Your emotional health is just as important as your physical health. During periods of strife and conflict, negative feelings can leave individuals unhappy, unwell and exhausted. Psychotherapy is a form of treatment for your feelings. It involves talking to a professional who is trained to understand how emotions and thought patterns affect an individual’s overall health.
This “talk therapy” brings stress relief, in and of itself. However, the ultimate goal for virtually all psychotherapists is to instill productive thoughts, behaviour, habits and attitudes to shore up your coping mechanisms, reduce conflict and allow you to productively participate in society.
Psychotherapy can help children, adults, couples and families when they cannot foster happy and connected relationships because they do not know how to navigate unhealthy emotions and habits that trip them up, over and over again.
Psychotherapists undergo 6 – 10 years of post-secondary education specifically focusing on complex human emotions. Most belong to The College of Psychologists, The College of Psychotherapists or the College of Social Workers. These associations govern their operating standards and monitor the continuing education therapists require to maintain their qualifications and standing with the associations. In addition, they hold therapists to high ethical standards. Consequently, all of these combined make your therapist a highly trained professional who can help you see and understand yourself in ways you never have. When choosing a therapist, ensure they belong to one of the aforementioned associations.
Types of Therapy
A psychotherapist may be a psychologist, a marriage and family therapist, a registered social worker, psychiatric nurse practitioner, psychoanalyst or psychiatrist. What they all have in common is the competence to treat you with one or more types of prescribed therapies. These include:
- Attachment-based therapies
- Trauma-informed therapies
- Cognitive Behaviour therapies
- Experiential and Humanistic therapies
- Psychodynamic therapies
- Somatic therapies
- Systemic and Collaborative therapies
Once your therapist has assessed your situation, he or she will prescribe a treatment plan that may include one or more therapies to help you. Your plan is tailored to match your needs.
Some clients prefer a structured process of thinking. They respond well to Cognitive Behavioural therapy. Others prefer an experiential approach. They learn by doing. For them, the therapist will draw from Emotion Focused Therapy or Self Compassion Training. Younger children require other forms of communication, like drama, play, narrative stories or music. And many therapy sessions today integrate mindfulness to help train the brain to focus deeply inwards.
Research shows that the most important “active ingredient” in successful psychotherapy is the quality of the therapeutic relationship rather than the therapy techniques. This is why you must take the time to find the right therapist for you.
Finding The Right Psychotherapist
Speaking to a trained therapist is not the same as talking out problems with a friend or relative. Most of us would not dream of seeking legal advice from a friend who has never received legal training. Similarly, we would trust a mechanic with our automobile, over a relative who does not know anything about fixing cars. The same applies to our emotional and psychological health. Your BFF may not possess the qualifications to provide you with the same standard of care as a psychotherapist.
The first step is to reach out and interview several therapists. You may ask if they have worked with other clients in similar situations as yourself. This therapeutic relationship must remain compassionate, supportive and non-judgmental. Select a therapist you feel most comfortable with because a successful client /therapist relationship starts with rapport and trust.
Beaches Therapy Group offers a free telephone consultation for this very purpose. It allows you to speak to the therapist, understand how they work and get a feel for their therapeutic style.
Initially, your therapist will schedule weekly sessions for 50 minutes. As you make progress, the sessions are stretched out with longer periods in between. As needed, your sessions can be arranged individually, for couples and also for entire families.
Psychotherapy for Individuals
People suffering from anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, addiction, anger outbursts etc., should seek out psychotherapy treatments. The benefits are quantifiable and have been scientifically documented.
Major life events, like grief related to the loss of a loved one or a job, marital breakdowns and even trauma from auto accidents, can leave individuals discombobulated and incapable of processing their emotions productively. Such events can trigger anxiety attacks, depression and impulsive angry outbursts which, in turn, ruin personal and professional relationships. A therapist can stand in as a supportive listener in a safe space to help you sort through your emotions so you can function productively.
Sometimes, family physicians will recommend psychotherapy to support a medical treatment plan for depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disease. For many individuals, this two-pronged approach can create a much stronger foundation for coping and recovery than either one, alone.
Psychotherapy treatments usually last a few months for immediate issues, like dealing with grief or loss. Individuals suffering from long-standing issues, like addiction or sexual abuse, may require therapy lasting a year or more.
Everyday stress from work and family life can impact a relationship between couples. Significant events like a job loss, infidelity or a death in the family can result in emotional rifts that tear couples apart. A psychotherapist can intervene as a trusted umpire and coach to bring the relationship back on track.
Timing is everything here. The outcome is often easier when you seek help early in the conflict cycle so long-term dysfunction does not settle in. If it does, however, hope is not lost. Psychotherapy can help facilitate the required drastic changes to your dynamic, even after you have struggled with trust and communication for a long time.
In fact, when the situation requires it, psychotherapists can step in to help to separate couples negotiate equitable childcare plans and co-parenting strategies to allow you to part with civility for the sake of your children.
The myriad of modern family constellations can create conditions that keep family members from working as a unit. Consequently, parents often need guidance on how to respond to their children as they grow. The transition through adolescence is turbulent for many families and working through a divorce and co-parenting can throw a family completely off-kilter. This is when therapy for the entire family can bring perspective.
Family therapy is also very helpful for adult siblings looking to resolve historical rifts or those who cannot agree about care arrangements for their ageing parents.
Psychotherapy provides the ideal intervention for all these situations. The therapist will schedule meetings, one-on-one, with individuals and then with the unit together. The goal is to instill self-reflection and arm each family member with an understanding of how the “family system” works. In time, this allows individuals to moderate their behaviour to reduce squabbles and disagreements.
Change is a constant with growing children. Their brains, specifically, their prefrontal cortex, remain undeveloped until age 25. This means children are incapable of functioning like well-adjusted adults in many situations. It leaves them vulnerable to emotions they may not know how to navigate without an adult’s help. Child therapy helps kids understand and regulate their emotions better.
In the early 1880s, English parents taught children to recite the rhyme, “Sticks and stones can hurt my bones, but words will never harm me.” In the most rudimentary form, this adage was meant to help children overcome name-calling and taunts so childhood bullying would not escalate into further physical violence.
Today, centuries later, therapists understand how false the latter part of the rhyme really is. Words and attitudes can inflict terrible harm and leave scars that are just as bad as physical bruises. Some would argue the impact of emotional trauma is worse because it remains invisible and intangible. Early psychotherapy is critical for both bullies and those being bullied.
Similarly, young children and teenagers with anxiety, mood, or behaviour difficulties find psychotherapy extremely beneficial because the therapist stands in to provide a supportive space to work out their feelings, independent of their parents.
The Stigma of Psychotherapy
One of the main reasons why people avoid psychotherapy is the stigma associated with mental health problems. You may believe that only really “messed up” people require professional help. This is far from true. In fact, some of the most successful people in the world only reached great heights because they learned how to work through life’s ups and downs with a good therapist by their side. Successful people understand the importance of healthy and productive personal and business relationships. They willingly seek help when anything gets in the way of fostering these important human connections.
Virtually everyone benefits from professional support at some time in their lives. Just like your physician helps you mend physical injuries, your therapist can bring perspective to heal your psychological wounds. If you are struggling emotionally and it is causing strain in your relationships with family, friends and colleagues, seeking psychotherapy treatment is the biggest gift you can give yourself.
Laura Devlin is an experienced Registered Psychological Associate with over 10 years of experience and a co-owner at Beaches Therapy Group. We have helped hundreds of couples just like you. Contact us to discover how our therapy sessions are a worthwhile investment towards happy and healthy relationships.