Psychotherapy and Counseling Defined
Psychotherapy and counseling are synonymous terms to describe a professional relationship between a trained clinician and client (the “client” may be an individual, couple, family, or group). The initial task of the therapist and client is to jointly decide how best to address the client’s presenting problem(s), what avenues of exploration to take, interventions to be used, and to prioritize the urgency of issues. Most therapies, in some form or another, foster increased awareness or insight of the hidden and not so hidden parts of ourselves, including symptoms and defenses (the mechanisms that protect us from further pain). As we become more aware of our thoughts, feelings, actions, perceptions, and experiences, we tend to have greater acceptance, choice, and freedom in life – all of which contribute to a potent sense of well-being. An analogy of how this works: Ideally, we want a varied menu at a restaurant because it gives us more choices. Similarly, if we have a longer internal menu of perceptions, experiences, and the like, we end up with greater choices in life.
Contrary to popular opinion, psychotherapy is not advice giving or teaching, nor is it preaching. You can easily get advice from well-meaning friends, family, acquaintances and even from strangers and the media. You don’t need one more person telling you what to do or giving you a prescription for life. Rather, the goal of therapy is to re-discover your own voice to help guide you in the directions you need to go, and to cultivate trusting your own self more fully in order to make your own decisions. It is becoming more common for clients to inquire about “brief therapy”, mainly because HMO insurance companies prefer short-term therapy because it costs them less. Although consultation and Employee Assistance Program brief therapy (ranging from one to eight sessions) can be very effective for managing a crisis, it is usually not helpful for meaningful personality change or substantive solutions. Realistically, it makes sense that long standing, complex issues require longer-term therapy. “Longer-term” is relative in that you should see definite positive results in 15-30 sessions, and, by all means, if you see no change week after week, broach this with your therapist. He/she should be eager and willing to discuss problems with the therapy, explore alternative treatments, refer you to a more appropriate clinician, etc.