How Therapy Works

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There are many treatment alternatives. The choice depends on your preferences and needs. Some of the alternatives are individual psychotherapy, family counseling, group counseling and self-help groups. Medication may be prescribed by a physician. hospitalization, long-term residential care, and day-treatment centers are options that might be recommended in severe cases. These alternatives are described below.

Individual, Private Psychotherapy

Individual therapy works through the interaction of two people – you and the mental health professional. Once you’ve selected a therapist, it is important that you work with the professional in an atmosphere of trust so that you can work together.

At the beginning of therapy, you and the mental health professional will talk about what you want to accomplish in therapy, set goals and discuss treatment approaches.

Your role in therapy is to make yourself fully known to the mental health professional by revealing your feelings, attitudes and experiences, mainly through talking.

The role of the mental health professional is first to help you express yourself and then to talk about, define and help you to resolve personal problems that are too difficult for you. The professional acts as your mirror, allowing you to see the aspects of yourself that you couldn’t otherwise see, pointing out new perspectives to your problems.

Therapy should be a rewarding experience. It’s an opportunity to learn about yourself. Therapy can be painful – especially at first when things may seem to get worse before they get better. Although you want immediate relief, realize that it took time for your problems to develop, and it may also take time for you to feel better.

You may experience times when you will be resistant to dealing with feelings and problems that are painful. You should share these feelings with your mental health professional who will help you cope with the demands of therapy.

While in therapy, if you believe that the mental health professional’s interpretation of what you have said is wrong, you should discuss that interpretation. This dialogue is part of the therapy process, builds a better relationship with the mental health professional, and will be of benefit to you in the long run. As you go along, the two of you will want to review your progress towards your goals. If you are not satisfied with your progress, you may want to try another approach, re-evaluate the goals, seek a second opinion, change to another professional, or discontinue therapy.

As therapy progresses, you should grow from dependence on the therapist’s help toward being able to solve your problems on your own. Therapy that is working helps you manage your life and emotions better. Therapy should not foster your dependence on the mental health professional – it should encourage self-reliance.

 

If Medication Is Recommended

Your family doctor or mental health professional may suggest medication as part of treatment. You and your family should ask questions of the prescribing physician:

  • Why medication?
  • What type?
  • For how long?
  • How will this medication interact with other medications being taken?
  • What are possible adverse side effects?
  • Does this medication have addictive potential?
  • What will happen if medication is not taken?
  • Are there dietary restrictions?

Medication can be very beneficial for many clients but it should be used only when necessary. Under California law, you have the right to refuse medication unless at a hearing held in the hospital you are judged to lack capacity to give informed consent.

Family Therapy or Counseling

Family therapy is a way for couples, or the entire family, to talk about the shared problems and stress that each family may be experiencing. It can be beneficial for the family to develop new methods of communicating, problem solving and supporting each other.

Self-Help Groups

Self-help groups are active in each community. Group members meet to share similar issues and often find help through peer support that a professional or outsider cannot provide. Groups meet on a variety of topics. Contact your local Mental Health Association for referral to local groups.

Other Types of Treatment

There are many other types of treatment that may be effective for solving particular problems. These may include: behavioral therapy, hypnosis therapy, biofeedback, cognitive therapy, gestalt therapy, psychoanalysis, play therapy, and art and music therapy. Many therapies require special training, certification, or licensure. Be sure to ask mental health professionals which approach they are using. Their licenses and/or certification should be posted in their offices. It is important to choose a therapist and a treatment mode in which you have confidence.

Hospitalization

If, in the process of therapy, the mental health professional recommends hospital care, you and your family should ask questions.

  • Why hospitalization?
  • What are the benefits?
  • What will happen to me in the hospital?
  • What facilities are suggested?
  • Where can I get information on these facilities?
  • How long will hospitalization last?
  • How much will it cost? Will insurance cover the costs involved?

If I decide against hospitalization, what may happen? Admitting yourself or your loved ore to a hospital is a decision that deserves careful consideration. Less intensive and less restrictive alternatives should be explored first. While hospital care can be beneficial for some clients, it is sometimes overused and is very costly. You may want to take the time to consult another professional
Under certain circumstances an individual may be hospitalized involuntarily. This process is explained in Crisis/emergency procedures.

Evaluating Therapy

As you progress in therapy, you should stop every once in a while and take stock, both by yourself and with your mental health professional. Think about the following questions:

  • Do you feel the mental health professional is genuinely concerned about you?
  • Do you feel comfortable raising any issue?
  • Is the professional available to you when you’re in crisis?
  • If you disagree with the mental health professional does he/she listen to you?
  • Do you feel good about these interactions?
  • Is your professional working to help you learn to solve problems for yourself?
  • Do you feel that the mental health professional recognizes your unique cultural background and specific needs?

If you find yourself saying “no” more often than “yes,” then it may be time to consider seeing someone else for one session to get a second opinion about some of your concerns.

Give therapy a chance to work. Just going once or twice may give you a temporary sense of well-being. Or you may feel that no progress is being made. in either case, you should not rush to stop therapy.

When to Stop Therapy

You know when you’re ready to stop therapy when most of the following things are true. You:

  • Feel in control of life again.
  • Understand those features of your emotions, behavior and personality that led to the problems for which you sought help.
  • Have learned more effective means of dealing with these aspects of yourself.
  • Can handle disappointments and usually feel hopeful.
  • Feel you have enough good tools from therapy to handle future problems.
  • Feel that your relationships are working.

Agree with the therapist that you’re ready to conclude therapy.

You should discuss stopping therapy with your mental health professional in advance. Terminating abruptly may prevent you from getting the most out of therapy. You may also want to arrange an “open-door policy” with your mental health professional so that if you are in crisis or need help again, you are able to return for support. If medication has been prescribed, be sure to continue it for as long as your physician has directed.

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