When you first enter psychotherapy, you may not know what to expect. Perhaps you think that if you tell the therapist about your life stresses and worries, she will tell you what to do. Most people don’t realize that psychologists aren’t like doctors and don’t “cure” you of unhappiness. Psychologists can provide a diagnosis for your mental health problems and “prescribe” interventions to address them. But they do not “cure” you in the way that a pill or surgery takes away your symptoms. You are the one who actually has to be willing to feel new feelings, think new thoughts, or try new behaviors. So, you aren’t just a passive “patient” in psychotherapy, but an active participant.
While therapy cannot remove all of your distress, it can potentially help you to make positive changes in your life that lead to greater life satisfaction and self-esteem:
Psychotherapy can help you in the following ways:
- To view your problems in more hopeful or realistic ways
- To understand the roots of distress in childhood learning, biology, relationships, etc.
- To experience and express difficult emotions, so as to increase self-awareness
- To speak up for yourself and set healthier boundaries with others
- To face and try to solve problems, rather than avoiding them
- To make deliberate choices about how to act, rather than reacting passively
- To focus your efforts and energy on what you can control and come to terms with what you cannot
- To live in the present and be less controlled by expectations or fears from the past
- To manage fear and anxiety so they don’t immobilize you
- To invest your time and energy in people and activities that add to your life satisfaction
- To cope more effectively with depression and anxiety
- To replace criticism and judgment of yourself with self-compassion
- To realistically assess your personal responsibility for events
- To tolerate the risk and uncertainty that are inherent in life
- To learn healthier habits and improve motivation and self-control in a non-punitive way
- To be vulnerable and build closeness and trust with others
- To understand your internal & external triggers for negative reactions or behaviors
- To cope better with or learn to regulate difficult emotions or physical pain
- To replace shame and guilt with self-forgiveness and accountability
- To learn how to be on your own side – encouraging and guiding yourself
Despite these potential benefits, therapists are not allowed to guarantee results because each person and situation is different. For therapy to succeed, you should make a commitment to attend sessions regularly (typically once a week), do homework exercises (if prescribed by the therapist), be willing to tolerate distress and uncertainty, remember painful memories, and look deeply inside yourself. You should be willing to speak up if the therapist does not seem to understand your problem, seems inattentive or judgmental, or suggests an approach that won’t work for you. If speaking up doesn’t work, you may want to find somebody who is a better fit for you. Approaching therapy with honesty, commitment, and courage can maximize your chances of success.
The end result of therapy is that you don’t need the therapist anymore because you have the skills, knowledge, and confidence to deal with life’s challenges on your own. Although you may still be distressed at times, you are less likely to feel, overwhelmed and helpless, or want to run away from your problems. You may be able to better understand and accept your strengths and weaknesses, respect and collaborate with others, and continue learning and growing so as to live a fuller and more meaningful life.
Indeed, good psychotherapy can be the best investment you will ever make!