What is Therapy Anyway?
I often get asked “what is therapy anyway?” when I mention that I am a psychotherapist. There are many preconceived notions ranging from “do you just prescribe a bunch of pills?” to “so people come to your office, lay down on a chaise longue, and you analyze their dreams?”- or my personal favourite “can you read my mind?!?!?”. The answer is to all of the above is a resounding no (although I wish the latter option was feasible). While the concept of dream analysis has existed for centuries and was widely popularized in the 1900’s following Freud’s publication The Interpretation of Dreams, clinical counselling has since moved to more evidence-based schools of thought. In a nutshell, therapy is a process where a trained clinician facilitates the client’s journey to achieve their personal, relational, and mental health goals in a safe and ethical manner. This is done through exploration and the employment of relevant tools and techniques at a pace that is appropriate for the client.
It is important to highlight that the client has full agency in their therapeutic process.
Gone are the days where there is a marked hierarchy between the clinician and client, where the clinician is regarded as the all-knowing expert that dictates remedies without any client input. Most clinical practitioners adopt a client-centered approach, where the client is viewed as the expert in their own lives and the clinician is the objective professional that helps the client, in essence, ‘make sense of things’. Through years of education, clinical training, and professional development, clinicians are able to utilize different modalities to help clients reach their goals in safe manner. The attached image provides an excellent visual representation of what therapy is. Alternatively, the therapist can be viewed as the passenger in a car driven by the client. The client is in charge of operating the vehicle, while the therapist is the quiet passenger that has knowledge of the streets and roadways. To reach a destination (goal), the driver (client) can ask the passenger (therapist) for directions. Only then does the passenger share their knowledge and experience, and it is up to the driver to utilize this information or not. Notice that the client has full agency and control over the route they choose to take.
“But asking for help can be difficult!” – Absolutely. It takes a lot of strength to recognize that we need help, followed by courage to act on that need. Another issue that arises is the stigma about mental health. I have encountered many clients who are fearful of being labeled as “crazy” or “weak” for seeking mental health help. Seeking counselling and psychotherapy is not an indicator of weakness or insanity. On the contrary, it is a signifier of strength and courage since by seeking therapy we are choosing to take control of our lives to alter something that we are not comfortable with. Just like we go to our family physicians for remedies for our bodily ailments, we reach out to mental health practitioners for help with mental and psychological ailments. Mental health is part of overall health.
Therapy is voluntary. Without the client’s active participation and desire for change, no movement will occur. The notion of coming to therapy so that the therapist can “fix things” is simply inaccurate and unrealistic. Rather, based on the client’s request, the therapist presents various tools that the client can choose to utilize to elicit change in their lives. The therapist’s role is to gently guide the client and ensure their safety throughout this process. Along with being ready for change, finding a therapist with whom you are comfortable and share a strong therapeutic alliance is key to a successful therapeutic journey.
While this thrilling blogpost about the nature of therapy can go on forever, I will spare the readers (that’s you!) the agony and instead pass the torch on to everyone to continue the conversation. Please reach out with any questions, concerns, elaboration requests, or private consultations. Additionally, if there are other topics you would like me to post about in the blog, send me your recommendations. I can be confidentially reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (647) 493-2991. Until then, remember Jon Kabat-Zinn’s famous saying: “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf”. See you next Wednesday!