Doing Therapy

Carolyn Phelps, Ph.D

February 10, 2014

Well, last night we righted the wrong of not talking about what “Doing Therapy” is actually like. So let’s start from the top.

When do you know if you should seek therapy or counseling? When your ability to function in your life is significantly below what it has been or what you would like it to be, when you find yourself being more miserable than content, when you are getting the same feedback from many people about concerns they have about you, if you’re having problems with depression and anxiety or any other problems  that are ongoing and persistent and are accompanied by difficulty sleeping, poor appetite or overeating, problems in concentrating, lowered sex drive, poor energy or feeling agitated.

How do you find a therapist? Word of mouth is one way. If you know friends who feel they have benefited from therapy, ask them who they go to or who they have been to in the same way that you would ask somebody about seeing a good dentist. You can also call clinics for an appointment and, when doing so, indicate to them what your primary problem is and that you would like to see somebody who specializes in your primary problem. You can ask about the experience level of the therapist whom you will be seeing. If they don’t have a lot of experience, ask if they are supervised by somebody and, if so, what is the supervisor’s level of experience.

What is the First session like? The first session is often more helpful for the therapist than the client because it is the therapist’s opportunity to get to know you and to get to know about the problems that you’re having. The therapist is likely to ask you a lot of questions, so you don’t have to worry about “what should I say;” it’s the therapist’s job to help you with that, in part, by asking you questions. Mostly, these are questions that you  easily know the answer to. New clients often fill out a new client questionnaire just like you do for any other health care appointment. New client questionnaires often ask about current problems as well as any past psychological care that you have had, and your family history of mental illness or psychological problems. At the end of the first session, your therapist should give you some feedback about what the therapist thinks your problems are and how best to treat those problems including the frequency of treatment. Many people start out at once a week and decrease session frequency as their symptoms improve and problems decrease. Although different people with different problems will be involved in any one episode of therapy for varying periods of time, therapy, in fact, is not once a week for the rest of your life till either you or your therapist moves away or dies.

The purpose of therapy is to help you learn new coping skills, to learn new ways of managing feelings, to learn new ways of coping with stress and distress in your life, and to apply those skills. Research indicates that clients are most likely to improve when therapists give homework (between session assignments) to the  client. Of course, you actually need to do the homework that you’re given. It’s the best kind of homework that you will ever do in your life because it’s all about you and helping you to be the person you deserve to be!

Danielle from Duluth called to ask what is the difference between therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists. Therapists do therapy or counseling. They do not prescribe medications and they do not do psychological testing. Psychologists do therapy and conduct psychological evaluations. Psychiatrists are able to do therapy and, because they’re medical doctors, are able to prescribe medications for mental illness. They do not do psychological evaluations.

SO the take home message is: Anytime we seek to make changes in our life, we have to summon up the courage that lives in our belly. Making change is hard and sometimes, in the beginning, causes us to stress because it’s new and anything new requires practice and time to learn. But, as one client once said to me, the only thing I’m more afraid of than changing is staying the same. Well said!

I hope you have a good week and join us next week when we’ll be talking with two psychiatrists about “MEDICATIONS” and their role in treating mental illness.

Spread Joy

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