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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Paulsen, MA, LMFT, RPT-S

What is therapy?

Updated: Mar 25, 2022

“Think of your head as an unsafe neighborhood; don’t go there alone.”

― Augusten Burroughs, Dry

Contrary to what many people think, therapy does not involve lying on a couch (unless you want to) while the therapist sits where you can’t see them, takes secretive notes on their notepad, and says “Hmmm” and “How does that make you feel?” the entire time. Going to therapy does not mean you are “crazy”. In fact, most people who go to therapy are perfectly healthy and “normal” people dealing with the struggles of everyday life. Some people seek a therapist when they’re feeling down or depressed, when they’re feeling anxious, when they suffer the loss of a loved one, or when they are having relationship difficulties. Others seek out this resource during periods of adjustment or to process through past trauma. The truth is there are many reasons people find therapy to be helpful. It just depends on the particular needs of the individual.

Jennifer Lawrence, star of The Hunger Games and Silver Linings Playbook, went to therapy for social anxiety while she was growing gup. Mel Gibson admitted to seeking therapy in 2011 due to feeling depressed. Other celebrities who’ve been in therapy include the Kardashian Family, Demi Lovato, Halle Berry, and Tiger Woods. While the stigma of therapy seems to be slowly going away, some people still have a hard time admitting they need help and can’t “fix” something on their own.

Therapy is meant to help people work through struggles that are leading to problems in various areas of a person’s life. Whether it is a behavior that is causing problems, feelings they are experiencing, concerns they have, or any other issue in their life, therapy is designed to help people overcome those barriers. If you were to seek out therapy services, you would likely find yourself on a journey of self-discovery. Self-awareness creates enhanced personal understanding, which leads to inner peace and an acceptance of the other people in your life. Therapy can help you reach that point by providing the support needed to safely and openly communicate your needs in a confidential environment.

Therapy is all about you. Your therapist will ask what you are struggling with and what your ultimate goal is; this is how you will know therapy is “finished”. Once you have figured out your goals, you will plan the steps to reach them. While you work on these steps, your therapist will support you, encourage you, listen to you, give you appropriate feedback and suggestions, and sometimes even challenge you. The Common Factors Model of therapy has shown that up to 40 percent of the therapeutic outcome has to do with the relationship between the therapist and the client. If you don’t feel like you are connecting with your therapist, it is perfectly acceptable to find someone else!

While working on the steps to reach your goals, you and your therapist might determine that several types of therapy are necessary. You might decide that talking to your therapist one-on-one is what’s necessary. Sometimes family therapy might be needed. Couples’ counseling can also be the answer. Sometimes it will be a combination. This will depend on the issues you are trying to address in therapy.

Your therapist will see a number of different methods and interventions that they have learned through their education, training, and work experience. Your therapist should have at least a masters degree or higher. They should also be licensed by the credentialing body in your state. It is very likely that your therapist’s diploma and license are hanging in their office. If they aren’t, you are free to ask about their educational background or for verification of their license. Your therapist might be a Marriage and Family Therapist, a Mental Health Counselor, a Social Worker, and/or a Clinical Psychologist. Every therapist accepts different types of insurance and forms of payment, so be sure to check on payment options when you call. Schedule an appointment to begin your journey toward self-discovery and peace of mind today!

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