Dr. Lawrence Genen
July 17, 2016
What is Psychotherapy?

When you think of psychotherapy, you might imagine lying on a couch with a psychiatrist sitting poker faced, scribbling notes and occasionally stroking their chin as they contemplate what you really mean by what you’re sharing.

Perhaps this view is informed by your own experience or more likely if you’ve never met with a psychiatrist or psychologist, based on how psychotherapy is portrayed in pop culture / media.  It’s a really basic yet absolutely fundamental question to address.

If you were to line up 100 surgeons, who received training throughout the US and ask them, “What is an appendectomy and when is it indicated?”, you should expect to get 100 similar answers.  This speaks to how standardized certain facets of medical care have become – and that’s great news for all of us.

However, if you were to ask 100 mental health professionals this seemingly simple question – What is Psychotherapy – you might get 100 different answers.  It’s critical that you ask the mental health professional you’re working with what psychotherapy means to them, as it will influence the manner in which they approach working with you.

Simply put – psychotherapy is about imagining the life you want to live, putting together a plan of action to get there and executing that plan.  Psychotherapy is about establishing goals for the highest quality of life you want to live.  Working to develop a new perspective and allowing that perspective to inform your choices and actions so that the outcomes match your stated goals.

For therapy to be effective you have to feel a genuine connection with your therapist and put in effort to establish goals and importantly work to change your perspective.  Psychotherapy does not simply start and end with a weekly session.  If you think that’s therapy – pick your favorite weekly TV show, and call that therapy (a little netflix binging is never a bad idea).

Therapy sessions are an opportunity to check-in, hold yourself accountable, revise your goals, share as much as you’re comfortable sharing to develop insight into why your life looks the way it does.  But for psychotherapy to be effective you have to put in effort to change how you’re looking at things.  That means it requires ongoing effort on your part.

In order to feel comfortable sharing intimate details of your life and the life you imagine, you absolutely have to feel comfortable with the professional you’re working with.  Too often people give up on therapy because they don’t connect with the person they’re working with.  You’ve probably had at least one bad date – but that doesn’t mean you give up on dating.

If you don’t connect with your therapist, don’t give up on therapy.  One of the benefits of our group is that we have multiple professionals.  While I think they’re all awesome, it’s important to remember you might really enjoy one person and their particular style or approach.  If after meeting with a professional in our group, you’d like to meet with someone else – no problem!

If you’ve never considered psychotherapy, I hope you will.  The world would be a much more peaceful, happier place if we all put in more effort to imagine the life we want to live and made the choices and took the action necessary to make it reality.

Check out this recent article in the WSJ.com that helps explain some of the core concepts of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

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