The word ‘psychotherapy’ tends to freak people out, and with little wonder. It conjures images of a dark underground psychiatric ward where patients are locked up and tended to by a sadistic doctor. The thrills of the cinematic industry are to blame for this fictitious image. While it makes a useful show in horror films, it’s not very helpful when people who need professional mental and emotional help need to make an informed decision about their treatment programme. If this is you, then the first thing you need to know about psychotherapy is that it’s not nearly as scary as it sounds. The word actually comes from the ancient Greek for ‘psyche’ – meaning ‘soul’ – and ‘therapeia’ – meaning ‘healing.’
What happens during a Psychotherapy Session?
Psychotherapy is also referred to as talk therapy, because sessions involve talking with a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, to aid wellbeing. Sessions are usually one-on-one, although a person may also partake in group or family psychotherapy. There are several aspects to psychotherapy:
- Informational – one of your therapist’s roles is to educate you on the nature of your mental disorder if you have one. The goal is to arm you with all the knowledge that you need to understand your mental and emotional state and to make smart decisions regarding your health.
- Exploration – by discussing your thoughts, feelings, lifestyle and behavioural patterns with your therapist, you will explore the root of your problems, and be guided to making changes where they might be helpful.
- Coping skills – psychotherapy is not about magically fixing all of your problems for you. What it is about is helping you to develop the necessary skills so that you are able to deal with the difficulties of your situation.
- Provide support – your therapist isn’t your friend, but he or she is a person who you can trust and who provides a space in which you can safely express yourself.
Your psychologist or psychiatrist will tailor the sessions to suit your individual needs and progress. There is no set amount of time that one is expected to partake in psychotherapy for. A person with a mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, might be advised to attend psychotherapy or another form of therapy for life, whereas someone with relationship problems may choose to move on once they’ve got what they needed out of their sessions
Who can benefit from Psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy is a valuable and effective method of treatment for people with mental health conditions. Combined with medication, it can dramatically improve the lives of people with various disorders:
- Personality disorders – e.g. borderline personality disorder.
- Mood disorders – e.g. depression; bipolar disorder.
- Anxiety disorders – e.g. general anxiety; social anxiety; phobias; obsessive-compulsive disorder; post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Psychotic disorders – e.g. schizophrenia.
- Eating disorders – e.g. binge eating; bulimia; anorexia.
Psychotherapy is not only for people suffering with mental illnesses, and can help anyone who is experiencing a difficult situation. People struggling with addictions, sleep disorders, sexual dysfunction, relationship problems, trauma or illness may also benefit from therapy.