Q: What is Therapy?

A: Psychotherapy as a process helps you learn how to take control of your life and respond to challenging situations with healthy coping skills. During psychotherapy, you learn about your condition and your moods, feelings, thoughts and behaviours. Not everyone who benefits from psychotherapy is diagnosed with a mental condition. 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 behaviour
  • Come to terms with an on-going or serious physical health problem, such as diabetes, cancer or long-term (chronic) pain
  • Recover from physical or sexual abuse or witnessing violence
  • Sleep better, if you have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep (insomnia)
  • And others…

Q: What is the difference between Therapy and Counselling?

A: These terms tend to be used interchangeably by the general public. Probably, the most useful way to think about those is to consider them as umbrella terms that cover a range of talking therapies. According to the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) there is no agreed difference between counsellors and psychotherapists, although there is much debate about it.

Traditionally, counsellors tended to work in less depth and within a shorter time-frame than psychotherapists but with the advent of “brief therapy”, and longer counsellor-training programmes, this distinction has become blurred.

Because of this confusion, it is best to ask the practitioner or the service providing the counselling or psychotherapy about their specific terms and way of working. Getting a good “fit” between what is being offered and what you need is much more important than the “title”.

Q: How do I determine if I need therapy?

A: We all go through rough times during our life and we are able to cope effectively in most cases. Becoming anxious, sad, angry and upset is part of our nature as human beings. When however, these feelings or situations start to get in the way of our normal functioning, i.e. our ability to go to work as usual, to see friends, to take care of ourselves over a longer period of time, that may be an indication for us to look for professional support. So, what to watch out for is not just for symptoms, but also, how long do these symptoms persist.

Q: How many sessions will I need?

A: The number of sessions needed is something that will be determined, discussed and continuously reassessed by therapist and client together. It might be useful to think of it in terms “how long will it take me to travel a certain journey’’ and the answer is “it depends”. We are all unique individuals, and have different paces, different needs, and it also depends on how committed we are and how much effort we put in as well. Keep in mind that as psychotherapy progresses, you may feel overwhelmed. You may feel more angry, sad or confused than you did at the beginning of the process. That doesn’t mean psychotherapy isn’t working. Instead, it can be a sign that your psychologist is pushing you to confront difficult truths or do the hard work of making changes. In such cases, these strong emotions are a sign of growth rather than evidence of a standstill. Remember, sometimes things may feel worse before they get better.

Therapy has different stages and change is not linear. There will be setbacks, which are actually part of making progress and learning. So as a general guide, the number of sessions will depend on your particular situation and the following:

  • Severity of your symptoms
  • How long you’ve had symptoms or have been dealing with your situation
  • How quickly you make progress
  • How much stress you’re experiencing
  • How much your mental health concerns interfere with day-to-day life
  • How much support you receive from family members and others

Q: What if I want to stop?

A:If you feel you want to stop for whatever reasons the relationship you have developed with your therapist should be at such level that you are able to discuss this openly with them. There a termination phase in therapy, which provides an ending, a closure, tying of loose ends, clarifies take-away and learning points and ensures sustainable change. Ending any relationship and in this case a relationship where you have shared some of your most intimate life moments it’s significant to honour the ending and feel there is a formal closure. Therapists are not mind-readers and it is important that you feel comfortable and safe to discuss with them if something is not working for you and if possible, make adjustments.

Q: How can I get the most out of psychotherapy?

A: This is a professional relationship that is based on a partnership during which you ‘co-create’ the most effective support for your situation. These are some steps you can take 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 are an active participant and share in decision-making. Make sure you and your therapist agree about the major issues and how to tackle them. Together, you can set goals and measure progress over time.
  • Be open and honest. Success depends on willingness to share your thoughts, feelings and experiences, and to consider new insights, ideas and ways of doing things. If you are reluctant to talk about certain issues 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. You may need several sessions before you begin to see improvement.
  • Do your homework between sessions. If your therapist asks you to document your thoughts in a journal or do other activities outside of your therapy sessions, follow through. These homework assignments can help you apply what you have learned in the therapy sessions to your life.
  • If psychotherapy isn’t helping, talk to your therapist. If you don’t feel that you are 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.

 

Q: Which is better, therapy or medication?

A: Both medication and therapy have been shown to be effective in treating mental conditions. The type of treatment used depends on the nature of the problem. There are some psychological conditions, such as severe depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, where medication is clearly warranted. But many other cases are less clear-cut. Research suggests that use of medication and psychotherapy together may be the best approach, especially for more severe conditions. The medication offers relief from symptoms, and psychotherapy enables the individual to gain knowledge about their condition and how to handle it. In other words, medications don’t help you develop the skills you need to deal with life’s problems. Once you stop taking medication, your problems often remain or come back. In contrast, psychotherapy will teach you new problem-solving strategies that will also help you cope with future problems. Depending on the condition, your GP and / or psychiatrist can advise you what the best approach would be for your individual case. Sometimes, the combined approach offers the fastest, longest-lasting treatment.

Q: Private vs. NHS

A: According to a recent article in the Independent, patients with serious mental health issues leading them to self-harm or attempt suicide are being left to wait as long as two years for specialist support because of an NHS “blind spot” on waiting times, an investigation has found. The British Medical Association (BMA) has warned that thousands of patients are waiting more than six months for access to psychological “talking therapies” to help them cope with negative thoughts and feelings. Without the right therapy, some people deteriorate and become more vulnerable, being passed from GP surgeries to emergency departments unable to find the most appropriate treatment for their illness. This is the reason why going privately might be a solution until someone gets the right intervention from the NHS.

Sources:Mental Health Foundation UK, BACP, Mayo Clinic, APA.

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