People may seek treatment to process and work through a traumatic event or to better understand and discuss aspects of their lives they experience as challenging. Psychotherapy can be beneficial within both gratifying and arduous circumstances. Some people pursue treatment to address relationship issues, depression, or anxiety; others come to treatment struggling with major life transitions such as the stress of a new job, a promotion, the process of aging, the arrival of a baby, a marriage, a life-changing medical diagnosis, a divorce, or the loss of a loved one, to name a few.
A common misconception tends to be that seeking treatment is a sign of weakness or failure. However, the majority of people in treatment are in fact high functioning and research continues to show the importance and benefits of taking care of our mental health. Engaging in therapy is a strength and reflects an openness to facing issues and better understanding our experiences and our relationship with the world around us. Serious psychotherapists have been in long-term treatment themselves and thus know firsthand the importance and impact of self-knowledge as well as the courage and perseverance it takes to undertake such an exploration.
Appointments may be scheduled from one to three times per week. It is difficult at the outset of treatment to estimate the frequency of sessions that will best facilitate the achievement of someone’s goals; however, a specific number of sessions can be requested depending on an individual’s sense of what they need. During the initial period the reasons for seeking treatment are discussed, allowing the therapist to develop an understanding of the nature and range of a person’s particular difficulties. After the initial period, sessions will become less like an interview. The person is then asked to share more freely what is on his or her mind and it is the therapist’s job to actively listen and help explore and identify patterns of thinking, feeling and interacting that may play a role in his or her challenges. Over time, a greater awareness of thoughts and feelings is facilitated and a deeper understanding of the ‘forces’ that have shaped an individual is fostered. In this process, he or she learns that some ways of being in the world may no longer be adaptive and that the cultivation of an expanded repertoire of internal resources and skills can lead to more satisfying ways of living.
There is no convincing evidence that the results of one type of treatment are better than any other. Despite differences in emphasis, most schools of psychotherapy share many similarities in their methods of conceptualizing problems and in the therapeutic factors they consider paramount. For example, most schools emphasize the importance of the therapeutic relationship, highlight the intensive analysis of problematic dynamics, and focus on beneficial alterations in an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Chances of a successful treatment generally correspond to the degree of a person’s involvement in the treatment process. This is influenced not only by a willingness to fully engage in the process and the intensity of his or her distress but also by the level of confidence a person has in the therapist and the treatment method. Expectations of progress are enhanced by the therapist’s ability to convey that she understands an individual intimately and is dedicated to his or her welfare. Personal qualities of the therapist are considered important to the development of a successful therapeutic relationship and the need for a ‘good match’ between therapist and patient should thus not be underestimated and should be openly addressed during the initial part of the initial sessions.
Psychotherapy is a highly individualized process and everyone moves at a different pace. The length of a beneficial treatment depends on the nature of what brings a person to therapy. The presence of chronic or long-lasting problems may require a more extended process than the treatment of more circumscribed issues. Importantly, a psychologist’s goal should never be to keep someone in treatment ‘forever.’ Rather, he or she should help an individual better understand and handle experiences on their own and build a foundation that will allow the person to continue to grow and independently apply his or her knowledge and tools even after a good therapy experience has ended.