What is Psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy is a treatment process that occurs between a therapist and a patient who meet for the purpose of having a relationship where exploring the patient’s life and mind is the primary activity. The goal is often a significant reduction of the patient’s symptoms and an overall improvement in their lives. Psychotherapy does not directly teach you or tell you what to do to resolve your problems. Psychotherapy is a collaborative meeting of two minds.
The therapist’s mind (and life) is not perfect, but he should have more experience and training than the patient in thinking about emotional problems and enabling others to reflect on their own experience in novel and creative ways. The therapist has knowledge, but therapy is not like school. The therapist is guide, facilitator, analyst, and warm supporter of the patient.
The patient’s mind is not perfect either. She enters therapy because life’s problems have become too overwhelming to handle alone. She speaks of her life and her feelings and her relationships. This expression to an empathic listener helps in itself – it feels good to be “gotten” by someone. But this is not enough. The patient wants more.
So does the therapist: he has trained to think creatively about what the patient is saying, and respond in ways that deepen the conversation and create insight into the problem that was not there before. Ideally, psychotherapy is both an intellectual process and also a deeply emotional one. If the patient finds the therapist to be trustworthy, a relationship of warm support and active analysis is established that tends to evolve and deepen over time.
I practice psychodynamic psychotherapy with children, adolescents and adults. The psychodynamic psychotherapist has an interest in how the patient’s history contributed to who the patient is today – their strengths and their problems. History is the blueprint that can tell us why a problem is occurring in the present. Developmental psychology (how a child develops psychologically) is central to the psychodynamic perspective. If we don’t fully grasp how a problem came to be, we won’t know how to treat it.
In a person’s development, painful experiences usually occur that leave an impression on emotions and behaviour many years later. It may be abuse, loss, neglect…. When this experience is unexpected and overwhelming we call this a traumatic experience. Traumatic experiences may be consciously forgotten about, but often leave an inner wound that produces symptoms and problems that lead the patient to seek psychotherapy. We may have forgotten our traumas, but our traumas rarely forget about us. The psychodynamic psychotherapist has a deep interest in the effects of trauma on a person, and how these historical wounds may be repeating themselves in the present. Exploring these painful experiences, past and present, can allow them to heal over time.