Psychotherapy has been described in many ways; therapy, counseling, talking to a shrink, me time, something that I am not getting near with a 10-foot pole, the list goes on. Regardless of what it’s called, the aim of any good therapeutic endeavor is a collaborative human experience in which change occurs.
When we are hurting, we tend to look in one of two places for help, inside of ourselves or outside of ourselves. For different reasons, each viewpoint has its value. Outward activities such as exercise, art, music, building, or spending time outside have immense benefits and are therapeutic, but sometimes the need is a bit deeper. Alternatively, people may look outside of themselves to drugs, alcohol, pornography, or some other type of defensive self-medication to mitigate their pain. Help is typically sought when problems persist, become more intrusive, or begin to affect others. Therapy can provide the space to focus inward and develop the tools and perspectives to face life’s challenges.
Sadly, throughout the years, a stigmatized line of thinking has developed around the field of mental health. Movies, pop culture, and a philosophy of “keeping your problems to yourself, lest you are seen as weak”, have painted a picture that keeps people suffering silently. Does seeing a therapist mean that I am crazy? Once I start counseling, will I have to go forever? Am I less of a person if I enter counseling? Of course, the answer to these questions is a resounding, “No!”. In fact, meeting with a therapist shows a great deal of courage and demonstrates hope that there is another way. In recent years celebrities and others in the public eye have been more outspoken about mental health issues and the benefits of getting help. This is encouraging as their message combats an insidious stigma. The decision to seek counseling is not always an easy one, but there are many ways in which it can be helpful.
The Therapeutic Relationship and A Deeper Understanding of Self and Others
A great deal of research has been conducted on the effectiveness of counseling and the therapeutic alliance between the therapist and the patient (American Psychological Association, 2012). As you might guess, strength in the alliance plays a role in predicting treatment outcome. Meeting with a therapist that you feel comfortable with is an important part of the healing process. It is through this alliance with an empathic other that a person can honestly examine the problems that they are encountering and work towards the goals that they have established.
Interestingly, the therapeutic alliance is a window into the ways that a person relates to other people in their lives. Research on early attachment and relationships reveals that people can be wounded by their connections to others, but that they can also find healing in them. Throughout our lives we develop and modify specific patterns of relating to those around us. Many of these patterns are healthy and help us to get through the day, while others may be outdated and in need of a tune up. Therapy can help you recognize patterns that are no longer useful, where they came from, and why they may have been important in the past. By looking at core beliefs, emotions and how we defend against them, environmental factors, and one’s strengths, the counseling process helps a person move towards adaptive living and healthier relationships with others.
By Andrew Watson, LMHC
American Psychological Association. (2012). Recognition of Psychotherapy Effectiveness. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/about/policy/resolution-psychotherapy.aspx
Are you or someone that you know in need of help while walking through a difficult season? Contact Andy Watson, LMHC at 407-423-0790 to set up an appointment.