovery from difficulties provided they are treated with respect, compassion and warmth.
Final points to note
Psychotherapy can help when life feels unbearably difficult, and it can also make a decent life even better. Some types of therapy have been shown to be more effective than medication over the long run.
Note this. It isn’t a sign of disturbance to go to a therapist but it’s the first sign of sanity and of a proper grown up commitment to mental health. Benefits of that ‘golden hour’ in therapy is well established.
We all need to look inward in order to make more coherent sense of the world outside. And when there is conflict, a collaborative approach with a therapist can be a great advantage.
Do read Dr Jain’s other articles on emotional wellness and mental health awareness
© Dr Roshan Jain 2017