How can psychotherapy help you?

People consider therapy and counselling for a variety of reasons. These may include struggles such as depression, relationship problems or following life changing events such as health issues or divorce.

It's important to know that psychotherapy is not a panacea for all problems, however there is a lot of good research about how it can help. A psychotherapist would suggest that it can offer you insight into yourself, a greater awareness of the different aspects of what you're feeling and what's happening in you. This will give you more choices and make you feel more connected with yourself which in turn, allows you to be more connected with other people.

If you are considering therapy, you might be interested to know that recent studies have been asking people who are having therapy what they have found helpful and unhelpful about the experience.

The therapist

As a general principal when discussing difficult feelings, many people find it very useful to speak to someone trustworthy and non-judgmental who is outside the family.

According to one study (1), the qualities that clients find helpful in a therapist include warmth, honesty, genuineness, patience and trustworthiness. The findings suggest that if these things are available, it provides an opportunity for the person to express them self and to look at their feelings openly.

The research (2) also found that people benefit from regular personal contact with the therapist and that this gives them a sense of feeling supported and understood.

The therapy

In a 2015 study (3), some of the main areas that were highlighted as helpful were:

  • Being able to focus on yourself in a private, confidential space.
  • The opportunity to consider ways of resolving specific problems for example, relationship issues with family members and work colleagues.
  • The opportunity to focus on difficult feelings in a safe space. This included being able to acknowledge and name feelings such as fear, anxiety, grief, anger, sadness and depression.
  • Participants felt that they could not be open about this type of feeling in their lives outside. Being able to talk about them brought great relief and a renewed capacity to cope.
  • The sessions provided the opportunity for people to unburden themselves - the relief of getting things off their chest in a safe space.

Some of these things take time and the process isn't always smooth or ideal. In fact this study also looks at the things participants found unhelpful. One person said that crying in a session made them feel out of control, while another stated that something that the counsellor said did not fit for them.

So how can therapy help?

The participants of these studies give an idea of how the therapist has provided them with a framework that has enabled them to think about, express and process the emotions and feelings that they have been faced with. When therapy has been helpful it often means that the relationship with the therapist has allowed that person to feel supported.

A psychotherapist would often suggest that the answer to the question, 'How can therapy help?' be different for each person. It will depend on what the person is looking for and struggling with. Asking for help from a therapist is a big step: it involves uncertainty - about the process and finding the right person, hoping for something different and better. One thing is certain however, if you don't try it, you will never know how therapy might help you. 

1. MacCormack et al (2001). Someone who cares: a qualitative investigation of cancer patients' experience of psychotherapy. Psycho-Oncology, 10 52 - 65

2. Timulak, L. (2007). Identifying core categories of client-identified impact of helpful events in psychotherapy: a qualitative meta-analysis. Psychotherapy research, 17, 305-314

3. Morgan, C. and Cooper, M (2015) Helpful and unhelpful aspects of counselling following breast cancer: a qualitative analysis of post-session Helpful Aspects of therapy forms. British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, September 2015; 15 (3).

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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