DOES PSYCHOTHERAPY ACTUALLY WORK IN THERAPY? – HERE’S HOW TO TELL AND MEASURE IT

By definition, psychotherapy is a collaborative treatment based on the relationship between an individual and a psychologist. Grounded in dialogue, it provides a supportive environment that allows you to talk openly with someone who’s objective, neutral, and nonjudgmental. You and your psychologist will work together to identify and change the thought and behavior patterns that are keeping you from feeling your best. And by the time you’re done with your therapy sessions, you will not only have solved the problem that brought you in, but you will have learned new skills so you can better cope with whatever challenges arise in the future.

WHEN SHOULD YOU CONSIDER PSYCHOTHERAPY?

Due to the external factors such as the many misconceptions about psychotherapy, it is natural that you may find yourself feeling inexplicably reluctant to try it out. Even if you know the realities instead of the myths, you may feel nervous about trying it yourself in the first place. Some people seek psychotherapy because they have felt depressed, anxious, or angry for a long period of time. Others may want help for a chronic illness that is interfering with their emotional or physical well-being where they literally need help in navigating them. They may be going through a divorce, for example, or feeling overwhelmed by a new job, grieving a family member’s death, and so forth.

To begin with, therapy is more about taking the time to look for and treat the source of the wound. It can be hard to understand what therapy is targeting, or how it is doing so. Therapy comes with a pretty strong sense of the unknown for a lot of people, and it can be uncomfortable to put your trust in a seemingly vague, nonlinear process. This is particularly true if you’re busy and want an answer or solution quickly; especially, when adding another vague unknown to your life seems like it can’t possibly be helpful at all.

So, what does success look like in psychotherapy? How can we tell if it actually works? Well, the common issue addressed to this question is that success means different things to different providers, in different kinds of therapy, and for different conditions or purposes. According to Kristine Luce, PhD (a psychologist and clinical professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral science at Stanford University School of Medicine), there are over 200 diagnosable mental health conditions and approximately 14 recognized types of mental health professionals who are trained to provide various therapies or counseling in the U.S alone and with that being said, there are approximately thousands of iterations and possible responses to this big question which is why she asked some of her fellow mental health professionals to weigh in on this topic.

Hence, questioning how to know if psychotherapy really helps in therapy? – The answer to this is that it greatly depends on what they (patients/clients) sought treatment for their health and personal history, symptoms, goals for treatment, background, etc. plus who they are receiving treatment from such as their credentials (how they were trained, what kind of therapy they practice, and what they might look for in a patient for improvement). For example, measuring success in cognitive behavioral therapy for social anxiety would look very different than the metrics for success in couple’s therapy for marital discord.

Similarly, the kind of treatment you receive will depend on a variety of factors such as your current psychological research, your psychologist’s theoretical orientation, and what works best for your situation which makes it even harder to measure what your expectations should truly be and will look like for improvement. Like the conversations in any relationship, what you discuss in therapy initially might be more general until you get more comfortable. Your goals might also start off as more surface level (e.g. I want to sleep better), however, what comes out over time through your work together could be a deeper, causal understanding of these symptoms (e.g. I think I cannot sleep better because I experience a trauma and am having nightmares from it), which in turn could alter the goals for your therapy, what improvement would look like, and might even change the type of therapy you may receive in the future.

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