What is Psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy — often referred to as talk therapy — addresses troubling symptoms and emotions using psychological techniques rather than, or along with, medication or other physical approaches. There are many theories and styles of psychotherapy.

Which works best? There’s no simple answer. Just as many forms of aerobic exercise can help you achieve cardiovascular fitness, many types of therapy can help you understand yourself better, change behavior that is wrong for you, and help relieve bothersome symptoms. You may do better with one type than with another, or find that a blended approach, drawn from different schools of psychotherapy, suits you best.

Your regular participation in the process is more important than the type of therapy you choose. Most important is the match, or rapport, between you and your therapist.

Although most therapists emphasize one type of intervention, a good therapist can incorporate elements of others as well. Whatever approaches the therapist adopts, she or he should develop a trusting alliance with you, suggest fresh ways for you to perceive your problems, and help alleviate your symptoms and your sense of isolation.

When is psychotherapy appropriate?

Therapists believe that past experiences and feelings of which you are not consciously aware can influence your present emotional well-being and ability to function. Through regular discussions with a therapist, you can gain insight into your motivations and conflicts and learn more productive ways to cope with them.

Psychotherapy can be very helpful if you feel like your life is repeating old patterns or you aren’t clear what direction you want to take. This therapy is designed to uncover the unconscious roots of your symptoms and help you apply this understanding to your current life.

Another common focus of psychotherapy is an individual’s interaction with other people. This style of therapy can help you identify what you seek in a relationship (your needs), the healthy and unhealthy ways of meeting those needs, and ways to improve your ability to communicate. Such therapy can help people cope with the loss of a relationship, conflicts within relationships, or the demands of shifting roles or making transitions (such as retirement or caring for a parent).

Some of the most common reasons for seeking help from therapy include:

Emotional Distress
From time to time, everyone experiences emotional pain. But sometimes the distress is particularly severe or long-lasting and interferes with your ability to function in your daily life. If you are experiencing sadness, grief, or anxiety that is persistent, therapy can help relieve the symptoms, address the underlying causes for your distress, and provide you with help in restoring emotional well-being.

Personal Growth
Therapy can help you overcome obstacles that have kept you from reaching your goals and becoming the person you want to be. Although you might not have a clinical condition or symptoms, therapy can help you learn more about yourself, as well as others, and how you can live your life with deeper personal satisfaction.

Relationship Issues
Your distress may be coming from difficulties in your relationship with a spouse, parent, child, co-worker or significant other. Therapy can be valuable in helping you understand the root of the problem and providing you with the understanding and skills you need to improve the relationship.

Coping Mechanisms
Sometimes emotional distress or relationship problems are associated with coping mechanisms, such as excessive shyness, weak communication, lack of assertiveness, or poor anger control. Therapy can enable you to acquire or strengthen skills that can benefit many of the most important areas of your life.

Experiencing a break from someone who is important to you (through death or separation) can result in great emotional pain. Therapy can be significantly helpful in coping with the loss.

Trauma, Violence or Abuse
Victims of trauma, violence or abuse can feel so overwhelmed by feelings of fear, anger, or helplessness that their ability to function effectively is significantly impaired. Therapy can help provide a safe, confidential setting in which to discuss your victimization issues with a caring, supportive person and find ways to move forward with your life.

Sexual Problems
While they can be embarrassing to talk about, sexual dissatisfaction and sexual dysfunction are very common problems. There are therapists who are particularly experienced at helping with understanding and overcoming issues that may be impairing sexual functioning.

Clinical Disorder or Condition
Those who have certain disorders or conditions can benefit from an overall treatment plan which includes therapy and another form of treatment, such as medication. For instance, research shows that individuals with conditions such as ADHD, eating disorders, major depression or anxiety disorders benefit significantly more from a combination of therapy and medication than just medication alone.

The benefits of therapy help you take responsibility for your life as you develop the understanding and strength to make healthy life choices. It expands awareness in mind, body, spirit, and community. Working with a therapist provides an opportunity for you to discover your own voice and find the courage to express it.

Therapy will help you increase your clarity about:

  • The scope and impact of your presenting problem
  • Your beliefs about the presenting problem
  • The kind of changes you want to make
  • The kind of life you want to build
  • The kind of person you aspire to be in order to build the kind of life you want
  • Your blocks to becoming the kind of person you aspire to be
  • The skills and knowledge necessary to achieve your goals

Who offers psychotherapy?

Therapists differ in training, philosophy, and experience. When choosing a therapist, you may find that the “fit” is more important to you than the therapist’s specific discipline.

  • Psychiatrists are physicians who complete at least four years of psychiatric residency (in addition to four years of medical school). Psychiatrists can prescribe medication and hospitalize patients if needed. This level of training is often essential in treating schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and severe depression. A psychiatrist may offer psychotherapy or concentrate strictly on medical treatment. When looking for a psychiatrist, ask whether she or he performs psychotherapy and what type.
  • Most clinical psychologists have doctoral level training (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) in clinical psychology. Psychologists receive extensive training in psychotherapy. A psychologist is not usually able to prescribe medication.
  • Clinical social workers have a master’s degree level training. While not all specialize in psychotherapy, many receive training in therapy and understanding how people function within their families and communities.
  • Marriage and family therapists are master’s level professionals trained to help with conflicts within marriages and families.
  • Psychotherapy is also available from other licensed mental health practitioners, including psychiatric nurses, clinical nurse specialists, and trained members of the clergy. Although it’s impossible to predict exactly how many therapy sessions you’ll need, it’s reasonable to ask a therapist for an estimate of how long therapy will take, and how and when she or he will evaluate your progress.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT is a combination of two kinds of therapy, cognitive and behavioral. Cognitive therapy focuses on thoughts, assumptions and beliefs. With cognitive therapy, people may learn to recognize and change faulty or maladaptive thinking patterns. Cognitive therapy is not about “positive thinking” in the sense that you must always think happy thoughts. It’s a way to gain control over racing, repetitive thoughts which often feed or trigger anxiety. In behavioral therapy, people learn how to change behavior. You may have already heard of the most common behavioral techniques used in the treatment of anxiety disorders: desensitization, relaxation and breathing exercises.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is less focused on the underpinnings of feelings and instead emphasizes how to change the thoughts and behaviors that are causing problems. CBT can be used to alter difficult behaviors, such as smoking, procrastination, or phobias, and can also help address conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Cognitive behavioral therapists believe that you can change your feelings by changing your thoughts and actions. For example, you may have patterns of distorted thinking — excessive self-criticism or guilt, always anticipating the worst, attributing untoward motives to others — that make you vulnerable to feeling bad. CBT teaches you to recognize these patterns as they emerge and alter them. The “behavior” part refers to learning more productive responses to distressing circumstances or feelings — such as relaxing and breathing deeply instead of hyperventilating when in an anxiety-provoking situation.

The two therapies often are used together because they are beneficial to each other. For example, in the midst of extreme anxiety, it may feel impossible to gain control over your thoughts and apply cognitive therapy techniques. Therefore, a behavioral technique such as deep breathing may help you calm down and focus on your thinking.

What is a Family Systems Approach in Therapy?

This is a process and body of knowledge about unconscious entanglements across generations that have significant, if not controlling, influences on our lives.

Family System Theory is the result of observations and experiences of many practitioners and cultures. At one level the Family system is looked at in an effective way of revealing unconscious entanglements with the fates of family ancestors. On a different level, Family System provides a process for facilitating the flow of ancestral love and energy within a family.

Events such as the premature death of a parent or sibling, the exclusion of a family member, a murder of or by a family member, or victimization of others by a family member can all lead to entanglements which disturb one’s life and relationships. Severe consequences may result, such as feelings of isolation, depression, mental and physical illness, accidents, and even suicidal thoughts or attempts.

Observation of unconscious yet powerfully influential trans-generational family bonds forms the basis of this profound process. These unseen forces have the power to entangle us in fates that do not belong to us, fates dating back over two, three or even more generations, which are the legacy of those unable to resolve them within their lifetimes.

Therapy begins with a thorough investigation of one’s own family of origin and history. Searching for those in the family that died early and were forgotten, husbands and wives that were betrayed cheated on or separated from their children and loved ones, those whose love was not seen, those who were disabled, ill or addicted, and those who were ridiculed or marginalized. One would also look into family members that may have been perpetrators, murderers or victims, those who were shamed, abused or abandoned.

How do I choose a therapist?

Research finds that the effectiveness of therapy has little to do with the type of intervention used or the credentials of the practitioner. It has more to do with the quality and traits of the relationship between the counselor and client. That is why it is so important to find a counselor who is healthy and can relate to you in a curative way. Choose a person with whom you feel a resonance and you trust is at peace with themselves.

What about client confidentiality?

There is a professional code of ethics which obligates the therapist to full confidentiality.
A client has the right to confidentiality within the context of the client/psychotherapist relationship. The only exceptions are if:

  • You give permission to share specific information (for example to your primary care physician, an insurance company or family members)
  • There is a clear and imminent danger to you
  • There is a clear and imminent danger to others
  • There is a legal request in a court case
  • The client is under the age of 18 then parents have a right to receive progress notes, but most personal information is kept confidential

Who can access this service?

Austin Wellness provides counseling, psychotherapy, assessment, and consolation services to individuals, couples, families, groups and organizations as well as counseling over the lifespan, spiritual direction, counseling for mid-life, wellness, and habit change.

How long is a session?

In general, counseling sessions are 45 – 50 minutes in length. Occasionally, clients and therapists may agree to have sessions for longer periods of time (such as 75 or 90 minutes).

How do I explore new ways of being?

Simply telephone Austin Wellness to schedule an appointment, 512-257-0050.