Understanding psychotherapy, counseling, and other services psychological professionals provide can seem like a daunting prospect. Are therapy and counseling different things? What about psychiatry? How do I choose a therapist? What will he or she expect of me as a patient? And what should I be talking about with my therapist, anyway?
What is Psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy is a term used to describe the treatment of a mental disorder by psychological, not medical, means. Psychiatry, on the other hand, refers to the treatment of a mental disorder using medical (usually pharmaceutical) intervention. Psychiatrists must attend medical school. Psychotherapists are not required to, although some do. The words "counseling" and "therapy" are often used interchangeably, but can refer to two different processes. Counseling is a term used to describe being guided, by a counselor or coach, through stages intended to illuminate a patient about his or her mental state. Psychotherapy, or psychoanalysis, is designed to increase a patient's sense of well-being through guided discussion by allowing him or her to discover things about themselves without necessarily being "counseled" to do so.
How Do I Choose A Psychotherapist?
A patient should spend at least as much energy on finding the right kind of therapist as they would, for example, buying a new car. Things like researching someone's background, training, and the amount of experience they have can tell you plenty about their career, but maybe not as much about how the two of you would fit together. Don't be afraid to take different therapists for a "test drive", so to speak, by scheduling a few introductory appointments. If you have any friends in psychotherapy, ask them what they like about their therapists and why. Ideally, you're looking for someone you can be honest with, who won't make you feel judged, and who can provide objective insights you don't already have about things going on in your life. That is not to say that your therapist, counselor or coach is there to solve all your problems or fix things. The good ones should be helping you learn to solve problems on your own.
What Happens During Psychotherapy?
So, what do people in therapy talk about with their therapist? It varies. Some people feel the need to address things that happened to them in childhood, painful events from their pasts, or life events affecting them currently. Others seek therapy to deal with addiction, or the loss of a loved one, or because they don't feel they're living up to their potential and would like to examine why. Patients should feel comfortable enough with their therapist to discuss anything. It is the therapists job to make sure the time spent together is, in fact, therapeutic. It may be helpful to establish some goals with your counselor the first time you meet. What brought you to psychotherapy in the first place? What do you hope to gain from it? These are the issues your therapist was trained to address. If, after a reasonable amount of time, you don't feel as though he or she is helping you make any progress towards reaching some of those goals, it might be time to give someone else a try and see if it makes a difference.
Beginning sessions with a psychoanalyst can seem overwhelming, but it helps to remember that the problems you're dealing with are exactly the ones your therapist was trained to help you address. Give the process time, and be patient with yourself as well. Don't expect miracles, but look for improvement and keep working toward the goals you established when you started psychotherapy. With a little work and the right therapist or counselor, you can take control of your own mental health.