How Psychotherapy Helps

Have you ever had somebody listen to you intently and objectively with the sole purpose of understanding you and assisting you in reaching your potential? For most of us, this is a luxury and very rare.

Our loved ones are not very objective and they frequently have their own agendas for us. They give us well-intended, but biased advice. Our friends have busy lives and don’t always have the time to give us their undivided attention. In addition, we are often worried about how we might make others feel or how they might feel about us, so we refrain from really opening up to them.

Ideally, a psychologist is an objective and non-judgmental professional who is not involved in your life outside of the therapy session. You shouldn’t have to worry about hurting your psychologist’s feelings or whether they will like “the real you” or not. You should not have to worry whether your disclosures to your psychologist will directly threaten your job or your relationships. If your psychologist cannot be objective with you for some reason, they should refer you to someone who can be.

Counseling is confidential (except in some very specific circumstances that you should be informed about before you begin), so you don’t have to worry about other people finding out your innermost thoughts and feelings. Your psychologist’s sole purpose is to listen to you and understand your point of view so that he or she can help you with your concerns.

Psychotherapy is not necessarily for everyone, but when it is effective, it may help clients:

  • institute change
  • find hope
  • increase self-awareness
  • develop new perspectives
  • identify strengths and resources
  • improve self-esteem
  • feel empowered
  • discover new solutions
  • normalize experiences
  • develop insight
  • adopt a more positive outlook
  • foster acceptance
  • explore options
  • adjust to situations
  • increase objectivity
  • learn new skills
  • create and work toward goals
  • increase motivation
  • challenge fears

Psychotherapy cannot:

  • Make you change or do anything you don’t really want to do
  • Change or “fix” other people in your life
  • Give you the answers
  • Make decisions for you or tell you definitively what to do
  • Cure you or “fix you”
  • Take the place of your personal responsibility

Psychotherapy Has Risks

Not everybody benefits from psychotherapy and there are potential risks to making a change. Sometimes psychotherapy leads to changes in you that your significant others , co-workers, or superiors don’t appreciate or accept. This can change important relationships and roles. In addition, it can be painful at first to talk about and confront the things that are troubling you. Your distress may actually increase during the early stages of counseling.

Honesty Is the Best Policy

Your psychologist knows only as much as you tell them, so its important to be honest. Despite our extensive training in human behavior, we cannot read minds.

You wouldn’t go to the doctor with chest pain and tell them your thumb hurts, right? This would result in a faulty diagnosis, the wrong treatment, and consequently, no improvement or even deterioration.

It is important to be honest with your psychologist, even about things you may feel ashamed of.  Opening up about sensitive subjects with a compassionate and empathetic psychologist often decreases the sense of shame and takes some of the power out of the issues that are plaguing you.

Change Takes Work

In general, psychotherapy helps people help themselves and the more energy you put into your treatment, the more you will get out of it. When your physician gives you a prescription or instructions for getting better, you have to use the medication as directed or follow the instructions in order to experience any improvement. It is the same for psychotherapy. Your counselor can help you generate options, but it is ultimately up to you to follow through with them outside of therapy.

Only You Can Change You

Your psychologist can only help you with the change process and cannot make other people in your life change. Some people come to counseling because other people in their lives are causing problems for them. Your psychologist can help you cope with the situation, but he or she has no power to change people, especially when the people who are contributing to your distress are not involved in your therapy.

It’s All in the Relationship

You need to feel comfortable with your psychologist for your therapy to be successful. Psychologists understand that we are not going to be a match for everyone, so we are not offended when a client doesn’t click with us. If you are concerned about your relationship with your psychologist, you should try to address this with him or her so changes can be made. Your psychologist should be able to provide you with some referral options if needed.

You can find mental health professionals in your area through online therapist locators such as those hosted by the American Psychological Association, Psychology Today, Network Therapy and GoodTherapy. If you want to use your health insurance, you call the behavioral health number on the back of your insurance card or visit your insurance company website to get some referral options.

3 thoughts on “How Psychotherapy Helps

  1. Good post. Thoughtful, straight-forward, excellent words of caution.


  2. Although much of the information in this blog is familiar with material that we've covered in class, it feels good to confirm the information outside of the classroom setting or just simply reading it in a book. As a current MFT student, this blog reassures me that i'm headed in the right direction. Great job with this blog!


  3. Thank you so much, this was extremely informative and will be quite useful to me.


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