Therapy is short for the term “psychotherapy.” Psychotherapy uses talking, learning feeling, and remembering to help people solve mental emotional and behavioral problems and change their lives for the better.
Many people believe that therapy is one of the most effective ways to achieve and maintain good mental and behavioral health. Therapy can help people understand, solve, and prevent problems as well as live more comfortably with problems that cannot be solved or prevented. Therapy also can support people during especially stressful times of their lives. In addition, it can teach people skills and strategies for coping with lifelong stresses, and it can make medications and other treatments work more effectively.
Therapy Is About People and Relationships
Therapy most often is provided by mental health professionals who have been trained and licensed to offer counseling. Therapists may include psychiatrists, psychologists, marriage and family therapists, social workers, ministers, and school counselors. People who work with therapists often are called patients or clients.
Different types of therapists use different methods of therapy to work with different kinds of problems, but all therapeutic methods involve an active partnership and alliance between the therapist and client. To create a safe and trusting alliance, or relationship, therapists follow several basic principles:
• Therapists protect the privacy and confidentiality of the information their clients share with them during therapy sessions.
• Therapeutic settings provide clients with safe environments and safe boundaries. Clients are not judged, disrespected, or intruded upon.
• Therapists strive to inspire confidence, encourage emotional expression, and increase their clients’ expectations for success in therapy and in the world outside therapy.
• Therapists encourage self-knowledge and self-awareness in their clients so that clients can learn to manage their own thoughts, feelings, and actions after therapy has ended.
Clients and therapists work together to help the client learn to decrease distress, improve health, and increase quality of life.
When a patient develops trust in the relationship with a therapist, the therapy setting may become right for transference to occur. Transference represents the “transfer” of the patient’s feelings onto the therapist. Complex feelings from childhood experiences and from important relationships can transfer to the therapeutic setting. These may include frustration about not getting the expected love or approval from parents and teachers, fear that parents or loved ones will abandon (leave) us, anger that authority figures (teachers, parents) want us to follow rules, and all aspects of love, hate, pride, shame, disappointment, grief, hope, and affection. Because the therapist is not the parent or loved one who was involved in the original relationship, the therapist and client are able to discuss how those earlier hurts might feel in the safe therapy setting. The client might then learn how to change his or her behaviors in current relationships outside therapy.
Individuals, Families, and Groups
Therapy also can involve different groups of people. In individual therapy, a client works with a therapist in a one-to-one relationship. This often is referred to as a therapeutic “dyad,” from the Greek word that means “two.” In group therapy, several people with similar problems work together with one or two therapists. This form of therapy can be particularly helpful for people whose problems tend to occur when they must function in groups or teams at school or work. In family therapy, a married couple or an entire family attends therapy sessions, with individuals working together as a unit to understand and resolve the problems the family is experiencing. The family therapist helps members of the family feel safe as they learn both to express their own emotions and to listen to and understand the emotions of other family members.
Therapists use many different approaches to create the trusting partnership that allows people to change their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. No one method is better than the others, and many therapists use “eclectic” approaches that combine techniques from many different methods.