Q: What is the difference between counseling and psychotherapy?
A: The terms “counseling” and “psychotherapy” are often used interchangeably, although strictly speaking, they are not the same thing. “Counseling” generally refers to short-term treatment, usually to address a specific behavioral problem. In this sense, the one providing treatment is in the role of an advisor. “Psychotherapy,” on the otherhand, refers to the longer-term process of addressing chronic emotional or mental problems. As such, psychotherapy requires a higher level of skill than counseling. The term “psychotherapist” refers to a mental health professional who has received advanced training to practice psychotherapy. It may refer to psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and licensed professional counselors.
Q: How long will treatment take?
A: This is a very common question among those seeking help; unfortunately, it is impossible to answer. Some problems are relatively mild, and will respond to short-term therapy, while other problems are more deep-seated and will take longer to resolve. The process of psychotherapy has been compared to “psychological orthodontics,” in that, like braces on teeth, it often takes a bit longer than one would want, but it works.
Q: Is it true that only crazy people need therapy?
A: Absolutely not. While many of us were taught to believe that we had to be strong and depend only on ourselves, the truth is, we’re all human here, and let’s face it – sometimes we need a little help. That’s why there are such things as mechanics, doctors, plumbers, therapists, etc.
Q: If I seek therapy, won’t I just become dependent on my therapist?
A: The purpose of therapy is to empower the individual and help him or her achieve a greater degree of “emotional independence.” This includes the ability to be a reasonably happy person, regardless of one’s life circumstances. The empowered individual may be a deeply social person, but is not dependent on a therapist, lover, or even friends or family for his or her emotional well-being.
Q: How often should I come to therapy?
A: This may vary from person to person, but generally speaking, clients come to therapy once a week or once every two weeks. If a client is experiencing severe problems, it might be necessary to meet more than once a week, although this usually won’t be the case for long. If a person is in a life-threatening crisis, hospitalization may be required before outpatient therapy is appropriate. Many clients who start out coming once a week will “graduate” to once every two weeks, or even less.
Q: What can I expect from the process of therapy?
A: Again, there is not an easy answer to this one. Everyone’s experience in therapy is different. But I can tell you this: the main reason people seek the help of a therapist is because of their feelings. People are unhappy due to painful emotions like sadness, anger, fear, guilt, and even boredom. (Rarely do people complain about having too muchhappiness – and by “rarely,” I mean “never.”) So at some point, the client in therapy is likely to talk about those painful feelings, and the reasons behind them. The ultimate goal is to find healing, so that one doesn’t have to spend the rest of his or her life suffering under the burden of old pain.
Another key aspect of therapy is developing healthy coping skills, so that, ideally, one is not continually accumulating more emotional pain in the course of daily life.