If you’re you wondering if psychotherapy is for you, you’ve come to the right place. Here are a few questions that I frequently receive from clients as well as my answers to them.
Most people will experience periods in their lives when they feel significant distress characterized by worry, anger, sadness, etc. These difficult emotions are often resolved spontaneously through the support of friends and family or when people find resources within themselves that they perhaps did not even know they possessed prior to the difficulty.
There are times, however, when these feelings aren’t so readily resolved; they persist despite support and attempts to maintain a healthier diet, routine, and work/life balance. In such cases, more serious mood disorders and a general diminished ability to function may occur, and seeking professional help may indeed be recommended.
A general rule of thumb would be to determine by self-assessment and feedback from trusted friends and family whether one’s symptoms and functioning are hurting their interpersonal relationships or causing difficulties in their work. The more important question is perhaps whether one can use treatment. Many people have greatly benefited from treatment simply by obtaining advice or counsel regarding day-to-day difficulties, which would often prevent more intensive distress.
Essentially, psychotherapy is a conversation, a dialogue. This conversation focuses on people’s experience of distress and particularly how this distress manifests itself in their relationships with others, their experience of self, their occupation, and their ability to care for themselves and for others. During psychotherapy, a person’s feelings of anxiety, depression, anger, etc. are explored in terms of their meaningfulness in the context of the person’s history and present circumstances. The therapist may use a number of different therapeutic techniques, including:
These therapies help a person build confidence and manage their feelings more effectively, ultimately to live their life in a healthier and more satisfying manner. In some cases, people may seek therapy because they feel “empty” or that their life has lost the sense of meaning and purpose that they may have always taken for granted. It is not uncommon, for example, to hear a married couple speak of having “drifted apart” or no longer feeling loved and loving.
There are various definitions of psychotherapy, which you can find online. You can also consult the various resources I have made available; they may provide some insight as to the differences between the various psychotherapeutic techniques and other information about psychotherapy.
Considerable evidence supports the effectiveness of psychotherapy in treating anxiety and depression. It has also been shown to support or augment the effectiveness of medication in treating major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other serious mental illnesses. Only physicians are licensed to advise a patient with regard to medication and to prescribe medication. If you are uncertain which treatment you might require or prefer, it would be prudent to discuss your questions with your family physician, who might indeed suggest you try psychotherapy first or in addition to medication. In fact, the combination of medication and psychotherapy has been shown to be effective and, in some cases, more so than treatment with medication alone.
Different types of professionals practice psychotherapy. For example, many psychiatrists will provide psychotherapy alone or in addition to the medication they prescribe. Various counsellors and therapists with undergraduate or graduate degrees also offer a variety of psychotherapeutic options. They will often concentrate their expertise in a particular area, such as marriage and family therapy, grief counselling, and trauma debriefing, or specialize in a particular therapeutic approach, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy, meditation, etc. Psychologists must earn a doctorate (PhD, PsyD, EdD) in order to practice, which may enhance their ability to assess the effectiveness of particular treatments with particular patients.
In the end, many professionals provide psychotherapy. The differences between them are more attributable to their experience and to the quality of their relationships with their patients rather than to their professional designation. In fact, professionals with vastly different titles who specialize in particular types of psychotherapy may not be so readily distinguishable based solely on how they interact with their patients; but they may differ a great deal from one another with respect to the psychotherapeutic approach they recommend to their patients.
It is certainly understandable, indeed advisable, that patients assess for themselves the “fit” or “feel” they have with a therapist. If they are unsatisfied with the therapist’s understanding of the problem, recommendations, or ways of interaction, there are many other therapists from which to choose. Knowing where to start can be difficult, but recommendations from a trusted doctor or friend can be quite helpful.
In Ontario, treatments provided by qualified physicians are covered by Ontario Health Insurance (OHIP.) Psychologists’ clinical services are generally covered by third-party insurers, but insurance companies differ a great deal with respect to the extent of their coverage (number of sessions, rate per session, total amount covered, etc.) Some insurance companies require a physician’s referral in order for consultation fees to be reimbursed, but many don’t. You should speak to your insurance company ahead of time in order to clarify these issues. Social Work services are sometimes covered by insurance companies. As well, the services of Registered Psychotherapists in the province of Ontario may be covered by some insurance companies. Currently, however, there is limited coverage available for services of counsellors and therapists without a PhD or Master of Social Work (MSW.)