Most people seek help from a therapist in order to solve a specific problem, such as a marriage issue, drinking problem, or concern over a child. Every year about 15 percent of the U.S. population sees a mental health professional.
If your problem is taking up more and more of your thoughts and emotional energy it is a good idea to talk to a psychotherapist.
Often a therapist can give you some personal coping skills or life skills that will dramatically help you in your daily life. Many times a therapist can help you define your problem so you know if it is serious or not.
Great question. Good friends can be very helpful in dealing with life's ups and downs. But good friends have their own agendas. Your relationship with a good friend is a two way street. Today you help them, tomorrow they will help you.
Your relationship with a psychotherapist is a one way street. They work for you. They are tasked with helping you see things you may not want to see. Their training helps them keep their personal needs out of the therapeutic relationship so that the focus is on you.
I often explain that a therapeutic relationship has three major parts. You start a relationship, you practice the relationship, then you practice ending that relationship. In all three parts, the goal of the psychotherapist is to build your personal skills. In fact, to build your personal skills to the point that you do not need their support any more at this time.
It is true that at the end of therapy a psychotherapist ends up with an open hour on their calendar, but let’s look at the big picture.
Psychotherapists are professionals that have many years of training in the helping arts. Ethically they are bound to help others feel and do their best.
If you are still a little cynical, then let me tell you it is best for the therapist if her clients “get better”. A satisfied ex-patient tells others of the therapist’s good work. This in turn fills the therapist’s calendar. So you see, on an ethical and a business sense, therapists are motivated to help you reach your mental health goals.
The simple answer is no. Therapy is a “one way street”. The therapist gets to know a lot about you, but you know very little about your therapist’s personal life. Because you share so much with your therapist it is often true that one may want to continue the relationship after formal therapy ends. This is not allowed by professional rules of ethics. These standards are well defined to protect you and your therapist. I have been in practice for over 30 years. I have seen the same patients every few years as personal, family, or business stressors bring on new emotional challenges. Think of a psychotherapist as a trusted professional that is there if you need them.
The simple answer is yes. Psychotherapy is voluntary. But, it is important that you as a client are not confusing “don’t like” with “don’t want to see or deal with something uncomfortable that my therapist brought up.”
Remember, a psychotherapist is not a friend. They are an employee tasked with the difficult job of helping you understand yourself and how you interact with your world.
If you are not comfortable with your therapist, voice this to them. They should not take this question personally and it is important that you discuss your concerns. Remember, it is not your job to protect your therapist’s feelings, so if you are concerned about the therapeutic process, discuss it with your therapist. Please let me assure you, this is a common and reasonable discussion to have with a therapist.
Sometimes, a psychotherapist will refer a present patient to a different therapist. This can happen if the clinical needs of the client are outside of the psychotherapist’s skill set.
Yes, within limits. Most states have legal exceptions concerning psychotherapist/client privilege. The most common are related to physical or sexual child abuse, physical or sexual elder or disabled abuse, concerns that you could harm yourself or someone else, or specific court orders. Confidentiality is an important part of the psychotherapist/client relationship. Psychotherapists are legally and ethically bound to protect your information.
Most therapists explain psychotherapist/client confidentiality during the first session and often give you this information in writing for future reference.
Medication and/or psychotherapy should be based on your personal clinical needs. In general, medication and/or psychotherapy both have important roles in helping people. Often medication is used for mental health conditions with a known biochemical component. Even in this situation however, research shows that patients do better when treatment combines both medication and psychotherapy. The medications can help by lowering the symptoms, while psychotherapy helps one to understand one’s situation and gain personal insight.
Non-prescribing psychotherapists tend to work closely with their clients’ medical doctors when psychotropics (meds) are indicated. Your psychotherapist will ask you to give them specific permission to contact your medical doctor. In most states this permission must be given in writing.
There is a lot of concern and research into the long term safety aspects of psychotropic medications. Please consult your physician before taking any medication. Taking someone else's medication, even if they seem to have similar symptoms to your own, can be very dangerous.
This is often a personal choice. Research has not found a difference in clinical outcomes (help to patients) based on the gender of the therapist. Depending on the nature of their initial issue, some clients would rather see a male or a female therapist, and this is just fine. It is important that you feel comfortable with your therapist.
I do not hear this question as much as I used to. But truth be told, the real question is what do you think about you seeing a psychotherapist? I have had six knee operations over the last 40 years and I never asked myself, ‘what will people think about me if I seek help for my knee?’ I assume that people will think that I am taking care of myself by consulting with a knee specialist. I know that in the past, and in some cultures even now, mental health problems were seen as a weakness of personal character. Some societies saw mental health problems as the work of evil, or proof of a lack of moral fiber. I am glad those times are mostly behind us.
Modern life is extremely complicated. It is often a good idea to seek help when you need it.
Have a question that belongs on this page? Please email it to me.
All information, unless specifically noted, on this site is free for you to use and share. Please link back to this site. thanks!
Site host: Philip Copitch, Ph.D.