How Does Therapy Work?
Is it magic? Not in any true sense of the word, although sometimes therapy can make some pretty dramatic changes.
Does it “mess with my mind”? Actually, counseling helps you bring order to your mind. It can’t make you accept any ideas or thoughts that you don’t choose to.
What would I be doing if I were in therapy? That would depend on what you identify as the problem you want to work on. Sometimes, you may only know that you feel unhappy and the first step would be to identify what is causing that. You and your therapist would then develop a plan for the goals of your therapy.
After that, the therapist might use a variety of ways to help you. She may teach specific skills, such as assertiveness or anger management, or assist in problem solving by looking at alternative choices with you. Figuring out how you are contributing to the problem (this is sometimes called insight) is usually helpful. Counselors use a variety of techniques, but you should receive an explanation of what they are doing and why.
I don’t see how a fifty minute hour once a week or two can make a difference in my problem. The therapy session helps you to look at things or to do things in a different way. You then apply this new knowledge throughout the time between sessions. Often, therapists give you specific “homework” to practice or tasks to complete before the next appointment.
I have to do homework? I thought the therapist was going to fix my problem, not me. Sorry. The therapist is your coach, your teacher, your cheerleader, your eyeglasses, your confidant, your rock, but she doesn’t live your problem. You do. You are the only one who can make the changes that need to be made.
What can a therapist do for me that I can’t for myself? Sometimes, a therapist can’t do much more than you can on your own, or with the help of a friend or a self- help book. However, unlike a friend, the counselor is an objective observer who doesn’t have a stake in how you solve (or don’t solve) your problem. Unlike a book, the therapist can bring the knowledge gained from years of professional training and experience and apply it to your specific situation and personality.
I like to think of the counselor as holding up a mirror for you so you can see your life more clearly. As the saying goes, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. Imagine the therapist as holding up a mirror on a hill so you can see the big picture.
Research has shown that the most powerful aspect of therapy is often your relationship with the therapist, a supportive and caring person who is on your side, with no other priority than your well-being.
Is therapy just for me, by myself? It can be, but if your problem involves how you get along with someone else, you may decide to invite them to work on your relationship with you in counseling. Couples counseling, marriage therapy, or family counseling may help. If your problem seems to be mostly about how you think or behave or feel, you may want the therapy to be only about you.
How long would I have to stay in therapy? Some problems can be resolved in just a few sessions, using what is called brief therapy or solution oriented therapy techniques. Other problems, such as those from long standing issues like childhood sexual abuse or living with an alcoholic parent, will take longer.
How will I know when I’m done? That is something you and your therapist will decide together. Remember that you will have developed a plan that will give you some idea of whether you have accomplished what you wanted to.
Some people decide that there are further things they would like to work on after they finish with their first goals. Others decide they have made enough change and leave before completing their original plan. No therapist can make you stay in treatment longer than you want. You are in charge of how long therapy lasts.
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