What is Psychotherapy?
‘Mental health’ and ‘therapy’ are words that have become common in our day-to-day conversations. While you might know someone who is taking therapy, you might not know what it is like, what it does, or who needs it. This blog answers all these questions for you.
It’s easier for people to seek help now than a few years ago. Mental health stigma is still prevalent but has reduced to a large extent. But people still need to know some basics about psychotherapy, to know what therapy can help them with and when and how to seek help.
In the oxford dictionary, ‘psychotherapy’ is defined as “the treatment of mental health problems by talking with a therapist”. Two things are clear from this definition. One, it is a form of treatment for mental health-related issues. Second, it is done by talking, which is also why it’s called talk therapy.
You might wonder, what is so special about talking? We do that all the time with our friends and family. How is that supposed to help with your mental health problems? The American Psychological Association defines psychotherapy as “Psychotherapy is a collaborative treatment based on the relationship between an individual and a psychologist. A psychologist provides a supportive environment that allows patients to talk openly with someone who is objective, neutral, and nonjudgmental.”
Conversation with a psychotherapist is very different from your conversations with your friends or family. Therapists use evidence-based therapy techniques and approaches that help you understand your problem better and manage your problem. The approach they use is highly individualised for each client.
Who is a psychotherapist?
In India, we do not have a licensing body for counselling psychologists. Any person with a Master’s degree in Psychology can provide counselling and psychotherapy. This person would have typically undergone a minimum of 5 years of education and training in human psychology.
What does a psychologist do?
Psychologists provide one-on-one psychotherapy, group therapy, and family or couples counselling. They can not prescribe medication, but if that is required in your case, they’re likely to connect you with a psychiatrist. A psychologist deals with mental health-related issues, from improving your time-management skills to managing anxiety attacks.
When should one see a therapist?
A psychotherapist deals with a wide range of problems. So it really depends on you. Here are signs when you should really consider seeing a therapist:
- Change in mood: You notice that your mood has suddenly changed over the past few days. You feel constantly sad, anxious or irritated.
- Physiological changes: Stress can induce headaches, digestive problems or discomfort in your chest.
- Decline in work performance: Disinterest at work, not meeting deadlines or missing work.
- Changes in your social life: You’ve stopped seeing your friends as much or reduced spending time with your family.
- General disinterest: You don’t enjoy doing things that you enjoyed previously. You feel a general sense of disinterest in everything.
- Other people have noticed changes: Your friends or family members have pointed out that your mood or behaviour has changed.
- Self-harm: You have thoughts about harming yourself or disappearing from this world. Self-harm could also include skipping multiple meals, and using harmful substances.
Some of these changes are natural. Changes in mood are not always bad. It’s a natural response to situations. For example, if you lose your job, or failed in an exam, you are likely to experience a lot of negative emotions, and disinterest in going out or talking to people. But that is usually temporary. If you feel that your response is disproportionate to the situation or that the mood and behaviour changes have lasted longer than usual, you can consider seeing a counsellor.
If you’ve experienced any thoughts of self-harm, be it a casual thought, planning on how to do it or brooding on it. You should see a therapist immediately.
Other than these signs above, there are many other reasons why people go to a therapist:
- To understand oneself better or improve their relationship with themselves
- Process any form of childhood traumas or microtraumas
- Setting better goals in life and habit-forming
- Improving assertiveness
- Communication skills
- Learning mindfulness and other stress management techniques
- Learn techniques to manage emotions and improve mental health
What happens if I don’t see a therapist?
For some people, that could mean that their symptoms keep worsening over time. This means that treatment will take longer time, more effort and have a poorer prognosis. Maybe what could be managed with four sessions of talk therapy would need 24 sessions and medication.
Most mood-related problems can be episodic. So people might think that their problems go away on their own. That is true, but they will also come back, and most likely worsen. The earlier one seeks therapy, the better. Whatever you learn in your therapy session, it most likely won’t go to waste.
How do I find the right therapist for me?
Finding the right therapist can be tricky. Psychotherapists use different approaches and therapies. It is likely that you might connect with one therapist more than the other. In India, there are also a lot of malpractices where people without the required qualification claim to be psychotherapists.
To be safe, feel free to ask questions to your provider. You can ask them these questions:
- Are you qualified to be a counselling psychologist?
- How many years of counselling experience do you have?
- Do you have experience working with people with ____ issue?
- What kind of treatment approach do you use?
- Is everything we discuss in the sessions confidential?
You can put forward any other concerns that you may have. If you do start taking sessions, you can look out for these red flags:
- If your therapist is breaking privacy and confidentiality without your consent.
- If you’re feeling judged and uneasy during the sessions.
- If your therapist doesn’t show up for scheduled sessions or is often late without reasonable explanations
- If your therapist judges or insults you in any way during the session
- If they constantly interrupt you and don’t listen actively
If you experience any of these signs, try to confront them about it. If these signs repeatedly show up, it’s time to switch to a different therapist.
Booking sessions and follow-ups
Most mental health organisations now serve both offline and online. You might be required to fill out a form to give them some basic details about you. You can also share your time preference with them. Most psychologists take one session weekly, but that might change based on your condition. It is advisable to book a second session right after the end of your first appointment if you wish to continue. Some therapists also prefer fixing one day and time for each week.
You will be required to pay hourly; some organisations might also offer monthly or yearly plans. Your therapist might not meet or speak to you outside of sessions, but it depends on your case. Most therapists are okay connecting over a call in case of emergencies; otherwise, on email or text.
If you or someone you know is experiencing any mental health-related problems, know that help is readily available. Even if you’re unsure whether or not you need treatment, you can speak to a mental health professional for guidance on the same. To explore mental health providers, click here.
Claiborn, C. D. (2022, December 26). psychotherapy | psychology. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/science/psychotherapy
How to Know When It’s Time to See a Therapist. (2020, October 22). Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-know-when-it-s-time-to-see-a-therapist-5077040
Psychotherapy. (n.d.). American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/topics/psychotherapy#:~:text=Psychotherapy%20is%20a%20collaborative%20treatment,objective%2C%20neutral%2C%20and%20nonjudgmental.