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What is Therapy?

Psychotherapy is not easily described in general statements or in brief paragraphs. A large subsection of psychological literature is devoted to trying to answer this very question. The reason it’s hard to “pin down” is that “therapy” varies depending on the personalities of the psychologist and client, and which particular problems you choose to bring forward. Psychotherapy is not like a visit to a medical doctor. Instead, it calls for a very active effort on your part. There are many different methods I may use to deal with the issues or problems that you hope to address. Where penicillin may always work for strep throat in medical settings, in therapy different methods work for the exact same problem with different people. While one client may feel that a particular approach works for her/him, another, completely different, approach may work for another person. Sometimes we may have to try several styles or techniques until we find the one that works best for each individual. What this means is in order for therapy to be most successful, you will have to work on things we talk about both during our sessions and outside of our sessions – at home, work, in the community and elsewhere.

What are the pros and cons of therapy?

Psychotherapy can have benefits and risks. Since therapy often involves discussing unpleasant aspects of your life, you may experience uncomfortable feelings like sadness, guilt, anger, frustration, loneliness, and helplessness — to name a few. On the other hand, psychotherapy has also been shown to have benefits for people who proceed through those feelings and continue to work on their issues. Therapy often leads to better relationships, solutions to specific problems and significant reduction in feelings of distress. Symptom management, learned both through therapy and other methods (groups, worksheets, “homework,” etc.,) has been shown to change the overall functioning of clients in a very positive way.

But there are no guarantees of what you will experience. Therapy is different for every individual, and the therapeutic relationship is different with every client/therapist duo.

How can I tell if I need therapy or what problems to “bring forth?”

You must have some concerns, or you wouldn’t be reading this page. Sometimes events bring people to therapy — life changes, a traumatic incident, difficulties in work or relationships, something you “just can’t get over,” and other times it’s a long-standing pattern of feelings and behaviors that bring people to therapy. On many occasions the two combined are what bring someone to consider therapy as an option. Perhaps there is difficulty, discord, disruptions, new pressures or strange “differences” in your daily life, feelings of distress, worry or anxiety, “moodiness,” irritability, numbness, unhappiness, inability to function like your “normal self,” odd (for you) or unhealthy behavior or anything else that bothers you, things about yourself or your life you’d like to change — anything is fair game. There is no set list of problems. Therapy exists to enrich and make your life healthier, no matter what the issue or how big or small you or others perceive it to be. The bottom line: something must be bothering you or causing discomfort for you to question whether or not therapy is the right path for you to follow.

Some of these things may be quite normal in small doses for brief periods of time, so if you’re sitting on the question fence about whether or not therapy is for you, an evaluation is the best first step.

I normally conduct an evaluation that lasts from two to four sessions. During this time, you can decide if therapy is for you, and we can both decide if I am the best person to provide the services you need in order to meet your treatment goals. Here is how my evaluation process works:

  • We will meet together for the above-mentioned first few sessions to evaluate your needs.
  • You will tell me what brought you to consider therapy, those difficulties discussed above.
  • I will ask questions about your background, your current life, your relationships, your functioning as well as questions about other mental health treatment you may have had.
  • I will also ask questions about symptoms that you may or may not be experiencing or have experienced in the past.
  • Come prepared to ask questions. You are interviewing me as much as I you. At any time through the process, you are encouraged to ask questions about my practice and my therapeutic skills, background etc. You will certainly be given more than one chance to ask questions of me, so it may be helpful to jot down thoughts between evaluation sessions in order to have your questions at hand for the next session. If you are unsure of questions to ask a therapist you are interviewing, the SIDRAN Foundation offers a handout entitled, “Therapy for Post-Traumatic Stress and Dissociative Conditions: What to Look for and How to Choose a Therapist”. It’s full of information and questions. You can print one out (or take notes) for every therapist you interview.
  • By the end of the evaluation, I will be able to offer you some first impressions of what our work will include and a treatment plan to follow, if you decide to continue with therapy.

You should evaluate this information along with your own opinions of whether you feel comfortable working with me. Therapy involves a large commitment of time, money, and energy, so you should be very careful about the therapist you select. If you have questions about my procedures, we should discuss them whenever they arise. If you have persistent doubts, I will be happy to help you set up a meeting with another mental health professional for a second opinion and/or a referral.