FAQs about Psychotherapy

psychotherapy imageThere is a lot of stigma, mystery, and misconception surrounding psychotherapy, which can prevent many people from actually trying it. Empirical evidence shows that psychotherapy, also known as counseling therapy, works well, and patients can continue to benefit from it even after they stop going.

Sometimes choosing the type of therapy to go to can be confusing because there are so many different types of psychotherapies to choose from. However, in general, most approaches help the client gain insight, identify and change reoccurring patterns, and improve decision-making.

There can be a lot of fear around sharing thoughts, feelings, and vulnerabilities with a complete stranger; the fear of being judged is especially prominent. These feelings are very common, however, counseling psychologists are trained to be non-judgmental and empathic at all times, and everything that is said during counseling sessions is completely confidential. The only times when confidentiality can be broken is if the therapist believes the client is actively suicidal, or likely to hurt someone else – in which case there is an ethical duty to warn.

One common misconception regarding therapy, is that it is only for those who have mental illnesses, however this is not true, and even those facing normal phase of life problems, can benefit from talking the issue over with a trained therapist. There are many frequently asked questions regarding psychotherapy, which include:

Can the client and the therapist have a relationship outside of therapy?

While the therapist will know a lot of intimate, personal details about the client, the client rarely knows much about the therapist. It is discouraged for the therapist and the client to have any social connection outside of therapy, and it is generally not a good idea to seek therapy from someone you know personally.

Is it okay for therapists and patients to date?

Dating or any sexual contact between a therapist and patient is inappropriate. This includes seeking therapy from someone who you have been involved with in the past, dating during therapy or starting a relationship after therapy has ended.

Will my therapist be angry if I switch to another practitioner?

No. Therapists are professionals who should have the best interest of their patient at heart. Any decision to switch therapists should be explored with the therapist and should be in the best interest of the patient. It is an ethical obligation for a therapist to refer a client to see someone else, when the case is outside of their scope of practice, or when progress is not being made.

Which is better, therapy or medication?

Both medication and therapy are effective in treating mental illness. The type of treatment depends on the nature of the problem. Medication tends to be prescribed for conditions that are known to have strong biological components, such as major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or panic disorder.

Research suggests that the combined use of medication and psychotherapy may be the best approach, especially if the condition is severe. Medication offers relief from symptoms, and psychotherapy allows the patient to gain knowledge about the illness, develop new healthy patterns of thinking, and learn effective coping strategies.

What are the different types of therapy?

Psychoanalysis and Psychodynamic therapy. This approach focuses on changing problematic behaviors, feelings, and thoughts by discovering their unconscious meanings and motivations.
Behavior therapy. This approach focuses on learning’s role in developing both normal and abnormal behaviors. The use of reward and punishment to shape behavior is discussed, as well as desensitizing. For example, a therapist might help a client with a phobia through repeated exposure to whatever it is that causes anxiety.

One variation is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which focuses on both thoughts and behaviors. CBT therapy identifies dysfunctional thinking that leads to dysfunctional emotions or behaviors. By changing their thoughts, people can change how they feel and what they do.

Client-centered therapy rejects the idea of therapists as authorities on their clients’ inner experiences. Instead, therapists help clients change by emphasizing their concern, care and interest.
Gestalt therapy emphasizes the importance of being aware of the here and now and accepting responsibility for yourself.
Existential therapy focuses on free will, self-determination and the search for meaning.

Integrative or holistic therapy. Many therapists don’t tie themselves to any one approach. Instead, they blend elements from different approaches and tailor their treatment according to each client’s needs. Generally, the successful outcome of therapy does not depend on what type of therapy is pursued, but rather, success depends upon the strength of the therapeutic alliance between client and therapist, and also on how engaged the client is in the therapy.
Adapted from the Encyclopedia of Psychology