1) How does psychotherapy heal? Our minds, bodies and souls work in concert to both protect us from pain (i.e. survive) and to try and provide us with opportunities to grow. We generally have to feel safe and secure in order to feel the space to grow. For example, if we are unfortunate enough to experience a broken bone (physical trauma), our bodies will shut down to some extent so that our energy can go to that area and “repair” the structure. This can occur from being unconscious (really shutting down to allow us to relax and conserve our energy) to having to be inactive for awhile to allow reparative, new cellular growth. It’s very similar psychologically. If we have some psychic trauma in our past (anything from abuse to being shamed), our defenses will attempt to protect us from any further breeches. The sometimes challenging difference between the physical and the psychological is you can often “see” the changes in the former. You know when you can begin to put weight back on the broken bone or walk again. However, often a psychological trauma is more complex and abstract. Regaining trust with the world and others, sometimes is a bit more challenging.
2) How long does psychotherapy take? Obviously this has a lot to do with what your goals are. But also how motivated one is and, perhaps according to some research, your relationship with your therapist. Therefore, whatever the therapist’s “orientation” is, how safe and comfortable you feel with your therapist is often a strong indicator of how successful it will be (and therefore how long it will take).
3) Are the sessions really confidential? Often if you’re paying for your therapy with insurance, you may be more vulnerable to your mental health being part of your permanent record. Furthermore, insurance companies sometimes have clauses to look at therapist records (albeit anonymously) to be sure that they are following certain protocol for receiving payment. Since I do not personally take insurance, you have some added control over how much disclosure you would like to make yourself open to (i.e. if you submit requested Superbills).
4) Is it appropriate for me to see a therapist for both individual therapy and to bring my partner, spouse or family member in for couples or family therapy? This is often a decision made independently between you and your therapist. If you have an on-going relationship with your therapist and want to bring your partner in for couples therapy, it may be difficult for your partner knowing that you have an established relationship already with the therapist. Often it can be “cleaner” if you work with someone individually and another clinician for couples therapy.
5) Any suggestions on how to use my time in therapy wisely? One of the most helpful ways to utilize your time is to be as open and frank as possible. The more you can move from your “social self” to being open, the more your therapist – and you – can deal with what is really going on. For most of us, we know the language of social conformity, but at the heart of growth and self-discovery is honestly looking at ourselves. Therein lies the challenge for many of us in therapy, we both desire to change and to remain the same.