What is Psychotherapy? An Introduction
What comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘psychotherapy’?
When I entered the mental health field, the image that often came to my mind was a mysterious, professional-looking, older figure deep in thought. The figure would offer short but profound comments while their client lay on a couch. The client would speak out loud about their emotions and life experiences which brought them to this living-room styled office.
However, this was not the case.
Definition of Psychotherapy
The word “psychotherapy” comes from the Greek words “psyche” meaning “soul” and “therapeia” meaning “to heal”. Psychotherapy = to heal the soul. It is an umbrella term to describe a group of therapy styles that aim to identify and heal an individual's mental health challenges.
Psychotherapy takes a holistic approach believing all aspects of an individual’s life is important in their overall health and well-being. Psychotherapists provide support with mental, emotional, and relational difficulties. The overall goal is to achieve long-term healing and increased life satisfaction. This is done through drawing on a variety of theories, techniques, and interventions that focus on increasing self-awareness through making the unconscious conscious (processing previous experiences that are yet-to-be experienced and/or have been repressed as a form of protection). It is common for psychotherapy to be used in combination with medication or other therapies. The types of therapy provided can be individual, family, couple, or group therapies, and can help people of all ages. The relationship between the person and their therapist is essential to working together effectively and benefiting from psychotherapy.
What psychotherapy helps with
Psychotherapy helps with a wide range of conditions, illnesses and presentations including difficulties coping with daily life, to further personal growth and development, transition or periods of change, depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, eating problems, illness, addiction, trauma, grief and loss, relationships, and supporting those suffering in specific or overall areas of life. A psychotherapist often specialises in treating specific conditions, so it is important to ask your therapist what areas they work with.
Benefits of psychotherapy sessions
It is common for individuals to experience a wide variety of benefits from psychotherapy that go beyond their initial reasons for seeking support. Some of the benefits people experience include improvements in emotions and behaviour difficulties; positive changes in the brain and body; the ability to build and maintain long-term happy, healthy relationships; increased self-awareness, confidence and self-esteem; increased resilience and the ability to survive and manage future adversity; increased joy, meaning, purposefulness, insight and self-knowledge; an understanding of patterns, discomfort, or dissatisfaction in life; be able to identify and learn ways manage mental health symptoms that arise in the future; learn more about yourself and live an authentic life; experience an overall fulfilling and enriched life. Psychotherapy provides you with a regular, safe, confidential space just for you. You are assisted by a professional trained in clinically proven methods to help you identify, understand, process, and move forward from the issues you are seeking support for.
Psychoanalysis vs. Psychodynamic
Psychoanalysis and Psychodynamic are the names of two styles of psychotherapy. Both acknowledge the importance of your unconscious psychological processes and childhood experiences. Both work to uncover and heal repressed (yet-to-be processed) emotions and experiences that are impacting you in your adult life e.g. resulting in unhealthy and/or harmful coping mechanisms or causing the development of anxiety and/or depression. Below is a brief list of the basic differences between the two.
Several sessions a week
Lasts longer than psychodynamic, individual sees their therapist over several years
Individual lays on a couch during sessions
Referred to as “traditional” psychotherapy
Based on the works and theories of Sigmund Freud (founder of psychoanalysis)
Focus is on making what is unconscious conscious
Known as the “more modern” version of psychoanalysis
Has grown from traditional psychoanalysis
Draws on multiple clinical theories, styles and modalities that are catered specifically to the individual and their presenting symptoms/difficulties.
Does not require the individual to lay on a couch, unless the individual would like to do so
Sessions generally occur once a week
Focus is on the individual’s whole health and well-being including external and environmental factors as well as their unconscious processes
The relationship between the therapist and client is seen as an essential part of the therapy process.
Short-term vs. Long-term
Psychotherapy is known as a longer-term therapy approach, however, it can be used both short-term or long-term, depending on your reasons for seeking therapeutic support. Generally, short-term (a few sessions over a number of weeks) are most helpful for individuals with singular issues e.g. needing support with a specific phobia such as public speaking before an event coming up where you will need to engage in the phobia. Long-term (sessions last for months or years) is beneficial for those who have ongoing more complex issues e.g. processing trauma and effects of developmental trauma (anxiety and/or depression).
Although short-term therapies can support individuals with singular issues, it is natural for other difficulties to surface during sessions. Discovering you may need more sessions than originally planned is a natural and normal response many have during therapy. Having an open discussion about your needs with your therapist is important - your therapist will check in on how you are during sessions and revise your therapeutic goals throughout the therapy with you.
When to seek other support before seeing a psychotherapist
There are some circumstances when psychotherapy may not be the best therapeutic support for you. This includes: if you are in immediate danger, if you have a current and active self-harm plan with the goal to end life, or if you require 24/7 support. Your safety is the number one priority and must be managed first for future psychotherapy to have a positive impact on you. Of course, each individual has a unique set of circumstances, and with the appropriate professional and social support network, it may be possible for psychotherapy interventions to still have a positive impact. If you think this may be you, speak with the health professionals involved in your treatment plan to help you assess whether psychotherapy could assist you in these circumstances.
If you would like to start psychotherapy sessions I’d love to support your journey. You can contact me via the link below.
Poppy is a registered psychotherapist in private practice providing individual psychotherapy to adults. Poppy believes that healing comes from within. By turning our focus inwards, we can experience change in all areas of life.