Psychotherapy or talk therapy has enormous therapeutic benefits. It helps us build connections with others. When someone listens to you attentively, it makes you feel like others care and are interested in what you have to say.
You mull and worry about many things, often without conscious awareness of its pattern and purpose. But when you leave these worries unattended they can take a pathological form and contribute to lots of difficulties. When you verbalise and hear your thoughts, you experience a sense of relief from quiet suffering. It is after this catharsis that the process of self-awareness and change takes root.
We benefit from talking to friends and family. However, sometimes that isn’t enough. They may not be attentive, offer advice before listening or offer untimely advice & assurance. Thus, it is sometimes easier to talk to a trained professional who has no prior knowledge or expectations of you. It helps you disclose your deepest fears and emotions without worrying about being judged.
However, something holds us back from seeking psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy). Perhaps the misconception that you have to be ‘little mad or harbour some strange & odd ideas’ to see a therapist. It is a myth that psychotherapy is only for mental illness and associated disturbances. But it is completely normal to be confused and overwhelmed by work stress, career angst and relationship challenges? In fact, those who seek early help and therapy to unravel their inner-self are more mature than those who wait until life issues trigger breakdown and illness.
What is psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy is a psychological method which addresses and treats emotional and mental health problems, and its impact on life, family and relationships. It’s also for self-improvement and to do what one does, better.
Psychotherapy is a therapy ‘done by you’ not a therapy that is ‘done to you’. You play an active part with the therapist as a facilitator. The process can be empowering.
The process involves talking to a professional, either on a one-to-one basis or in groups, to get a deeper understanding of thoughts, feeling, worries and troublesome behaviour, with a view to raising awareness and bring about changes – from a less adaptive to more adaptive state, as deemed desirable by the participant or client.
As per Carl Jung “The principle aim of psychotherapy is not to transport one to an impossible state of happiness, but to help (the client) acquire steadfastness and patience in the face of suffering”.
I think psychotherapy is much more than just listening and guiding and change. It’s about building trust and rekindling hope that life is fluid (and ever changing) and that problems are an opportunity for transformation and psychological growth rather than a hindrance.
Types of psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy can be directive or non-directive. In directive therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT, one can learn to identify and change unhelpful negative & pessimistic patterns of thinking, take note of and build on positive events, or apply relaxation techniques. Equally, develop skills set to address social anxiety, low self-esteem and damaging anger problems. Here the emphasis is on the present rather than past.
Non-directive therapies like psychoanalysis or psychodynamic psychotherapy involve exploring the past including early family and other important relationships, and how it may be impacting on the present manner, reaction, behaviour and relationships.
Then there is systemic therapy, which looks at the relationships between individuals as part of a unit and how systems and interpersonal dynamics work together. Examples of this approach include group and family therapy.
Guiding principles of psychotherapy?
A psychotherapist should provide a confidential physical and emotional space where conversation can flow and deep recesses of mind can be accessed more readily. It’s about enabling the participant to describe difficult issues and exploring deeper meaning that he/she may be unaware of.
Take a holistic approach and see the person as a whole rather than from a narrow perspective of reported problems. The body, mind and conscious (and unconscious) thought, feelings and emotional reactions, interconnectedness to their world, are all taken into consideration.
Each person has a unique personality, perspective and preferences. A good therapist removes himself (his biases and opinion) from the therapy sessions and speaks from client’s point of view. Freud’s famous metaphor of the analyst as mirror conveys this: “doctor should be opaque to his patients and like a mirror should show them nothing but what is shown to him”.
The sessions enhance participation by reflecting and paraphrasing. Reflecting is a method where an attempt is made to reconstruct client’s thinking and associated feeling and conveying that back in an understandable manner. And paraphrasing is simply repeating back parts of the story so that the client feel that they are being heard.
Continually assess readiness for change and/or resistance in form of uncooperativeness or sabotaging progress by erratic attendance. The therapist must be attentive to these factors and provide timely guidance.
Therapists also display curiosity, honesty and a deep interest in exploring human behaviour and feelings. They should believe that everyone has an inherent ability to heal themselves. Everyone is capable of recovering from difficulties if they are treated with respect, compassion and warmth.
Final points to note
Psychotherapy can help when life feels unbearably difficult, and it can also make a decent life even better. In the long run, some of these therapies are more effective than medication.
Note this. When you go to a therapist, you are taking the first steps to a proper grown up commitment to improve your mental health. The benefits of that ‘golden hour’ in therapy is well established.
We all need to look inward in order to make more coherent sense of the world outside. And when there is conflict, a collaborative approach with a therapist can be a great advantage.
About the Author
Dr Roshan Jain is one of the best psychiatrists in Bangalore. He is a UK qualified specialist with extensive experience in psychiatry, addictions, psychotherapy, teaching and motivational work. Based in Bangalore (India), he offers in person-centred mental health evaluation and interventions. He has worked tirelessly in reducing the stigma associated with mental health problems through speaking events and mental health awareness education, workshops & publication.
DocGenie is an online telemedicine platform that provides you quality healthcare from the best doctors in the comfort of your own space. On DocGenie, you will find a select few, highly-qualified doctors, unlike other online platforms with thousands of doctors. So you can be assured of receiving excellent, honest, personalized care from the best professionals.