Updated: Nov 18, 2019
Although people's ideas of what mental healthcare services are or should be can vary quite a bit, the actual experience of going to therapy for the first time does NOT have to be overly confusing or mysterious.
What is Psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy originates from the Greek words "psyche," meaning the human soul, mind or spirit and "logia," meaning the study of and indicates a scientific discipline that strives to understand human experiences. In the early stages of psychology as an academic discipline, human experience was understood primarily through more philosophical and spiritual terms like soul, mind and spirit. Since the advent of modern science, psychology has continued in its quest to increase our understanding of the human experience, but has since transitioned to relying most heavily on using the scientific method to study the connection between our bodies, especially our brains and other parts of our nervous systems, and our experiences. This transition has led to major advances in how we understand ideas like "mental health" and how successful and humane we are in providing care for people who are experiencing challenges, suffering and/or pain that cannot always be seen or understood from a strictly medical or biological model of healthcare. As it exists today, clinical or applied psychology strives to treat mental health issues using holistic approaches that acknowledge biological factors (e.g. illness, biochemistry and epigenetics) that impact human health and well-being as well as psychological (e.g. thoughts, feelings and behaviors), social (e.g. friends, intimate partners and family) and contextual factors (e.g. environment, culture, politics and society). Psychotherapy approaches and treatments are developed based on research and include multiple styles or approaches that place special emphasis on aspects of mental health and healing. Each style or approach has made a valuable contribution to mental healthcare and some styles or approaches work better for certain issues and/or types of patients. Therapy patients should work with their therapist to understand and select the type of treatment that will work best for them.
What type of therapy is right for me?
As with other healthcare professions and academic disciplines, applied psychology is both an art (practice) and a science (research) that requires mental health clinicians to practice good bedside manner (i.e. strong therapeutic alliance or relationship) and provide accurate diagnosis and effective treatment (clinical skills or therapeutic approach) to patients. As with other healthcare providers, therapy patients often need help with identifying (diagnosis) the underlying issues causing the symptoms or problems that they experience. The competent psychotherapist works with patients to recognize and understand these underlying issues as well as select appropriate evidence-based treatments. Oftentimes, there are multiple valid and effective ways for healthcare providers to diagnose and treat particular health issues and at times, therapists may also try more than one approach, seek out consultation from a trusted colleague and/or refer patients for additional or alternative specialized mental health services or treatments based on patient needs. As a therapy patient, you may have some level of familiarity with and understanding of various types of mental health-related issues and treatments; however, just as with visiting your physician, you will never be expected to act as your own mental health expert and can trust that your psychotherapist has the skills, training and expertise needed to help you to understand what's wrong as well as utilize the best forms of treatment available for those issues. As with any form of healthcare, patients are entitled to have their healthcare provider explain the treatment plan and approaches that are being using and request the use of alternative therapeutic approaches or interventions, especially if they feel like the particular approach(es) being used are not be a good fit.