What is therapy? What different types are there? How can it help?
For those of us suffering from a mental illness such as anxiety or depression, there seem to be a handful of recommendations in order to go about coping with or recovering from these issues. One particular method that has been of great use to me personally, is my experience with therapy.
Now whilst there are dozens of different types and variations of therapy including art, light and ecotherapy, I would like to focus solely on psychotherapy or ‘talk therapy’ in this post. My reasoning for this is that it’s not only the most commonly suggested form of treatment or support, but is also one that has personally helped me a lot in recent years. For those of you who have read any of my previous posts, it should probably come as no shock that I am a huge advocate of therapy, and communication in general as a form of healing.
After deciding to change my career in the past year, I am currently at the beginning of my own study to become a qualified and licensed psychotherapist or counsellor so that I can provide the support to others that I received in my own journey. One of the first steps in this process was to explore the basics of therapy and answer some of the common questions below. So, without any further delay, here they are:
What is Therapy?
Let’s start with the very basics; what is therapy? Psychotherapy or counselling is the process of meeting with a trained professional on a regular enough basis in order to address and work on any issues you may be having. This can include more severe mental health issues such as depression or borderline personality disorder (BPD), but can also provide assistance with a range of other matters such as anxiety, addiction and phobias.
However, therapy doesn’t just deal with issues you’re currently experiencing. Certain forms can look back on stressful, traumatic or abusive moments in your past and try and help organise the feelings you have towards them, to prevent them as manifesting into some unhealthy habit or trait in the present.
This is what I would describe as a ‘generalised’ view of therapy, but in reality the exact description is a lot more ambiguous. Just like when I spoke about Depression and Anxiety, therapy is a tricky thing to slap a quick description label on. If you look up a definition of the words ‘psychotherapy’ or ‘therapy’, you’ll probably see something along the lines of ‘the treatment of mental health disorders through the use of psychological methods’. However, whilst this nicely covers the surface of the process, it doesn’t overly give us much detail.
Therapy or counselling can look very different depending on, not only the patient and their issues, but also the therapist and their methodology. One session could be hypnotherapy focused, whilst another could be more workbook and activity based. These differences bring us to our next fundamental question:
What Different Types of Therapy Are Most Commonly Offered?:
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: The core goal of cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, is to focus on the clients thought patterns and attempts to assist you in ‘re-programming’ your thought process in order to avoid falling into negative patterns. This is a very different approach from other forms of talk-therapy as it doesn’t overly target the root of the issue, but rather how you approach situations in the present.
CBT is a form of therapy I actually have some, albeit limited, first-hand experience with. When I first sought out professional help for my anxiety and depression my doctor had me see a cognitive behavioural therapist for a six-week period. However, this only lasted for two sessions as I had more deep-seated issues and trauma to explore and CBT couldn’t really facilitate this for me.
That being said, my thoughts on cognitive behavioural therapy are still majorly positive, and I have had many close friends go down that route and show great results and progress with their mental health. I would highly recommend this type of therapy to those, in particular, who are dealing with the likes of social anxiety and panic attacks as it can target the triggers of these and provide a range of helpful coping mechanisms.
Person-Centred Therapy: Whilst this may just sound like something that is a given with all therapy, person-centred therapy takes this aspect a step further than other forms. The core principle to this form of therapy is that clients are capable of addressing and healing their own mental health issues, regardless of how large they are. To do this there is a therapist-client partnership which is less one sided than in other forms of therapy.
With person-centred therapy, your therapist would try to limit how much they influence the session and allow space for the individual to talk through and develop their own topics of focus, then work with them as a helping hand to aid in this recovery process.
Psychodynamic Therapy: We’ve all seen it in movies. A spacious room, a client laying spread out across a lounge-chair and their therapist sitting on a chair across from them, taking notes and asking ‘how does that make you feel?’. Whilst it’s maybe not as colourful as portrayed in media, there is definitely some truth to it.
Psychodynamic therapy focuses mainly on the area of the ‘unconscious’, delving deep into the root of your issues, through looking at past events and traumas and translating how they affect us in the present.
By looking at our past and our present as a jigsaw of sorts, using this approach allows us to lift each piece carefully, analyse it, and place it back gently with the help of a trained professional for support if we come across any challenges along the way.
Integrative Therapy: As I’m sure you can guess from the title of the approach, integrative or diverse therapy incorporates some or all of the above methods. This particular idea finds that there are benefits to all of the above practices and being able to apply them in different combinations to suit the client allows for a much more varied and balanced session.
This particular approach is primarily what I have experienced in my own therapy journey. Firstly, the psychodynamic part of this approach allows me to look at my past trauma and the previously described jigsaw, and develop my own insight whilst analysing these events. The person-centred aspects allow me to feel as being part of a more mutually grounded partnership with my therapist. Finally, the CBT allows me to develop this insight and apply the lessons to my thought process, combining past and present, to help me get through difficult situations I may face in my day-to-day life.
Again, I’m not saying that this is the best method of those listed above, just the one that seems to work best for me. The best way to figure out which form would work best for you would be to discuss which issues or illnesses you would like to, or need to, address. Researching more on each type of therapy and discussing this with your doctor will allow you to have a better idea of which pathway may work for you.
Just remember two very important points. One, you’re not locked into one route and can change as needed. Two, finding the right fit doesn’t only apply to the style of therapy, but also the therapist, which I’ll be sure to cover more about in future articles.
One final note on the type of therapies offered before moving on is it can be useful to explore the more niche methods used to deal with intensely specific problems. Hypnotherapy and exposure therapy are only two of the many specialty practices used in order to help the client, targeting repressed traumas and intense phobias respectively.
How is Therapy Beneficial?
Offers a Safe Environment: One of the key benefits that can be gained from deciding to try out talk therapy is that it offers us a safe, confidential space to explore our feelings. Whilst this is expected from most professional discussions around health, and mental health in particular, this specific space is built upon mutual trust and prioritises your safety at all times. This can be extremely advantageous when you’re new to exploring aspects of your mental health and allows you to go at your own pace.
One thing worth noting on this, which I briefly mentioned above, is that it’s important we find the right therapist/counsellor and approach to make us feel comfortable in this space. Our personalities don’t automatically click with every single person in the world, so why should it magically click with every single therapist. It’s about discovering what safe and comfortable means to you.
Provides Information on Our Illnesses/Habits: Whilst a lot of people choose to go to therapy to address and heal an issue they have spent much time thinking about or researching, this isn’t the case for everybody. It is quite common for those suffering from low mood to be referred to these services after visiting their doctor for support, which means they may not know exactly what their core problems are, just the ‘symptoms’.
Let’s focus on depression for example, which is one of the most common mental health issues and a large reason many people seek professional help. Most people are aware of it and are mindful of the common aspects as to what it feels like, but many others aren’t overly that clear on the illness outside of the generalised ‘sad’ description. Therapy allows us to learn about this in a useful, accurate way, so that we are well informed to know what we are experiencing.
I can’t even begin to tell you how much I’ve learned in my own therapy sessions, be it about mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, or deeper issues such as guilt or shame. The more knowledge you have about a topic, the more equipped you are to work towards tackling it.
Promotes Healthy Communication: This one is arguably the most important benefit from therapy and counselling in my personal opinion. There is still a shockingly large amount of stigma around the area of mental health and going to therapy, and this can lead to people falling into the habit of suffering alone in silence. However, from the very first session, therapy and counselling set out to break down these barriers and promote the positives of healthy, honest communication.
Not only does this safe, confidential space make us feel more at ease and willing to discuss what is bothering us, but it sets aside any of our doubts or fears over talking and sharing in the process. Whilst initially you may start therapy with the feeling of ‘I’ll talk openly here and that way I won’t have to anywhere else’, you’ll find that the more you communicate honestly and without shame in your sessions, the more likely it is to drip into your day-to-day life as well.
Encourages Practical and Beneficial Coping Methods: I know that coping methods are not exclusive to therapy alone, but having a comfortable place to explore them and learn new ones is extremely beneficial. Maybe your coping methods are good but not working as well as they used to, maybe you use negative coping methods such as alcohol or drugs, maybe you have none and could really use some. Therapy is the place to learn and develop them into healthy habits that work for you.
Healthy coping mechanisms and self-care have transformed in recent years, in many good ways but also in some bad. Therapy can teach you how to navigate these lists upon lists of ideas and products to find out not only what is legitimately beneficial, but what also works for your issues in particular. With practice and support from a professional, many of these methods can allow you to start living again rather than feeling like you’re just surviving day in day out.
Whilst the four aspects above are some that I find the most beneficial from therapy, there are so many other ways it can help you with any problems or issues you are facing. A lot of the time when suffering from a mental illness, the voice inside our head can trick us into thinking that nobody cares or wants to hear about our problems or feelings of sadness, but this isn’t the case. Therapists and counsellors are not only available to listen to your thoughts and feelings, but they are eager to do so, so that they can help you feel better and grow as a person.
To anyone reading this article and still on the fence about whether or not to go to therapy or counselling, I say this: It’s okay if you’re unsure or nervous, and it’s understandable if you have been led to believe that seeking professional help makes you weak, but it doesn’t. The only way to know whether or not the process will work for you is to take that first step. If you’re anything like me, you’ll definitely not regret it.
If you enjoyed this post feel free to check out my page for more mental health content, and let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Have you been to therapy before? Would you recommend it? Are there any benefits you think I forgot to mention? If you’re experiencing any of the feelings described in this post such as depression or anxiety, or know somebody who is, then there are many things you can do to help. Talking to somebody about how you or they are feeling can be very beneficial. If you’re not sure what to do but need urgent help, there are many emergency hotlines that provide support and encouragement such as Mind.org and Samaritans.org. You’re not alone in feeling this way, others are there to help.