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What is psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is a general term that is used to describe the process of treating psychological disorders and mental distress by the use of verbal and psychological techniques. During this process, a trained psychotherapist helps the client tackle specific or general problems such as a particular mental illness or a source of life stress. Depending on the approach used by the psychotherapist, a wide range of techniques and strategies can be used. However, almost all types of psychotherapy involve developing a therapeutic relationship, communicating and creating a dialogue, and working to overcome problematic thoughts or behaviors.

How long does each psychotherapy session take?

If you're going for individual psychotherapy, then your session will last approximately 50-55 minutes. This 50-55 minute session is referred to as a "therapeutic hour." This is standard practice, although some clinicians will offer 45-minute sessions or 60-minute sessions. I stick with the 50-55 minutes and "block off" 60 for each session. Some of the rationale behind the timing is that therapists need a minute to collect their thoughts, jot some notes (if they haven't been taking them during the session), and 'reset' before their next client comes into the office. They also probably need to pee at some point. We are humans, after all.

Who provides psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is increasingly viewed as a distinct profession in its own right, but many different types of professionals engage in psychotherapy regularly. Such individuals include clinical psychologists, clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors, psychiatrists, and psychiatric nurses.

How long does psychotherapy last?

Length of therapy can vary depending on your specific needs and circumstances. Some people come to therapy with a specific issue or concern, and brief solution-focused therapy may be the right fit. Often, that can last six to eight sessions. Some people come to therapy to explore issues that seem to run a little deeper. They might engage in therapy for several months or even years. In my practice, generally I start seeing people once a week for about three months. After that, some continue coming in weekly, while others move to every other week and some eventually transition to once a month. I’ve had people who transition out of therapy and come back in once or twice a year for a “tune up” or for a series of sessions to address a specific concern that has come up. You can talk about your needs and expectations when we meet for the first appointment. There are some insurance plans that only cover a set number of sessions in a given year. If you are planning on using insurance to cover the costs of sessions, you will want to know what those limitations are, so calling your insurance might be important to find out more information about your insurance plan. You can also contract with me for a specific number of sessions and then evaluate where you are and if you want to continue working together.
One thing to keep in mind is that the single greatest predictor of positive therapeutic outcomes is the quality of the relationship and rapport you develop with your therapist. Building trust and developing that relationship can take time. If you are looking to address needs that run deeper than finding an immediate solution to a specific concern, you may want to allow yourself more time.

How to Know If You Need Psychotherapy

While you might realize that psychotherapy can help with life's problems, it can sometimes be difficult to seek help or to even recognize when it is time to talk to a professional. 

Some key signs that it might be time to see a psychotherapist include:

  • The issue is causing significant distress or disruption in your life. If you feel that the problem you are facing interrupts a number of important areas of your life including school, work, and relationships, it may be time to see if psychotherapy can help.

  • You are relying on unhealthy or dangerous coping mechanisms.If you find yourself dealing with your problem by smoking, drinking, overeating, or taking out your frustrations on others, seeking assistance can help you find healthier and more beneficial coping strategies.

  • Friends and family are concerned about your well-being. If it has reached a point where other people are worried about your emotional health, it may be time to see if psychotherapy can improve your psychological state.

  • Nothing you have tried so far has helped. You've read self-help books, explored some techniques you read about online, or even tried just ignoring the problem, yet things just seem to be staying the same or even getting worse. Just remember that you don't have to wait until your problems become so overwhelming that coping seems impossible. Help is available and the sooner you reach out, the sooner you'll be back on track to a healthier, happier state of mind.

What is the therapeutic relationship?

The purpose of a therapeutic relationship is to assist the individual in psychotherapy to change his or her life for the better. Such a relationship is essential, as it is oftentimes the first setting in which the person receiving treatment shares intimate thoughts, beliefs, and emotions regarding the issue(s) in question. As such, it is very important that psychotherapist provides a safe, open, and non-judgmental atmosphere where the affected individual can be at ease. Trust, respect, and congruence are major components of a good therapeutic relationship. Psychotherapists are encouraged to show empathy and genuineness. As with any other social relationship, the therapeutic relationship has boundaries which help to define acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. Establishing a therapeutic relationship is a vital step in the recovery process and for the relationship to be productive, trust is key. A person seeking a psychotherapist must trust that his or her therapist has the knowledge, skill set, and desire to provide appropriate care. Since the balance of power in the therapeutic relationship greatly favors the psychotherapist, a person in treatment must also trust that matters will remain confidential, and that he or she is safe from harm or exploitation at the hands of the psychotherapist. Once the therapeutic relationship is formed, an individual in therapy might be more inclined to open up emotionally and provide further details about his or her concerns. This, in turn, helps the psychotherapist to better comprehend the affected person’s point of view, feelings, and motives. Equipped with a more complete understanding of the situation, the psychotherapist is then able to provide the most appropriate treatment and employ the most effective strategies in order to address the issue.

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