Psychotherapy Part Deux
Allan Schwartz, Ph.D. wrote a wonderful and very thorough piece of what to look out for and what to expect when first going to psychotherapy. Something I would reiterate is that it's very natural and common to feel nervous going to therapy for the first time. It's really kind of an odd set up really. You're going to see someone who you have most likely never met before and is a total stranger to support you with things that may not even be telling your closest friends about. However, research shows that more often than not people actually do get better and feel better when going to psychotherapy. Allan brought up some of the most common approaches in psychotherapy (e.g., psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral, psychoanalytic) and what many therapists and clients who have had a positive therapeutic experience will say is "it's all about the connection."
What does this mean? In my opinion, one of the most fundamental pieces of therapy is that you have a good connection with your therapist. When you are able to foster that sense of safety and trust, you naturally feel like sharing things that you may have been consciously or unconsciously keeping in for quite some time. Often times our issues come from a deep seeded fear of experiencing some feeling based on some trauma earlier in our lives. Working through this can be facilitated easier when you feel a sense of safety and trust with your therapist. However, for many, it may take time to develop, but you can get a sense of how you feel about the therapist early in the relationship.
As Allan noted, different therapists focus on different things. Some will want you to eventually explore the trauma in the past to better understand it and how it influences your thoughts and decisions today. Other therapists will deal more with the symptoms and help you build skills to reduce your distress and support you so you are not as triggered and feel more confident in the face of distress.
However, as I said earlier, at the core of all of this is your feeling a sense of connection and understanding from the person you are setting across from. If you meet with a therapist for a few times and you feel a major disconnection, my advice is to try out a new therapist.
Allan has written out some good ways to go about finding a therapist. One point he wrote I'd like to expound on. This is recommendations from friends and family. In my experience, if you feel comfortable, this is a good way to go about your initial search. Getting first hand feedback from someone you trust can go miles beyond looking at what school someone graduated from. Even though I am a Psychologist and many people hold that degree as more esteemed than others, it's important to understand that this has very little influence in whether the therapist is going to be the right one for you. Someone with a master's degree can be a much better therapist than someone with a doctorate degree and vice versa. You can get some recommendations and then ask the therapist to talk briefly over the phone and use that as a time to get a feel and inquire about their approach to therapy and if they have any sub-specialties that are of interest to you (e.g., bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic attacks, etc...).
Know that you are not tied into any therapist after seeing them and that you are welcome to try out a few before settling on one. Taking this step to go to therapy can be a great act of courage and it's very important to thank yourself for engaging in the process.
Please feel free to interact below with comments or questions. Your thoughts here provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.