What Is Psychotherapy?

Adapted with Permission From Creating A Different Future, a booklet published by AMHA Massachusetts and The Consortium For Psychotherapy

Revised: November 27, 2013

Psychotherapy is a process of discovery - - a learning process. In this process, you and your therapist work together to discover what events, situations, and relationships in your current life or earlier life are leaving you with uncomfortable feelings or ways of dealing with your world. You work toward acquiring new, effective, helpful ways of understanding your experiences and the events in your life, your responses to them, and the actions you take. In this way your actions will become less automatic and based more on  understanding and choice. Your partner, your child or your entire family might participate in the processes of discovery, learning, and change that are characteristic of psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is an unfolding process. It begins by creating the private and confidential context in which it can do its job. Confidentiality is essential. The work involved in psychotherapy depends on your needs and desires. In some cases the work is to uncover experiences of the past that are brought to the surface by current events, situations, and relationships. This allows present circumstances to be understood and dealt with in a different way. In the course of this exploring painful or uncomfortable symptoms such as persistent symptoms of depression, our fearfulness and unwanted habits and thoughts may decrease in intensity and frequency. Ways of responding and acting which have been ineffective can also be changed.

Psychotherapy looks at the whole human being and at the many complex factors that have contributed to making every person unique. Symptoms such as anxiety or depression, are viewed not just as a problem, but also as a sign that something is hurting inside that some aspect of the person needs attention,

Psychotherapy assumes that there are aspects of our lives of which we are not fully aware. Our thoughts, feelings, behaviors,  dreams, and our reactions to people and events are based on hidden assumptions, expectations, and on memories of earlier events. Our lack of awareness, lack of skill and choice, and many of our old wounds limit much of our untapped creative energy. Psychotherapy affords an opportunity to uncover, describe, explore, learn about, and appreciate our perceptions, our hidden assumptions, the ways we have adapted to life -- as well as how all these have evolved.

In cases in which a couple or family work together, the therapist may assume an educational stance.  Psychotherapy can facilitate a more effective understanding of the current relationships, along with a fuller understanding of what you and the others may feel, say, and do in those relationships. This work can help you and the partner or family member resolve conflicts more productively and easily. If children are involved, it may help them grow with less pain and difficulty. In a partnership, greater intimacy can be created and maintained.

Psychotherapy takes place in the context of a solid, trustworthy working relationship between the client and the therapist. It helps create the context, the insight, and under standing, the vision, and the support within which durable growth and desirable change can take place. Psychotherapy is not advice giving, but it can involve giving advice. It empowers the client to come to useful personal understanding, to make clearer choices, and to a more achieve lasting independence,

As we become more aware and more appreciative of what we are like, we can resolve or come to terms with our problems and our reactions to people and external events. We feel in better possession of ourselves and more able to make positive and life-affirming decisions. Creative energies no longer need to be spent on keeping old troubles in control, and there is more energy for love, work and play. We can see past or present events and people more clearly, and we may come to know more about who we are independent of other people’s definitions. Some have referred to the psychotherapy experience as the awakening of aspects of the inner self which have been hidden. Others may describe psychotherapy as education, problem solving, changing our environment and minds.

In the process of psychotherapy, you can see beneath the surface and integrate intellectual understanding with your emotional experiences. The confidential psychotherapy sessions encourage your thoughts and emotional experiences to flow freely. In this free-flowing process, a variety of thoughts and feelings emerge; they create a window through which you can understand your inner processes more directly. You and your therapist jointly examine these moment-to-moment experiences in a non-judgmental manner that provides new understanding about your experience of the world. The process gradually becomes a part of your internal experience and goes with you after therapy is completed.