And how will therapy help me?
With the huge rise in awareness of mental health that has occurred in recent months and years, especially with the impact of COVID and the openness of Prince Harry and other prominent celebrities in speaking of their own mental health struggles, the question of what counselling or psychotherapy is and what does it help, has taken on a new importance in many people’s lives.
At its most basic, psychotherapy is simply a psychological therapy, or a therapy that uses the power and plasticity (changeability) of the brain, our psychology, to bring about a state of greater physical and mental wellbeing. Most often, this is achieved through conversation with a trained therapist, hence the term: “Talking Therapy”.
During psychotherapy, the aim is to help you learn about yourself, your feelings and your behaviours in a way that allows you understand how you relate to yourself and the world around you, giving you greater sense of control and agency in your everyday life but also helping you to deal with many of the most difficult experiences of life such as loss, illness, injury or other traumatic experiences such as abuse or assault and even death.
There are many different forms of psychotherapy ranging from those that concentrate mainly on the behavioural side to those that focus more on your inner world. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – CBT – is often recommended by GPs and other NHS organisations to help people change behaviours that are negatively affecting them.
Psychodynamic therapy (psychodynamic simply refers to the dynamic or changeable nature of our psychology) focuses more on understanding the underlying experiences that are causing those unhelpful behaviours, thoughts or feelings so that you can make change for yourself.
So the question often becomes, which psychological therapy is best for me? In many ways, this is a very difficult question to answer and often it is more a question of what is available as, for instance, when seeking help through the NHS or your GP where the options for therapy may be more limited. In truth, there is significant research that suggests it is the relationship between the therapist and client (yes we often prefer that term because of potentially negative connotations of the term “patient”) that matters most and this often simplifies the process by making it more a choice of therapist than therapy.
The question of whether you need psychotherapy or counselling at all is also often a very personal one. What one person may deal with and feel able to process and manage mentally is often very different to another and much of that is affected by the experience of each individual throughout their lives.
But it isn’t just a case of mental ill-health in the sense of there’s a traditional diagnosis that leads to an identified treatment, it may well be that you simply want to work on some aspect of your mental self in the same way that some people might go to the gym because they want to improve their physical appearance.
Of course, if you feel you have, or have already been diagnosed with, a mental health issue, such as depression, anxiety, bi-polar or any other of the recognised metal health disorders then there are specific psychotherapeutic techniques that may be of benefit in those circumstances and, when searching for a therapist online or elsewhere, you will often find those issues and treatments described in their literature.
My advice is to always research and make sure you feel comfortable with what you’ve read about the therapist you choose. It may also help to take your time to visit one or more therapists to see how you feel in their presence.
If you feel too uncomfortable, it is unlikely that the therapy will succeed anyway. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your therapist, especially at the beginning, as to how they work and what the charges are. Some therapists will charge for all missed sessions, for example, whilst others may have a shorter cancellation policy.
There is no doubt that a successful psychotherapy can be a truly life-changing, affirming and rewarding experience, both for the client and the therapist, not least because of the unique experience that psychotherapists and counsellors are able to offer through the relationship that can be built. You don’t have to be psychologically ill to take advantage of these therapies and they can easily be thought of as a personal development opportunity.
So, if you’re not sure whether you need it or not, why not ask and see how you get on.
Gary Herrington, Psychotherapist