When Sigmund Freud developed psychoanalysis in the nineteenth century he opened the door to the mysteries of man’s mind and launched us on an endless journey of discovery.
As we continue this journey the human psyche continues to fascinate and baffle. Current brain research brings new answers only to continue the endless quest for more answers.
Mending the mind has developed into a separate branch of medicine known as psychiatry, but is also the task of professionals specifically trained in emotional healing. Included in this category are psychologists, social workers, mental health counselors and psychiatric nurses. All of these professionals provide counseling and/or psychotherapy, utilizing a wide variety of theories and techniques.
My focus in the next two columns will be on a basic explanation of psychotherapy, its purposes, goals, how it works, and what it is and isn’t.
Individuals who experience emotional problems often don’t understand how a therapist can help, and many are frightened at the prospect of sharing deep inner experiences and feelings with a stranger.
For simplification I will be using the term “therapy” in a general sense that includes counseling, psychotherapy and techniques that address emotional issues.
First of all, therapy is intended to address the pain of emotional discomfort, regardless of the cause. Depression, anxiety, obsessive worry, problems with any type of addiction, grief, and relationship issues are all sources of concern for which people seek therapy. Sometimes therapy alone is not effective and medications are needed. A competent therapist will help determine this.
What should you look for in a therapist and how can you find it? Because we are all very different and have various needs we will not all necessarily be comfortable with the same person. The best way to find the right therapist is to ask for names of therapists who have successfully treated someone you know.
When making the first appointment request a few minutes to ask questions. What type of therapy is used, how does a typical session run, does the therapist just listen, or does she offer advice, give feedback? How does the therapist react to your questions? Is there defensiveness or openness? Do you feel comfortable with the person?
In the first session it is customary to obtain a history of the current problem; its time of onset, possible triggers, whether it is a new or recurrent problem. Most therapists also like to gather information from childhood. What happens in our first years of life impact the present, often in ways we don’t recognize until a professional helps us connect past and present.
The first therapy session should end with a recap of what the therapist has heard, what s/he believes might be the problem, and her thoughts regarding how to proceed. An opportunity for feedback from the client should also be provided at this time.
You will not be cured after one session but should feel heard, understood, hopeful, and above all, safe. You should also feel as if the therapist respects you and can be helpful.
In the next column we will further address the components of therapy, some of the stumbling blocks and problems, when and if you should stop or continue, and the role of medications. We will also try to explain what it feels like to be in therapy and how to know if it is helping.
Elinor Stanton is a psychiatric nurse practitioner on Marco Island. She has 30 years of experience as a therapist in private practice and with a large health maintenance organization in Boston. Send comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 394-2861. Visit her Web site at http://www.etseven.net.