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What is Psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy is the treatment of emotional and behavioural problems by psychological techniques designed to encourage communication of conflicts and insight into problems, with the goal being relief of symptoms, changes in behaviour leading to improved social and vocational functioning, and personality growth. A psychotherapist helps people understand their problems from a new perspective by offering an objective point of view and new ways of thinking about and responding to problems. Going through the therapy process changes people’s feelings about themselves and their situations, and they become happier, more self-confident, and more effective in dealing with life’s stresses.
Psychotherapy occurs within a structured setting between a trained psychotherapist and client(s). Psychotherapy may take place in individual, group, or family sessions.
Because sensitive topics are often discussed during psychotherapy, psychotherapists are expected, and legally bound, to respect client confidentiality.
Many forms of psychotherapy use only spoken conversation (sometimes referred to as talk-therapy), though some can also use various forms of communication, and other approaches such as the written word, artwork, drama, bodywork, narrative story, music, nature, tasking, biofeedback, and hypnosis.
Ethical therapists will maintain confidentiality, give clients clear information about policies, fees, and what they can realistically expect from therapy. They are up-front about their rationale and motivations and respond openly to any concerns their clients have. An ethical therapist will not exaggerate their abilities or outcomes of the therapy process. So be very wary of any therapist who offers claims of cure, or makes grand and unprovable claims about themselves (e.g. “the UK’s No.1 Hypnotherapist”), or claims that their therapy is the only one that works.
How Do I Know if I Would Benefit From Seeing a Psychotherapist?
We all experience painful feelings at one time or another in our lives. Many feelings such as sadness, hopelessness, anxiety and stress naturally arise as part of living life. For instance, it is quite normal to feel stress or anxiety before an interview or exam. Where it becomes a problem is when these feelings overwhelm you and last for an extended period of time so much that it becomes hard for you to function normally in your day to day life.
If you are tearful, have trouble sleeping or eating, have poor concentration, are drinking or using drugs excessively, fighting a lot with your spouse or children, having trouble controlling your temper or getting along with other people, then you should seriously consider seeing a trained psychotherapist.
Some problems are a reaction to stressful events in our life, such as losing a job or getting divorced. Other problems however, can be more chronic and exist even when they we are not in a period of extreme stress. These may be patterns of bad relationships, mood swings, trouble holding onto jobs, and habitual difficulty getting along with others. Psychotherapy can be very helpful with both short and long term problems.
What’s the difference between psychotherapy and counselling?
“Psychotherapy” and “Counselling” are terms that are often used interchangeably. Technically speaking, “counsellor” means “advisor”. It is a term that is used in conjunction with many types of advice giving. Just about anyone at all may claim to be a counsellor if they are in the role of giving advice or help. The term counselling may also properly be used to refer to what occurs in a working relationship with a psychotherapist.
In the context of mental health, counselling is generally used to denote a treatment that offers a sympathetic listening ear, ventilation of feelings and suggestions and advice for dealing with a particular symptom or problematic situation. Psychotherapy on the other hand also focuses more on gaining a deeper insight into chronic emotional and physical problems. Its focus is on helping the client change deeper thought processes and ways of being in the world. (Cawley, 1977) classifies counselling as Level 1 – Outer level, Relief and Support, and psychotherapy as Level 3 to 4 – Deeper level, Exploration and Change.
In actual practice there may be quite a bit of overlap between counselling and psychotherapy. Generally speaking, however, psychotherapy requires longer training and more skill than simple counselling. It is conducted by professionals trained to practice psychotherapy. While a psychotherapist is qualified to provide counselling, a counsellor may or may not possess the necessary training and skills to provide psychotherapy.
“Contemporary Psychotherapy is a child of Gestalt therapy, Hypnotherapy and Family Systems therapy and a sibling of CBT” (Gawler-Wright, 2006).
The word “con-tempo-rary” means literally “with time” or “moving in time”.
Contemporary Psychotherapy is an integrative solution-focused model that has an eclectic background. Drawing many of its principle ideas from Systemic Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), Ericksonian Hypno-Psychotherapy, Self-Relations Psychotherapy, Gestalt Therapy, Family Systems Therapy, and recent discoveries in Neuroscience. A contemporary psychotherapist regards no single model of psychotherapy as complete or superior to other models, and is therefore open to the integration of other models into their practice, allowing them to work more flexibly.
A contemporary Psychotherapist is trained in Systemic Neuro-Linguistics and has the practical skills of cognitive, linguistic and behavioural modelling, enabling them to be adaptable to the unique experience and functioning patterns of the client, constantly evolving their model of the clients world according to the clients progress and communication. These advanced modelling skills also allow a practitioner to observe and absorb from the most successful approaches to psychotherapeutic treatment, resulting in a psychotherapy that is flexible and constantly evolving.
A Contemporary Psychotherapist is trained to offer brief therapy (4 to 14 sessions), mid term, and longer term therapy (over 1 year), and is able to adapt the frequency and duration of sessions to the clients specific needs.
A number of the defining features of Contemporary Psychotherapy:
- it is aware of and responds to current advances in its own and other fields of knowledge;
- it is sensitive to current sociological, cultural and political issues;
- it works with the full life trajectory – past, present and future – of the client;
- it responds flexibly to different stages and cycles in the client’s progress;
- it utilises the naturally occurring cycles and altered states of the human system;
- It recognises the differing time requirements and time constraints affecting the treatment of each client.
Cawley, R.H. (1977) ‘The teaching of psychotherapy’, Association of University Teachers of Psychiatry Newsletter January: 19-36.
Gawler-Wright, P. (2006) Intermediate Contemporary Psychotherapy, London: BeeLeaf Publishing