What is therapy?

Therapy (also known as psychotherapy, counseling) is a process by which you, the client, have a scheduled time (50 minutes) to talk with a therapist, like myself, who has been trained to help you with various life problems. During the on-going weekly talks, a client and therapist work together to understand the client’s patterns of thinking and acting and the therapist offers their objective, non-judgmental, trained and experienced point of view. This interaction will likely give the client new ideas about how to see the world and how to have better relationships with people important to them.

The relationship between the therapist and the client differs from all other relationships. You can tell therapists things without having to worry about your information being told to others or in any way effecting your job, family or relationships. You can be honest with therapists without having to worry about offending friends or neighbors. When a therapist asks how you are doing, the therapist really wants to know. This is different from casual or social conversations in which the person who asks the questions expects you to say, “OK” so they can tell you how they are doing.

How is “talking” helpful?

For clients, talking can be helpful because it gives them an opportunity to talk about things in a safe environment. They can voice issues and concerns without being judged, “get things off their chest” and vent. This oftentimes brings clients some relief because the things they want to discuss may be issues the client could not talk to anyone else about.

Therapists are trained to understand what you say and will rarely voice their own opinions or tell you what to do. The therapist has learned about and treated people with similar problems before, so they can better comprehend your particular circumstances.

Does getting help mean that I am weak?

Not at all. Many years ago, the idea of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” or “just dealing” with life’s problems alone was common. This has changed and many people seek therapy as a way to get support while working through difficult times. The therapist will not fix your problems. You are still in charge of making changes in yourself. The therapist is just a supportive guide in the process.

How do I know when it’s time to get therapy?

People with a ride range of problems, from depression to marital conflict to simple phobias (like the fear of flying) can reap the benefits of therapy. Often, when you feel overwhelmed by life’s problems but do not think you are dealing with them well, it is an appropriate time to seek treatment. Some common reasons that people seek therapy are…

  • Feeling overwhelmed by life problems
  • Depression, anxiety, anger or another emotion seem to be too difficult to cope with
  • Figuring out how to manage a major life decision
  • Concern over trouble with a major relationship
  • Difficulty coping with a serious illness in yourself, or in a family member or friend
  • An extremely stressful job
  • You simply don’t know what to do, or where to turn for help

Remember, though you might not have clinical conditions or symptoms, therapy can help you learn more about yourself and others, and teach you how to control your life more effectively. This type of personal growth can help you overcome obstacles.

Am I crazy if I have “issues”?

Not at all. It is unfortunate that people use the term “crazy,” because it makes others feel badly when they are struggling with emotional, mental, or life problems. Almost everyone has had a time in their life when they have felt stressed by problems in at least one of these areas. When people are afraid of being judged or looked down on because they have “issues,” it often will keep them from trying to get the help they need.

Does coming to therapy mean I have to take medicine?

No. Psychologists do not prescribe medication – psychiatrists do. Once the therapy begins and the therapist and client get a better understanding of the client’s problems they will make the decision regarding medication together. Some clients are interested in medication and some are not. A therapist will not force anyone to take medication. However, if the therapist thinks that medication may be helpful to the client he or she may suggest it and refer the client to a local psychiatrist. Although it is quite rare, a therapist may strongly recommend a medication or a higher level of care if he or she is concerned about the client’s behavioral health symptoms and the effect they may have on the client’s safety or the safety of others in the client’s life.

How do I choose a therapist?

It is important to look for a therapist who is familiar with your area of concern. Go for a consultation and ask about the help you might need. Most therapists will offer a short, free, or low cost initial consultation. Make a point of clarifying any questions you have about the therapist during this first meeting. Ask the therapist about his or her training, and if he or she is experienced with your type of difficulty. Ask directly about fees, specialty areas, and how the therapist might go about helping someone with your problem.

After the consultation, ask yourself if the therapist seemed to pay attention to what you said. Does the therapist answer your questions? Does he or she seem at ease with you? Are you at ease with him or her? Your comfort level or fit with the therapist is very important because you may be sharing very personal information. Also keep in mind that most likely you will not feel completely comfortable right away because the therapist will be a “stranger” until you build a trusting relationship. Should you decide to begin therapy, in fairness to yourself and the therapist, try to at least attend three sessions before making a decision about whether to continue. After three sessions you will be able to make an informed decision about whether you are a good fit with the particular therapist.

Also keep in mind that it is important to seek therapy that is within your financial means, so that you will not have to quit before you would like to. One option is to try therapy at a community mental health center. Quality therapy can sometimes be found at community mental health centers and fees tend to be lower. The downside is that many community mental health centers have so many interested clients that they must maintain waiting lists and you may not be able to see a therapist right away.
Remember, paying a higher fee is no guarantee that you will receive the best help, but it is also true that your care is worth both the time and the financial investment.

What is the difference between a Psychiatrist/ Psychologist/ Clinical Social Worker/ Psychotherapist?

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor and the only professional that specializes in mental health care and can prescribe medications. Family doctors often prescribe medications for mental health concerns, but do not have specialized training or a background in treating mental disorders. Most psychiatrists focus on prescribing the appropriate medication to work best for that individual and their concerns. Some psychiatrists also provide therapy.

A psychologist is a professional who does therapy and has a graduate degree such as a doctorate of philosophy (Ph.D.) or a doctorate of psychology (Psy.D.). Psy.D. programs tend to focus on clinical practice and result in the therapist having thousands of hours of clinical experience prior to graduation. Psychologists receive specific training in diagnosis, psychological assessment, a wide variety of therapies, research and more. Ph.D. programs can focus on either clinical or research work. The amount of clinical experience a professional with a Ph.D. will gain often varies from program to program.

Clinical Social Workers typically have a Master’s degree in social work (M.S.W.) and carry the LCSW (Licensed Counselor of Social Work) designation if they are providing therapy. Most programs require this type of professional to go through thousands of hours of direct clinical experience with a focus on the principles of psychotherapy and social work.

The components of the Licensed Professional Counselor designation, which can supplement a professional’s educational degree, vary from state to state. Most are Master’s level professionals who have had thousands of hours of direct clinical experience.

There are a wealth of other professional designations and initials that follow professionals’ names. Most of these designate a specialty certification but not an educational degree.

What is a Psy.D.?

A Psy.D. is a Doctorate of Psychology. Psychologists can have a Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph.D.), a Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.), or a Psy.D. While all degrees share basic training structures for psychologists, Psy.D.’s are specific to psychologists, whereas Ph.D.’s and Ed.D.’s are also offered for other disciplines.

Can an individual and therapist have a relationship outside of therapy?

No. Therapy is a one-way street. The therapist knows a great deal about the patient but the patient does not know intimate details about the therapist. Because of this, the balance of power or influence is not equal and this could result in abuse or deception.

This does not mean that one cannot have any contact with the therapist outside of the therapy situation. This is especially true in small towns where social contact may be inevitable. However, it is generally not a good idea to seek therapy from someone you know personally or with whom you may have another relationship (e.g., business interest, friendship). In fact, the ethics of most professions prohibit their members from engaging in these types of relationships with their clients.

Am I ready for therapy?

Therapy is a commitment to improving your current situation. It is a process of learning about yourself and creating positive change. Therapy provides a space to explore who you are and what you do that may not be beneficial to you. Therapy provides the support to identify various aspects of yourself so that you can make the changes necessary to lead a more satisfying life.

Consider the following statements to see if you are ready for therapy. 

  1. I want to take responsibility for making changes in my life.
  2. I will accept assistance in making these changes.
  3. I am willing to make a commitment to the therapeutic process.
  4. I will make time in my life for therapy on a regular basis.

If you agree with any of these statements, then you are ready to begin therapy. If you disagree with any of these statements, perhaps you are not sure if you are ready for therapy. If you are unsure or just want more information prior to making a decision, contact me and we can discuss it further. Perhaps you already know that you are not ready at this time. Either way, I hope to be available if and when you decide that you are ready.