What is therapy? I’m going to assume this question is about psychotherapy, not massage therapy, aromatherapy or speech, physical, occupational or art therapy. Although all therapies have this in common: they are methods of treatment to fix something that isn’t right.
The therapy we’re talking about here, psychotherapy or counseling, is most often a talking treatment, where a troubling psychological, behavioral, emotional or relationship issue is effectively addressed through developing a working relationship, and talking with, a qualified licensed professional who has appropriate education and training.
Not like television
For the sake of anyone who’s never been in therapy before, it’s not like they usually show on TV or the movies. For instance, it’s rare that anyone lies down on a couch. There might be a couch in the room but it’s probably there so that the therapist can take a nap after lunch. Face to face is more the norm.
We therapists come in all shapes, sizes, genders and styles. You might not believe this but not all male therapists wear comfy old cardigans like Judd Hirsch in Ordinary People. Female therapists aren’t all like Dr. Jennifer Melfi in the Sopranos, with her beautifully tailored skirt suits. We don’t sit in silence, scribble in a notebook and mumble “uh-huh” while you talk on and on about whatever comes to your mind. There is a place for that kind of therapy, but it’s not the most common way therapy is done these days.
…is a guided conversation.
Therapy is a guided conversation. Whether your struggle is with anxiety, depression, grief, an abusive relationship, identity confusion, whatever, the therapist brings their expertise in psychological strategies, insights, techniques and skills to help you overcome the problem, and you bring your expertise in you, your history, your insights, observations, knowledge of what works and what doesn’t.
We know that you are anxious and vulnerable when you make that first contact with us to ask about therapy. We respect the courage it takes to just show up to see what it’s about. The best therapists are patient, kind and understand it takes time for you to open up to a complete stranger.
The many modalities of therapy
Therapy can come in different types or modalities. Psycho-educational, cognitive-behavioral, dialectical behavioral, acceptance, and commitment therapy, supportive, solution-focused, trauma-informed, individual, relationship, group… A skilled therapist is a human being who genuinely wants to know what it’s like to be you, your strengths, loves, hates, hurts, the good, the anger, the sad so that they can help you. We struggle with you to figure out where the obstacles are, how to get around, over or through them, to find the healthy, happy you.
Frequency of visits can vary from three sessions a week, twice a week, once a week (which is usual when starting out), every other week (as you feel better and more confident) to once a month (maintenance). A course of treatment can last from three months to three years, less or more depending on your unique situation. The treatment lasts as long as both you and your therapist feel it is beneficial. The goal of good therapy is for you to be independent, able to be your own best therapist, to gain tools that will last you a lifetime.