What is Therapy and What Therapy is not!
Therapy Scene from Austin Powers
Just kidding. Therapy is “treatment intended to relieve or heal a disorder”, according to the Oxford Dictionary; but it’s so much more for many people. Therapy is often a space where two or more people can feel safe sharing parts of themselves without judgment. Counseling can often provide relief simply through the relationship between the two individuals but its not without discomfort and vulnerability.
Therapy is a place where you can talk about things that affect you from the present to the past as well as future concerns. Counseling does not look the same for all people, nor would you want it to. Later on we will discuss the different types of therapies available and why it can be helpful to find a therapy type that works for you and how you function.
Counseling is not like having a best friend to talk to, although it’s not uncommon for the boundaries to be blurred when you work with a therapist from time to time. Because of the relationship you form, many clients often want to know more about their therapist. Therapists will often redirect the dialogue to put the focus back on the client to help with re-establishing those boundaries.
Therapy is not a quick fix to your problems/issues/concerns. If it was then we could automate it with machines and artificial intelligence (AI). Counseling is often viewed as an onion with many layers that need to be peeled apart to support the person in understanding themselves better.
Therapy is not one size fits all. Not every therapist will work well with every client. Later we discuss strategies to find the best fit for you.
Counseling is not a place where you get advice. This can be confusing because therapists will make suggestions which can provide the client some direction but it’s not ‘this is what is best for you therefore here is my advice’. Most therapists provide clarifying statements using their clients verbiage in different ways to ultimately help the client make better choices. Clients may not be as aware that this is the strategy used but often the clients outcome is a direct result of the clients values, beliefs, and statements.
Why therapy works/Why it doesn’t
Therapy has been around since the 1930’s/40’s. Therapy is an art and a science but predominantly is based off of countless research studies. The art comes from the therapist’s style, personality, and training.
Research has shown us various techniques and interventions that are effective with many issues clients bring into the session. However the number one evidenced based component of why therapy works is the relationship between the client and therapist. This is also why counseling does not work sometimes. When it’s not the right fit between a client and therapist then therapy is not effective.
Many things go into finding the right fit that we will talk about later.
Expectations, Goals, and Outcomes in Counseling
As previously mentioned, there is no magic wand with therapy. It’s more like a really good recipe and part of that recipe is being clear on expectations, goals, and understanding the outcomes of counseling.
Unclear or irrational expectations about therapy can be harmful to the process and hinder future counseling episodes. We encourage everyone to set an initial expectation that there will be consistent dialogue about the work throughout the process of therapy. Therefore talking about what’s working/not working, reviewing progress, and clarifying goals. This should be the expectation between both the therapist and the client. This transparency not only helps the relationship but also makes the goals of counseling much clearer.
Outcomes in therapy look different for everyone. Remember that onion analogy, we will add to that with the idea that onions come in all different shapes and sizes. Therefore therapy could take eight sessions or six years.
Tips to finding a really good therapist
Just like every doctor, teacher, babysitter may not be a good fit for you, therapists fall into that category as well. It’s hard to find a good therapist but it’s not impossible. Here are some tips we recommend when looking for a therapist.
- Write down the following: what are you looking for in a therapist, what qualities such as someone who is direct vs. passive listener, what has been successful for you in the past (an example could be a therapist who is more creative in their practices), what’s your non-negotiables (takes your insurance, no further than 20 minutes away, male identifying, in person, evening hours, etc)
- Get recommendations from other friends/family members
- See if they offer 15 minute consultations prior to being scheduled
- It’s okay to schedule with a couple different therapists for initial sessions. Many therapists may not be a fan of this set up but we often find it beneficial to explore all options plus it helps you to not feel stuck with one person until the other therapists have openings. Make sure to inform them that this is what you’re doing so it can be part of the discussion at the end of the session.
- If you know you’re looking for a specific type of therapy to help with a certain issue that can help narrow down your choices (therapist who specializes in OCD or has a speciality in working with military families)
- Get on the waitlist once you find a couple of possibilities and if appointment time flexibility is an option for you make that known.
In the end it’s perfectly okay to ‘shop’ around for the best fit in a therapist. It will save you time and money in the long run. Check out our blog 8 Tips to finding a therapist
What are the different types of counseling and why does that matter
For some, knowing what type of therapy you need can help you narrow down your search even more and have better outcomes.
Types of issues that may require specially trained therapists: OCD, Trauma, Hair pulling disorders, couples/marriage, school refusal, addictions, grief, suicidality or self injurious behaviors.
Every year new treatment modalities come out that may benefit specific issues. There are certainly some older types of treatment that are effective for lots of issues like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). We won’t be able to list all of the modalities out there but here is a brief list wiht links to better understand them.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Exposure Response Prevention for OCD
- Habit Reversal Training for Skin Picking & Hair Pulling
- Trauma (Somatic Therapies, EMDR, Brainspotting, etc)
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) for suicidality/self-injurious behaviors