What is therapy really?

Therapy is all about you. Daunting, right?

Yes, but it’s also your precious time dedicated to struggles you feel stuck with.

Sure, the internet might give you answers to work with, but it doesn’t listen to you and analyse you like a real person can. It doesn’t comment on the things you say, and it doesn’t experience the unconscious behaviours you’re expressing right now. A therapist is trained to do all this.

More specifically, therapy is the meeting of a therapist and client in a safe and confidential environment with the goal of resolving problematic beliefs, behaviours, feelings, relationship issues, or negative physical responses. Friends, family, partners or others may not know how to begin alleviating your painful situation, whatever it may be, or you might be completely alone with it, and that’s where a knowledgeable professional can help.

Misconceptions about therapy

A common prejudice is: “therapy is for crazy people”.

We can’t emphasise enough how big a misconception this is. First, using the term ‘crazy’ is offensive to all people suffering serious mental health conditions, and it contributes to the stigma attached to it, making it even harder to seek help.

Second, most people who seek therapy are normal people who experience a rough patch in life. You can think about help-seeking as a healthy coping mechanism to deal with difficult situations. Ignoring pain or chaos can have a real knock-on effect on your life, and sometimes therapy is the best way to get through this. Or perhaps you feel completely on your own, stuck or “hopeless” in your situation. Maybe you don’t want to burden your pain on others, or you feel everything’s too unbearable altogether for it to be resolved. This is not ‘crazy’ - it’s life being difficult. Therapists exist to treat this (and of course all the long-term mental health conditions too).

Another misconception about therapy is that it’s going to “alleviate your pain and solve your problems quickly”.

Therapy is often not a quick-fix. Therapy can be uncomfortable, particularly if you don’t like to talk about yourself. The therapist is there to guide you with your internal journey, but they need your dedication and effort to look your innermost problems in the eyes, and to dive right through them. It’s a hugely brave thing to do, but the benefits you’ll reap once you’re on the ‘other side’ of your struggles will be massive and long-lasting.

“Psychologists can see right through you” is something not only therapists, but also psychology graduates, can attest to hearing frequently.

No, no, and no. You might think therapists have all the answers, and you could be either waiting for or dreading the moment they’ll tear your psyche open and reveal the root cause of all your problems. Yes, they’re experts in what they do, but they’re not psychic mind readers. In most cases, you’ll be undergoing an internal process where your talking about your problems is part of getting better AND giving the conversation between yourself and the therapist a helpful direction.

There are many types of therapies, however, and some emphasise your own talking more than others who emphasise the therapist’s analyses or suggestions more. The type of therapy that works best for a person depends on the psychological issues and also what works best for the struggling individual. There’s no perfect solution that’s suitable for all people.

Therapy versus counselling

On PlusGuidance, we use the terms ‘therapy’ and ‘counselling’ interchangeably. We do this because the practitioners on our platform classify themselves differently, and that’s because there are slight differences between them.

Counselling

Counselling is one or series of conversations between a counsellor and a client. It’s sometimes referred to as “talk therapy” and addresses specific problems experienced today in a solutions-focused way. The conversations are usually talked about in the present tense and don’t go too deep into the past as a way of dealing with current problems. Counsellors don’t create the solutions for the client - they have more of a co-creating role where they mirror back the responses from the client to reach mutual conclusions about the best steps to take for the client.

Therapy

Psychotherapy - in short: therapy - is also one to many conversation sessions, but with a psychotherapist instead. The approach here is to dig deeper into the client’s problems than counselling does. General life patterns, the past, and the relation between things in the client’s life may all be considered and dealt with as part of the psychological healing process. Therapy deals with current issues but also more permanent issues experienced persistently by the client. Sometimes, medication is prescribed in conjunction with having a treatment plan (counsellors don’t prescribe medication).

Despite the differences between the two, it can sometimes be hard to distinguish them because there are many overlaps between therapists’ and counsellors’ techniques. However, an understanding of these basic differences will make it easier to choose an appropriate practitioner for the client in need of the best possible help.

Do I need therapy?

It’s not easy to know if you need therapy or not. The mind is always elusive and perhaps you stick to the thought that you can do this on your own. “I’m strong enough to deal with this”, “if others have gone through this alone, I can too”, “they’re going to think I’m crazy if they find out” and “therapy just isn’t for me” are just some of the beliefs many people in need of therapy stick to.

Thinking these things are not necessarily signs you definitely need therapy, but they are indicators you know external help could be useful, but think that seeing it through will be bad.

People who choose to have therapy have very different reasons for following through with it. They don’t always have a diagnosable mental illness. Often, things have been building up inside them until a saturation point that prompts them to seek help.

Sometimes, others have suggested therapy might be the way to go, because they are worried about you. Someone could choose therapy because they know they’re not reacting rationally to something and instinctively knows it needs to be addressed. Maybe a person survived a rough patch in life, be well aware of the seriousness of it, still be okay psychologically, but know that they need to process it properly to prevent a breakdown later on. Someone could seek help if they just can’t figure out an answer to their problems and feel they’re banging their head against a wall. Or they might feel they’re in such pain, chaos or confusion that someone else needs to help them out of it.

There are so many reasons that people seek help from therapists, and these are just a few of them.

If you believe you might possibly need help, you can ask for a consultation with many of the therapists here on PlusGuidance - or elsewhere - to get your questions answered.

What can I expect in therapy?

Therapy is not an overnight solution to psychological issues. It takes your dedication and commitment to cooperate with the therapist’s methods and suggestions before you can reach a point of equilibrium in your life. The client is an active participant in therapy, and improvement comes only with their own efforts to cooperate with the therapist.

It’s hard to predict how long it will take someone to get to a better state in life, but many people find that 3-4 months of regular sessions are enough to get better. It could also just be a matter of a few weeks or it could be years. It all depends on the severity of your condition and your commitment to work on it.

If you're unsure about therapy, you can search for a therapist and request a 15-minute free first session. What have you got to lose?

What is your current challenge?