Is therapy for me?
We can all benefit from an outside perspective from time to time, especially when going through change or crisis. Even a change which is a wanted and ‘on time’ event, (like getting married, having a child, being promoted) has its stresses and strains, and the body does not know the difference between ‘good’ or ‘bad’ stressors.
During change or loss times, we also have an opportunity to reassess our identity and way of life. It is helpful to have a sounding board and someone to give you objective advice, which is what therapy should be.
Which kind of therapy is right for me?
The main types of therapy can be thought of in 3 categories- psychodynamic, person-centred and cognitive-behavioural. Psychodynamic therapies focus on ‘why’ and the therapist will listen, interpret and help you process your past, in order to understand the present. This is a gradual process and there is a lot more of the therapist listening than engaging, also presenting a neutral space, than with the other types. Person-centred therapy tends to be a warm, supportive style of working, where you are encouraged to release emotion in a safe space. You may receive advice but mostly you will be supported and encouraged while going through the crisis. This type of work can also be prolonged, until you are over the crisis and feel able to cope on your own. The third type I mentioned, is cognitive behaviour therapy. This is a very different approach- briefer, focused on the ‘now’ versus the past (though your past has a role in bringing you here), team work to identify the problems and potential solutions, also the steps to take to get there. Obstacles to progress, such as limiting and dysfunctional beliefs or habits, are overtly dealt with and you learn skills to be able to work actively on them.
When choosing a style of therapy, think about what you want out of the process. Do you feel strongly that you want to take time to explore the ‘why’ of it, or do you feel you cannot think straight enough to focus on a solution and just want to be ‘heard’ and contained for a while, or do you feel ready to work actively on changing the situation? You can see how each style summarised above, fits a different need. If none of these do, and you want to do dream analysis or work on meaning and purpose, Jungian analysis or existential therapy/ logotherapy may be better suited to you.
How long will it take?
Typically the psychodynamic and supportive therapies can take place over months and years. Cognitve behaviour therapy is a shorter term approach, where the ‘why’ and the emotional component are handled differently, with emphasis on coping now and ahead. Cognitive behaviour therapy is typically a 4- 12 session process, especially when the issue is an anxiety disorder or stress-related. You would start with weekly and move to every 2 weeks, then monthly, as soon as ready. The emphasis is on using the tools the therapist has taught you, instead of coming in for a session, when things go wrong. When the process is complete, and the goals agreed up front have been reached, the client can set new goals or move on- follow up is on a need-to basis.
CBT is based in collaborative empiricism– collaborative, as in we work together to make sense of where you are, where you want to be, and the plan to get you there fairly rapidly. The empiricism refers to the fact that CBT has been widely researched and tested for many decades, and has been proven to be as effective as medication in altering states of anxiety and depression, as well as being a protective factor in relapse prevention. The collaborative approach means that when you come to a CBT consult, it is a light, relatively informal process, where you learn actual techniques (e.g. for emotion-regulation, identifying and changing dysfunctional habits and beliefs), and you as client, have as much control over the process as I do. This means you can ask questions freely, and make suggestions, as will the therapist; teamwork is essential.