This is a good question, really. It seems the whole concept of “therapy” is shrouded in mystery – not very much information out there regarding what actually happens when you see a psychologist, and those that are in therapy are not likely to discuss it in much detail. I have often been told by others that they would love to have my job as a psychologist – “you get to sit around and chat all day!”
Well, for the most part, there isn’t much “chatting” going on in a therapy session. And it certainly isn’t about making friends! – not for the client and not for the psychologist. In fact the relationship between the client and the therapist is a tricky one, quite different from all other relationships. Firstly, it is a pretty intimate relationship, one where the psychologist gets to be part of a very personal journey of self discovery that is often not shared with others in the client’s life. Very personal thoughts and feelings are explored with the therapist in an entirely confidential and non-judgmental space. As a result, the therapist often gets to know the client in a far more intimate way than others have done in the past. Secondly, it is not a reciprocated relationship. The therapist does not share their own personal stories with the client – in fact in most cases, the client actually knows precious little about the therapist and his/her life. As a result, the relationship can feel quite one-sided.
So, what actually happens in the therapy session if we are not “chatting” and making friends?
Well, as you can see, the relationship is a very important one, so a large part of the first few sessions is about establishing this relationship. Forming a “working alliance” we call it. Basically the psychologist gets to know the client, while making every effort to leave the client feeling well understood and accepted. This is possibly one of the most important factors in establishing whether therapy will be effective or not. Many great theorists have surmised that the success of therapy is based entirely on the therapeutic relationship and whether or not the client and therapist have made a connection. So, folk, this is important to remember – its no use continuing with a psychologist if you dont feel you can establish a “working alliance” with them.
OK, so now we have the relationship – what else happens?
We TALK! Psychotherapy is known as the “talking cure” and as such, talking forms the basis of what you “do” in therapy. Its what you talk about that makes the difference and this depends largely on the type of therapy being used. (I will deal with different therapy models in more detail in future posts). For now it is suffice to say that the therapy model often depicts the focus of the therapy and what is spoken about. Having said that, however, there is no right and wrong regarding what may and may not be spoken about during therapy. This is YOUR time, an hour that is dedicated solely to you and, consequently, you get to be the leader here. Your therapist might guide you in certain directions, but you have the power to talk about as much or as little as you like. And NO! Your psychologist cannot mind read, or magically pull out your deepest darkest secrets. No, therapy is based on honesty and trust – a space where you come be as honest as you can about things, and in the process learn to trust again… and isn’t that what we all want?
I guess its in the talking, the being honest and the forming of a really important relationship that the details are sorted out. This is where the problems find solutions, the significant relationships with others are restored, the wounds of the past are healed and new coping skills are learnt.
Hopefully this has de-mystified the therapy process a bit for you and given you some encouragment in taking the next step and getting involved…
Till my next post, remember
“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step”