Psychotherapy seems like a catch-all phrase. What kind is right for me?

Psychology is the science of the mind and behavior. The word “psychology” comes from the Greek word psyche meaning “breath, spirit, soul”, and the Greek word logia meaning the study of something. According to Medilexicon’s medical dictionary, psychotherapy is “Treatment of emotional, behavioral, personality, and psychiatric disorders based primarily on verbal or nonverbal communication and interventions with the patient, in contrast to treatments using chemical and physical measures.” Simply put, psychotherapy aims to alleviate psychological distress through communication between a patient and therapist, rather than drugs.

Psychotherapy is often sought for problems that have built up over many years. It is effective if a client (or patient) and therapist can develop a rapport and a trusting relationship. Psychotherapy begins with developing a new, unique type of relationship, which grows over time as you and your therapist get to know each other and work together to address your concerns. As the relationship progresses you will feel increasingly safe and secure, understood, and respected for your perspective and goals, and will develop greater trust in your therapist and the process.

Psychotherapy can be for individuals, groups, couples or families. Usually psychotherapy sessions occur about once a week and last from 45 minutes to one hour, although there are some types of therapy that require more frequent treatment and longer sessions. Psychotherapy can continue for months or years, depending on a client’s progress, what he or she sill wishes to address, and what the client and therapist decide together

There are many types of psychotherapy, each based on its own theoretical premise. To find out which may be the right kind of therapy for you, it is worthwhile to do your own research on therapies and therapists, and to interview therapists, much as they would interview you.

How do I know if I need therapy?

If you are thinking about seeking therapy, it is likely because there is something that has either shifted in your thoughts, feelings, or behavior that is uncomfortable for you or you have decided to explore a long-standing problem. People often find that although they have successfully handled many challenging situations alone or with the help of family, friends or clergy, there are those problems that may “tip the scales” and cause them to seek help. This commitment to feeling better and attaining greater peace and happiness is a sign of strength and commitment to one’s self.

How many sessions would I need?

Because psychotherapy is such in individual process, there is no way to tell at the start how many sessions you would need or how long you will stay in therapy. Often my clients state that they want to be in therapy for one year and stay for much longer; others may say they want to stay for two years and leave therapy earlier. Sometimes, when my clients experience uncomfortable feelings, like increased sadness, anxiety or frustration, because the therapeutic process is really getting to the heart of the matter, they may state that “a part of them wants to leave therapy and another part wants to stay”, which also becomes an aspect of our work.

Are there any risks to psychotherapy?

The main risk to psychotherapy is uncomfortable feelings that may come up as you begin to explore some of your present concerns and their root causes, which often happens in certain phases of psychotherapy. These feelings usually do not last and often people say that they may “come out the other side” benefiting and feeling much less burdened. I will explore this discomfort with you, and give you grounding tools to help you manage any increase in anxiety or sadness.

What about medication?

There is a good deal of research that has found that psychotherapy and medication both work on changing the brain in different ways and are often very effective when used concurrently. The combination of medication and psychotherapy has been effective in alleviating symptoms in a number of mental health conditions, particularly depression and mood fluctuations, anxiety and panic.  Medication, however, should not be used as a substitute for therapy (see the New York Times Letter to the Editor by Larry Sandburg, MD, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Weill-Cornell Medical College:

While there may be therapeutic advantages to combined treatment, there are considerations for the impact this recommendation may have for the therapist – patient relationship and it must be discussed carefully.