WHAT IS PSYCHOTHERAPY?

Psychotherapy treats the soul … the psyche. It is the work on “one’s self”.  More mundanely put, psychotherapy is a collection of therapies that are used to treat emotional and mental health problems and conditions such as anxiety, depression, burn-out, grief, eating disorders, phobias, drug and alcohol dependencies, some insomnias, and blocked emotions, etc…  Fundamental to the success of this work is the relationship between the client and the therapist.

As the younger, “softer” sibling to the disciplines of psychology and psychiatry, psychotherapy is not considered to be an exact science as there is no “proof” that it works. But how can there be an objective or quantifiable method to measure the intricate and hyperbolic relationship between the cause and effect of a client’s feelings and behaviour? It is the quintessential “chicken and egg” dynamic. The irony is, is that it is because psychotherapy deals with the most simple and basic themes of human life, that it could also be considered the most complex of sciences, and thus, nigh impossible to neatly categorise, label and be “exact”. Not until we have a perfect human being, will we have a perfect scientific theory of psychotherapy.

This complexity of infinite combinations of “cause and effect” and “behaviour and emotion” requires the careful use of a myriad of method and their tools. The underlying theme of all the methods in psychotherapy, touching back to my initial comment about it treating the “soul”, is that psychotherapy is the work on the individual and about the individual, with the assistance of a psychotherapist – and in general, without the use of medication – so that the patient can make changes in her life, by herself, that will relieve her suffering. All psychotherapy has as its goal an evolution, a change: whether that be the elimination of specific symptoms, the mastering of inadequate behaviours or attitudes, or the discovery of other, new modes of behaviour.

Effective psychotherapy requires the knowledge and application of the different types of psychotherapy: Psychoanalytic (Freud, Lacan, etc), where the focus is on the dynamics between the conscious and the unconscious parts of the psyche and the external world; Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (Pavlov, Skinner), where it is believed that “what the client believes about the things he or she does and about the reasons for them can be as important as the doing of them”; the Humanistic therapies (Gestalt, Rogers), which “help the client to get in touch with their real self by fusing differing aspects of the personality into a whole” and which includes person-centred counselling, Gestalt therapy, transactional analysis, etc.; Cognitive Analytical Therapy (Freud, Jung, Adler, Klein, Lacan, etc); Interpersonal psychotherapy; and Systemic therapy.

Crucially, an effective psychotherapy strategy embraces an “eclectic” approach (as opposed to an integrated one) so that the patient has the advantage of having all of the theories at his or her disposal. I believe that this wide and comprehensive “tool kit” is one of the many advantages that gives psychotherapy its strength as a therapy method. And even more important, the knowledge and application of these theories have a greater chance of success when implemented by a therapist who can add a large dose of innate intuition and empathy – two more inexact variables to throw into the equation! But it is only with these attributes that the therapist can use refined trial and error to develop a unique, tailored therapy for each individual client. It is this empathy and intuitive instinct that enables the therapist to move the client from the “old to the new”, to be the person he or she has always believed themselves to be, to know their Higher Self.

While all of the methods have the individual’s needs and importance as their common denominator, the methods do differ in their approach to the chicken and egg question. The industry is divided as to whether it is best to ask “Why are you this way?” or to ask “What can we do to change you now?” The two camps give clients the choice to either get themselves “fixed” like a car with a broken part, or to “develop” themselves, to understand their inner conflicts and motivations, and to try to solve their “break-downs” this way. And again, a gifted therapist will know which approach a client and a client’s specific issue, will need. Some clients will be happy to plunge into the recesses of their past, whilst others will not want to, and will prefer to focus on moving forward with practical, daily goals, without delving into the past.

What is psychotherapy “not”? Again, it is not an exact science. It is not usually medication-based, not a method of indoctrination, not a rigid, single method that fits all, nor an instant cure. Psychotherapy finds its strength and effectiveness in its agility and flexibility – attributes often mistaken as weaknesses. But there is nothing more powerful than bringing a client into a world of self-knowledge, self-love and self-acceptance and giving them something to believe in: their power within.

Linda Johnson-Bell, Psychotherapist & Counsellor

 

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