Psychotherapy, Counseling and You: A Beginner’s Guide

Understanding psychotherapy, counseling, and other services psychological professionals provide can seem like a daunting prospect. Are therapy and counseling different things? What about psychiatry? How do I choose a therapist? What will he or she expect of me as a patient? And what should I be talking about with my therapist, anyway?

What is Psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is a term used to describe the treatment of a mental disorder by psychological, not medical, means. Psychiatry, on the other hand, refers to the treatment of a mental disorder using medical (usually pharmaceutical) intervention. Psychiatrists must attend medical school. Psychotherapists are not required to, although some do. The words “counseling” and “therapy” are often used interchangeably, but can refer to two different processes. Counseling is a term used to describe being guided, by a counselor or coach, through stages intended to illuminate a patient about his or her mental state. Psychotherapy, or psychoanalysis, is designed to increase a patient’s sense of well-being through guided discussion by allowing him or her to discover things about themselves without necessarily being “counseled” to do so.

How Do I Choose A Psychotherapist?

A patient should spend at least as much energy on finding the right kind of therapist as they would, for example, buying a new car. Things like researching someone’s background, training, and the amount of experience they have can tell you plenty about their career, but maybe not as much about how the two of you would fit together. Don’t be afraid to take different therapists for a “test drive”, so to speak, by scheduling a few introductory appointments. If you have any friends in psychotherapy, ask them what they like about their therapists and why. Ideally, you’re looking for someone you can be honest with, who won’t make you feel judged, and who can provide objective insights you don’t already have about things going on in your life. That is not to say that your therapist, counselor or coach is there to solve all your problems or fix things. The good ones should be helping you learn to solve problems on your own.

What Happens During Psychotherapy?

So, what do people in therapy talk about with their therapist? It varies. Some people feel the need to address things that happened to them in childhood, painful events from their pasts, or life events affecting them currently. Others seek therapy to deal with addiction, or the loss of a loved one, or…

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