Psychotherapy: How does it work?

Psychotherapy: How does it work?

When you hear the word “therapy”, you most likely imagine a therapist sitting in a chair, looking through his glasses, taking regular notes, and nodding in response to a patient narrating the deepest, darkest stories about his life to him. In simple words, you picture a therapist ‘talking’ to his patient. This is called Talk Therapy or Psychotherapy.

What is Psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy aims to help people comprehend what they feel, and accordingly prepare them for the problems they are facing or will face in their life. It provides a safe space to a person wherein he explores his feelings and emotions through discussions.

While psychotherapy is a larger umbrella, there are different types and genres of therapies under it. But each of them involves talking about one’s feelings to discover a possible way forward.

To see positive outcomes, a person taking the therapy should be willing to follow the instructions and guidance he is provided during the process. Not only this, one needs to find a therapist suited to their needs – the ones they can trust.

Life can be tough. You may face obstacles such as unemployment, troubles in relationships, illness, death of a loved one, etc. One simply cannot avoid such happenings. What’s more tragic is what comes after that. You may start indulging in self-destructive behaviors.

This may lead to many mental health issues such as:

  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Depression
  • Bipolar Disorders
  • Behavioral disorders in children
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Paranoia
  • Substance abuse

and many more.

Mental health issues make it difficult for a person to cope up with daily dealings such as work, relationships, academics, etc. Sometimes, a person may feel that he needs a little help. For some, these issues can be cured through medications. For others, a little more than medicines is required. That’s where therapy comes into play.

Approaches to Psychotherapy:

There are many approaches to psychotherapy. All of them involve a structured process.

But first, we need to know what type of professionals can provide psychotherapy. It can be provided by:

  • Psychiatrists: Psychiatrists are medical doctors who evaluate patients to determine whether their symptoms are the result of a physical illness, a combination of physical and mental ailments, or strictly mental issues.
  • Psychologist: A psychologist is a person who studies normal and abnormal mental states, perpetual, cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behaviour by experimenting with, and observing how individuals relate to one another and their environments. Psychologists generally acquire a four-year university degree, often with post-graduate work required.
  • Counsellors: They usually have a master’s degree. They mainly address clients’ emotional and relationship issues through therapy and skills development. Counsellors often work in school or career settings.
  • Social Workers: Social workers contribute to the human services field by providing holistic solutions to the behavioural health problems faced by their clients.
  • Marriage and family therapists: Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) are mental health professionals trained in psychotherapy, and licensed to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage, couples and family systems.
  • Psychoanalysts: Psychoanalysts are clinicians who practice a particular kind of psychotherapy based on theories that were first proposed by Sigmund Freud and later expanded upon or modified by experts in the field.
  • Developmental or child Psychologists: Developmental psychologists work with parents and doctors to understand the situation and detect and treat any resulting psychological or health problems of a child. Developmental psychologists work to help a child in his early years to get on track to normal development.

According to the Encyclopedia of Psychology, approaches to psychotherapy fall into five categories:

1.Psychoanalysis/Psychodynamic Therapies: This method aims to change problematic behavioral patterns, feelings, and thoughts by identifying unconscious meanings and motivations. Psychoanalysis-oriented treatment is characterized by a close working relationship between the therapist and the patient. This approach was initially identified by Sigmund Freud and has been expanded since it was first proposed.

2. Behaviour Therapy: This approach focuses on both normal and abnormal behaviours. Ivan Pavlov discovered Classical Conditioning which was a great contribution to the field of behaviour therapy. For example, Ivan’s famous dog drools when he hears the dinner bell because it associates the sound with food. The therapists can help patients with phobias by repeatedly exposing them to fear.

Another contributor in this field is E.L.Thorndike, who discovered Operant Conditioning. This type of learning depends on rewarding and punishing a person to comprehend people’s reactions.

3. Cognitive therapy: This therapy focuses on current behaviours rather than the past ones as a way to solve problems. According to Wikipedia, Cognitive therapy is based on the cognitive, which states that thoughts, feelings and behaviour are all connected and that individuals can move toward overcoming difficulties and achieving their goals by identifying and altering unhelpful or inaccurate thoughts, problematic behaviour, and distressing emotional reactions. This involves a person working collaboratively with the therapist to develop skills for testing and altering beliefs, identifying distorted thinking, relating to others in many ways, and changing behavioural patterns.

4. Holistic therapy: Some therapists don’t depend on following just one approach. They integrate all of them and prepare a holistic model of recovery. They combine elements of different approaches and tailor their therapy as per the patient’s needs.

5. Interpersonal Therapy: This type of therapy aims to resolve conflicts in the personal relationships of an individual. It helps people develop strong bonds with others and aims to improve communication.

Formats of Psychotherapy:

Depending upon the ways and methods a therapist uses, psychotherapy can take different forms, some of which are:

  • Individual Therapy: This involves one-on-one sessions with the therapist in a confidential setting.
  • Couples Therapy: This type of therapy aims to improve relationships between couples. Here, a couple sits with the therapist together and finds a way out to their issues.
  • Family Therapies: This aims to cater to dysfunctional families where the dynamics within the families are improved. Many individuals from a particular family, or the whole family takes this therapy together.
  • Group Therapy: This is a classroom therapy where people who share similar goals sit together and take sessions. This approach also helps people to take help and support people from the group members by talking to each other.

Impact of Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy can be done in person or online. Some sessions can last for 30-45 minutes while others can last a few days or months.

A study was conducted in 2014 which showed that psychotherapy was most effective when there was a good interplay between a competent, trained therapist and a patient. Having clear and defined personal goals is also a good determinant for the success of the therapy.

Although the idea of going for therapy may seem intimidating at first, it reaps commendable results. It immensely improves a person’s quality of life in many ways.

Some of them are:

Overcoming self-destructive behaviours: When you are in therapy, you can work through the cause and effects of harmful behaviour. You can many coping skills and practice alternate behaviours. Therapists will help you identify your negative patterns and self-destructive behaviours. They will suggest strategies to overcome these patterns. For people who constantly have suicidal thoughts or self-destructive thoughts, taking therapy is really beneficial.

Identifying your triggers: Therapists guide you on how to identify and manage your triggers, especially anger and addictive behaviours. Sometimes, the therapists provide the patients with a questionnaire that helps them identify their triggers. After that, patients are prompted to develop strategies that help cope with the triggers and control their reactions.

Mending relationships: Through therapy, your relationships with your family, friends and lovers are likely to improve. Maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships is crucial to your mental health. Therefore, it becomes important to resolve all the conflicts and improve communication.

Feeling physically fit: Poor mental health is a major contributor to chronic health problems. When your mind is healthy, you will encounter fewer health problems. As a result, you will end up taking much fewer sick days than usual. A study says that positive psychological health reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

By taking therapies, people can understand their emotions, accept them and make quick progress towards their goals and dreams. They are no longer paralysed by fears and traumas.

There are myriad forms of psychotherapy, which can be used to treat many different mental issues, but at the end of the day, it is a personal process that requires a therapist who understands the individual needs of the client. In other words, although the goal of many psychotherapeutic practices is to make clients question their own ideas and assumptions, psychotherapists should also question their own beliefs instead of treating them as facts.

If someone around you is experiencing symptoms of a psychological or psychiatric disorder, guide them to take the therapy; they might benefit from an evaluation by a trained and experienced psychotherapist who is professionally qualified to assess, diagnose, and treat mental health problems.

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