Making the decision to engage in therapy can often be a difficult one. Here, you’ll find answers to some frequently asked questions about therapy that may help you take that step.
What is Psychotherapy and who goes to therapy?
You might decide on your own that you want to try psychotherapy, or a doctor, relative, friend, employer or someone else may suggest psychotherapy to you. Psychotherapy is a general term for addressing mental health concerns by talking with a mental health provider. There are many specific types of psychotherapy, each with its own approach. The type of psychotherapy that’s right for you depends on your individual situation. Psychotherapy is also known as counseling, or simply, therapy.
Not everyone who benefits from psychotherapy is diagnosed with a mental illness. Psychotherapy can help with a number of life’s stresses and conflicts that can affect anyone. For example, it may help you:
- Resolve conflicts with your partner or someone else in your life
- Relieve anxiety or stress due to work or other situations
- Cope with major life changes, such as divorce, the death of a loved one or the loss of a job
- Learn to manage unhealthy reactions such as road rage or passive-aggressive behavior
- Come to terms with a chronic or serious physical health problem such as diabetes, cancer or chronic pain
- Recover from physical or sexual abuse or witnessing violence
- Cope with sexual problems, whether they’re due to a physical or psychological cause
- Sleep better, if you have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep (insomnia)
In some cases, psychotherapy can be as effective as medications such as antidepressants. However, depending on your specific situation, psychotherapy alone may not be enough to ease the symptoms of a mental health condition. You may also need medications or other treatments.
Psychotherapy may not cure your condition or make an unpleasant situation go away. But it can give you the power to cope in a healthy way and to feel better about yourself and your life.
During psychotherapy, you learn about your condition and your moods, feelings, thoughts and behaviors. Psychotherapy helps you learn how to take control of your life and respond to challenging situations with healthy coping skills.
How do I get started?
- Find a therapist. You can find a therapist on your own — looking through the phone book or on the Internet, for instance. Or, get a referral from a doctor, health insurance plan, friend or other trusted source. Many employers offer counseling services or referrals through employee assistance programs (EAPs).
- Understand the costs. If you have health insurance, find out what coverage it offers for psychotherapy. Some health plans cover only a certain number of psychotherapy sessions a year. Also, talk to your therapist about fees and payment options.
- Review your concerns. Before your first appointment, spend some time thinking about what issues you’d like to work on. While you also can sort this out with your therapist, having some sense in advance may provide a good starting point.
- Check qualifications. Before seeing a psychotherapist, check his or her background and education. Psychotherapist is a general term, rather than a job title or indication of education, training or licensure.
What training do therapist’s have?
Trained psychotherapists can have a number of different job titles. Nearly all have a master’s degree or doctoral degree with specific training in psychological counseling. And, all counselors are required to meet state certification requirements. Medical doctors who specialize in mental health (psychiatrists) can prescribe medications as well as provide psychotherapy.
Some common types of psychotherapists and their titles include:
- Psychiatrists (M.D. or D.O.)
- Psychologists (Ph.D. or Psy.D.)
- Licensed professional counselors (L.P.C.)
- Licensed clinical social workers (L.C.S.W.)
- Psychiatric nurse (A.P.R.N.)
In Colorado, all psychotherapists are required to register with the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA). You can look up therapists to see if they are licensed with the state or unlicensed. A license requires additional training hours, supervision by another licensed professional for two years and passing a professional exam in their special field of training.
What are the risks involved in therapy?
In general, there’s little risk in psychotherapy. Because it can explore painful feelings and experiences, though, you may feel emotionally uncomfortable at times. Some forms of psychotherapy, such as exposure therapy, may require you to confront situations you’d rather avoid — such as airplanes if you have a fear of flying. This can lead to temporary stress or anxiety. But the coping skills you learn should help you later on to manage and conquer negative feelings and fears.
What mental health issues are commonly addressed in therapy?
Psychotherapy can be helpful in treating most mental health problems, including:
- Anxiety disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), phobias, panic disorder, and post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder
- Addictions, such as alcoholism, drug dependence or compulsive gambling
- Eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia
- Trauma, resulting from a traumatic event, such as abuse, neglect, or a single event, such as a fire, hurricane, tornado, shooting, etc.
How do I get the most out of my time with my therapist?
You can take steps to get the most out of your therapy and help make it a success:
- Make sure you feel comfortable with your therapist. If you don’t, look for another therapist with whom you feel more at ease.
- Approach therapy as a partnership. Therapy is most effective when you’re an active participant and share in decision making. Make sure you and your therapist agree about the major issues at hand and how to tackle them. Together, you can set goals and gauge progress over time.
- Be open and honest. Success with psychotherapy depends on your willingness to share your thoughts, feelings and experiences. It also depends on your willingness to consider new insights, ideas and ways of doing things. If you’re reluctant to talk about certain things because of painful emotions, embarrassment or fears about your therapist’s reaction, let your therapist know.
- Stick to your treatment plan. If you feel down or lack motivation, it may be tempting to skip psychotherapy sessions. Doing so can disrupt your progress. Try to attend all sessions and to give some thought to what you want to discuss.
- Don’t expect instant results. Working on emotional issues can be painful and may require hard work. It’s not uncommon to feel worse during the initial part of therapy as you begin to confront past and current conflicts. You may need several sessions before you begin to see improvement.
- Do your homework between sessions. If your therapist asks you to read, journal or do other activities outside of your regular therapy sessions, follow through. Doing these homework assignments is important because they help you apply what you’ve learned in the psychotherapy sessions to your life.
- If psychotherapy isn’t helping, talk to your therapist. If you don’t feel that you’re benefiting from therapy after several sessions, talk to your therapist about it. You and your therapist may decide to make some changes or try a different approach that may be more effective
These FAQs are adapted from the Mayo Clinic. Please see the following link for more information.