Who needs psychotherapy?
I believe that psychotherapy is for anyone who feels that they are not living fully. By this, I mean it is for each one of us who is experiencing barriers to having a meaningful and life - affirming existence. You do not have to be in crisis to enter into counselling, although some people are, and it can sometimes be a crisis that precipitates us into asking questions about who we are and what life is for.
Almost anything can inhibit our growth and happiness. Broken or dysfunctional relationships, bereavement, loss, anxiety and insecurity, addiction, specific traumas such as rape or miscarriage, abuse, financial pressure, and so on. In short, our suffering takes many forms.
The good news is that psychotherapy alleviates suffering. I believe this, because I have experienced the hard work and mystery that is therapeutic work for myself, as a client. I also believe it because I have, in turn, seen my clients come to terms with aspects of themselves and their lives that have been troubling them.
So how does psychotherapy work?
The main predictor of whether psychotherapy will be beneficial for the client is the quality of the therapeutic relationship. That is why my clients always meet me first for an initial session, to decide whether we are right for each other. Both parties must feel that they can develop a trustworthy, safe and respectful relationship. I offer my clients total confidentiality (there are some legal exceptions to this, which are outlined in our contract), a quiet space in which they can share their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgement, and an opportunity to express themselves freely and honestly. A good therapeutic environment is nurturing and compassionate, so that the client is enable to talk through things in a way that eventually brings clarity and healing.
What does the therapist actually do?
Some people wonder why they can’t just talk through their problems with a friend. There are a number of reasons why the therapeutic relationship is completely unique and I believe, the most effective way to bring about emotional growth and healing.
Firstly, the fact that I am not your friend is a huge advantage. I am able to be neutral, to look at your life from a professional and compassionate perspective. You can talk freely without worrying about hurting my feelings or offending me.
Secondly, I have been extensively trained to be with you in your distress. Not many of your friends or family members, if any, will have the experience of working with a range of other clients, each with their own individual issues and dilemmas. Being a therapist is both rewarding and demanding, and you need to know that I can withstand whatever you wish to bring to the session, can keep you safe, and support you in both times of progress and in your darkest days.
Thirdly, the challenges I may offer you and the assumptions I hold about how we are in the world are located within a clear philosophical framework. Humanistic counselling, which encompasses a range of approaches: person-centred, Gestalt and others, is informed by a phenomenological, existential history of thought. These ideas are evidenced in the counselling work, for example, by the way I will endeavor to get as close as possible to your lived experience so that I can truly understand you, or the way I will not give you advice but instead help you to understand yourself better so that you can develop your own resources and make your own meaning. In short, there is a wealth of theoretical knowledge that contextualizes each decision I make about how we work, and why we are doing what we do.
Fourthly, the therapeutic relationship is strictly boundaried, in a way that a chat with a friend isn’t. These boundaries, paradoxically, are what gives both client and therapist the space to experiment, to try things out, to say or feel things that may seem dangerous or upsetting to admit. I like to work, if it is appropriate, in creative ways, using art materials, visualization exercises and so on, in order to engage in a deeper way with our felt senses and to get closer to our feelings.
In the end, psychotherapy is about one person having the space to be truly listened to, supported and nurtured by another person. It is about human connection and relationship.