How effective is psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy is an accessible thing. It is not an esoteric, mystical and indefinable method to which it is necessary to convert because it works. It is a logical process, made up of steps, that anyone can follow. Psychotherapy is a dialogue. The patient presents data, the therapist offers ideas about that data along with his own data, and about the prescriptions to be performed between the sessions. Then the ball passes back to the patient, in the next session the effects of the prescriptions will be discussed, and so on.
Are the things that the therapist is helping you find out about yourself, your life, your feelings are helping you to go in the direction you want to go, or not? If the answer is “no” you have the right to say it, because it means that something is not going right. But without your active participation in what is discussed in the session, and above all without the commitment to implement the prescriptions assigned to you, therapy becomes a sterile exercise of thought, a series of interesting speculations that will have no impact on your life.
What a psychotherapy session looks like?
Psychotherapy is not a massage. It is not positive and unconditional attention, even if sometimes it is also this. There is nothing wrong with giving comfort and support but this is not, in itself, psychotherapy. You need to feel that you can trust your therapist, but you do not need to feel comfortable at any time during the sessions. In fact, if the questions and observations of your therapist never give you even the slightest discomfort, you may never get anywhere. Sometimes therapy can reach very high peaks of intensity, while with other patients or at other times it can present itself as an amorphous, vague and aimless process. In both cases, however, the changes expected from treatment should always be perceptible. Otherwise, the therapy is not working.
Psychotherapy is not giving advice. The world is full of councils and advisors. Part of what makes people get into therapy is that they are lost in all those advice, failing to put them in order and give the right weight to what is important and what is not. The last thing the patient needs, therefore, is yet another piece of advice. The goal of treatment is to rediscover your voice, your priorities and the courage to act on them. There is no need to tell a patient what to do with his marriage, his career or his anxieties. If you can make him perceive the problem from a different angle, he will know better than anyone else what is best for himself. And the next time you will face similar situations, it will not get confused again so easily.
What to expect during a therapy session?
Interpersonal relationships, even psychotherapeutic ones, do not follow pre-established patterns. Moreover, as for any other personal journey, it is not easy to describe it in words. Of course, if you feel bad already at the first session it is better to change, as already mentioned. Apart from that, the patient and the therapist should always define a time limit or number of sessions at the beginning of the therapy within which there must have been improvements. The patient must have time to realize what it feels like in a session, and that this type of conversation is different from what you can have every day. It is also important during this time not to become obsessed with wondering if it is working or not, if we really like this therapist, if it is able to help us and so on. Give time to time. Otherwise it would be like going to the gym twice and then checking the muscles to see if they have already increased.
A therapy session should always be interesting and even a little intriguing. Sometimes it may seem strange, fragmentary and inconclusive, or make you want to quit, but the patient should always remain with the feeling that something new and interesting is happening. You should be curious about what is making you feel, think and behave just like that and how the various aspects and events of your life connect with each other in ways you have not yet considered. You should also feel as if your feelings gradually become more “real” in the sense of more authentic, more genuinely integrated and personal.
If within the first five sessions you have not been able to perceive any of this, you must report it to the therapist. It could be that your resistance to therapy is too great at this time in your life. However, the word “resistance” is at least partly a commentary on the therapist’s abilities. It could be that the relationship that has been established between you and the therapist is not optimal and that you do not feel comfortable with him / her. In any case, talk about it. If you do not see glimmers of solution to this problem and things do not change soon, look for another therapist.
What more than anything else you should be interested in getting from a therapy is the so-called corrective emotional experience. This definition indicates any experience you make through the interpretations, indications and prescriptions that your therapist will give you, and which will mark the release, the moment of breaking between the old way of perceiving your problem and a whole new way. This experience has nothing to do with rationality and it is not about learning. Suddenly, without knowing why you feel better, healthier, more hopeful, more determined, more energetic, everything seems to be clearer and the symptoms have disappeared. This is the magic that good psychotherapy has to offer. Of course, the therapy will not end soon after: a subsequent consolidation phase is necessary, to ensure that the situations that previously caused the problem completely lose their strength, that the new reaction patterns will settle, stabilize and become definitive, to avoid relapses.