Exploring Therapy: Understanding Its Role in Mental Health

June 26, 2024

Perspectives towards mental health and mental health treatment have certainly shifted over the 2+ decades I have been in the field. Once a practice deeply stigmatized and kept on the down low, seeing a therapist and attending therapy is much more commonplace and discussed openly now and in such a way that it seems having a therapist is viewed as kind of cool and a given part of life. 

While mental health continues to gain much needed recognition, understanding what therapy truly entails and what it is not, is essential. As an integrative psychotherapist, I approach therapy with the holistic mindset, drawing from various therapeutic modalities. This flexibility allows for more nuance and personalized experience let’s explore with therapy is in just as importantly what it is]

What Psychotherapy Is:

  1. A Safe Space: First and foremost therapy MUST be a sanctuary where you can express your innermost thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment. It is a confidential setting where you can explore the complexities of your inner world and work through emotional pain, trauma or confusion. Feeling safe with your therapist and in the space in which you meet with them- either in person or virtually is a non-negotiable.
  2. A Partnership & Collaboration: A therapist is there to be an informed and grounded guide to support you on your journey of healing and growth. The best and most successful therapeutic relationships are those in which the therapist and client (you) work together to clarify issues, goals, and develop strategies for improvement. Such a cooperative dynamic ensures therapy is relevant and tailored to the clients unique needs and circumstances. No person or organization should have authority over you or anyone to dictate life direction.
  3. A Path to Self-Awareness & Growth: Therapy is about facilitating self-exploration and self-awareness.  The time set aside for therapy provides an opportunity to focus on deepening understanding of oneself, by recognizing patterns, and identifying the root causes of distress or confusion. This self-awareness is the foundation from which meaningful change and personal growth are based upon.
  4. A Space to Learn New Techniques: Breaking old patterns and healing and growth requires learning new techniques of thinking and behaving. Therapy can be thought of as a lab where one can try out and practice with new ways of thinking and behaving and coping with life.
  5. A Support System: Therapy provides emotional support and validation. It is a safe space where clients can feel heard and understood often for the first time. This support is crucial in helping individuals navigate difficult emotions and life changes and feel less alone in the process. 

What Psychotherapy is Not:

  1. A Quick Fix: Therapy is not a magic solution that provides immediate results. It requires time, effort and patience. Real and lasting change often involves confronting uncomfortable truths and enduring emotional discomfort. It is a gradual process of healing and growth.
  2. Like Having a Conversation With a Friend: While it is not uncommon for therapist and client to develop feelings of affection for one another, therapy involves boundaries supporting the therapeutic relationship. Depending upon the therapist’s theoretical orientation, the dialogue in therapy can be structured and purposefully aimed at achieving specific therapeutic goals. Also, techniques and interventions are employed to help clients gain insight and develop coping strategies.
  3. A Uniform Process: While there are trends and tendencies, no two therapeutic relationships or therapeutic processes are the same. Each therapy is unique as all individuals are unique and so must be their therapeutic journey.
  4. Only for Those Diagnosed with A Mental Illness: Therapy is not only for those diagnosed with mental health conditions. Therapy is for anyone seeking to improve their mental and emotional well-being, or who is going through a life transition, or wishing to enhance relationships or personal growth at any stage of life.
  5. A Substitute for Medication: Therapy is not the same as a prescription for psychotropic medications. Medication is necessary for some mental health conditions and for others, a combination of therapy and medication is the most effective treatment. Meeting with a psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner who is able to talk with, via a signed consent form by the client, one’s therapist is advised to explore the usefulness of medication. 

The therapeutic journey is a deeply unique process for each individual who participates in it. Taking the time to reflect upon and explore oneself, to cultivate a deeper understanding of oneself is such an essential part of self-growth and healing. While beginning a therapeutic process can feel daunting, finding the right therapist to do this work with and being clear about what to expect can ease the process. Starting therapy is about making a courageous commitment to oneself towards creating a healthier, more fulfilling life and can offer a pathway to greater clarity, balance and peace. 


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