What is psychotherapy?

I find psychotherapy is best understood by describing the type of space it creates.

Therapy is confidential. It is unethical for a psychologist to disclose or obtain information about a client with consent from that client. This means that if your spouse/boss/parent/friend phones me to ask about you, I cannot even confirm that you are a client without your consent. This provides privacy regarding and sensitive information you may choose to disclose to your therapist. [There are a few exceptions to confidentiality – where a psychologist may disclose information without your consent. This includes: if you are at risk of harming yourself/others, report child abuse or a court subpoena.]

Therapy is also non-judgemental. This means that there is no judgement about whatever you think, feel or do. It is not a psychologist’s place to tell you what is right or wrong, or even what is good or bad for you. A psychologist is there is help you understand the problem you have and how to change things. Actually making changes happens on your own time and at your own discretion, without approval or disapproval of your therapist.

Therapy is both biased and objective! By biased, I mean that your therapist is on your side, 100% of the time. Your best interests are at the heart of therapy and trump everything else. Supporting you in becoming the best version of yourself is what therapy is all about. It still means that part of the job is helping you identify unhelpful behaviour, but the intention is to help you grow, NOT to break you down.

At the same time, because therapists are outsiders to your life, we can help give you some perspective on situations and interactions that aren’t going well in your life. Therapy often helps reframe things – i.e. look at things from a different view point – in order to gain better understanding. It’s like zooming out on a camera. This is hard to do when you are right in the thick of things.

Therapy is supportive and empathic. This is one hour out of your week where you invest in taking care of yourself. Your therapist will put special effort into really listening to what you say and offer care/compassion in response. It’s not only about change, but also about having someone really try understand what it’s like to be in your shoes and validate these experiences.

Therapy is a relationship. In the beginning, a lot of attention is given to building a bond or connection between you and me. This way, you will decide whether you could become comfortable with me and trust me enough to tell me about what goes on behind the scenes in your mind. It’s often less embarrassing/scary/exposing to talk to someone close to you/someone you know has your best interests at heart.

Therapy is a journey. It is not a quick-fix and won’t solve your problems overnight. It’s a process of getting to know yourself and learning to take good care of your needs.

Is therapy the right choice for me?

This is a great question to be asking yourself as it isn’t a once-size fits all thing that works for everybody all of the time.

Plainly put, psychotherapy is a commitment or investment in yourself. Like most things, it will cost you money, time and energy. Choosing therapy means choosing to put time, money and energy into improving your quality of life. Well-adjusted people often tend to be more successful and therapy is about working on the inside (you, your thoughts, feelings and behaviour) first in order to impact the outside (your environment: relationships, career, family, friends).

Therapy is also hard work sometimes and there can be uncomfortable or difficult patches in therapy. People have sometimes told me sessions can be draining. The light at the end of the tunnel is that it’s about the long term benefit and improvement in your life. It’s a bit like wanting to lose weight – you commit to going to the gym even when you don’t feel like it.

Treatment duration

This is a tricky question to answer, because every person/situation is different. I can often only give an idea of treatment duration once I’ve assessed your problem with you.
Here is a simple rule of thumb that may help – the longer you’ve had the problem and the more complex the problem’s involvement in your daily life, the longer the treatment duration. Now this is a broad generalisation, but if you have had the problem for years, it is unlikely to be resolved in a few weeks.

What to expect

The first few sessions are all about the assessment process.

There will be some forms for you to fill out and sign, so bring along your medical aid details.

The next step is about gathering information about the problem. I will check in with you about my understanding of the problem and give you some feedback about what I’m hearing. I will also ask about your background, so as to put the problem in the context of your life.

This means this phase involves a lot of questions. At this point, we will come to an agreement of what the problem is and decide on the best course of action. Nothing happens without your consent and understanding. You have a right to ask questions – the only silly question is the one unasked.

After the assessment phase, the therapeutic phase begins. The therapist takes more of a backseat and the client is encouraged to talk freely about whatever comes to mind – the therapist will direct as necessary. This can take some getting used to, so don’t worry if it feels a little odd at first.