WHAT IS PSYCHOTHERAPY?
It can be confusing at times when attempting to seek out counseling or psychotherapy. What do all these initials mean? What type of therapy do you do? Furthermore, there are a lot of misperceptions about what psychotherapy actually is.
Psychotherapy itself is very divergent. There are hundreds of what are referred to as empirically-validated psychotherapies, which means there is evidence showing some level of effectiveness.
In its essence, psychotherapy is about helping you deal with
your emotions and how you connect with others. Throughout our history, we have
to develop emotional defenses to cope with life and survive. These same
defenses that were once resources are now what is causing the majority of our
Let me give you an example to help you understand more
clearly what I am referring to. A client comes to me complaining of
experiencing depressive symptoms. As we begin to explore what could be the
potential cause of them, they report two incidents of being demeaned at work by
The first time they beat themselves up for being ‘stupid,’
and the second time they make excuses for the supervisor. In a healthy
individual, this should trigger an appropriate degree of anger. I point out to
them, they self-attacked and then rationalized for their supervisor instead of feeling
angry. Moreover, I ask if they are aware they did this. Blocking anger and self-attacking
is going to lead to low self-worth and feeling depressed.
I know at some point in the person’s life, they had to block
anger for a very good reason. Perhaps, they had a shaming or abusive parent,
and expressing anger towards them would have triggered abuse or abandonment in
some form. In these instances, suppressing one’s anger is a good strategy to
avoid these outcomes and maintain attachment to caregivers.
People will often feel shame regarding their emotional
defenses. I encourage them to realize they were necessary and effective at the
time of their development. Now, however, there continued use is what is causing
the problems in their life that bring them to psychotherapy.
The process of psychotherapy is the work of discontinuing the
use of one’s emotional defenses and learning how to feel and use one’s core
emotions effectively. They are the resources nature has designed to help us
cope with the world and construct a meaningful and fulfilling life. For most of
us, the environments we were raised in failed to give us adequate skills in
this area, and we were forced to start using defenses to deal with life.
In the prior example, I had to help this client start
connecting to their healthy anger, which led to confronting their supervisor
and eventually finding alternative employment that was more supportive and
satisfying. When they were blocked from experiencing their core anger, they
were unable to take this action. Feeling our core emotions fully will lead to
an effective action for the situation. This is why they developed over time,
and what their purpose is.
In addition to emotional defenses, many individuals had to
develop relational defenses, such as pushing others away to avoid painful loss
or feelings of inadequacy. Perhaps, they were abandoned as a child or
experienced the loss of someone close to them. Subsequently, they would not
allow themselves to deeply connect in another relationship. This protected them
from further loss but resulted in continued loss of what they may have
The process is the same as with emotional defenses: the
relinquishment of the relational defense and the full experience of connecting
with another. This leads to a much richer and fuller life both relationally and
Psychotherapy is not just about overcoming painful feelings
or distress symptoms but achieving your full potential as a person in all
areas. How good could your life become? The psychotherapist’s role is to
provide a safe and supportive relationship from which to achieve these goals.
It is very collaborative – something you do together. The relationship needs to
be real and authentic or therapy will not work.
As clients begin to achieve their therapeutic goals and gain
an increased understanding of the process, they frequently say two things: Wow!
I didn’t expect all of this would happen; and everyone should be in here. To this
I say a resounding yes.
I love my work as a psychotherapist primarily because of the relationships I get to develop with my clients and the meaningfulness of sharing tremendously intimate moments with them, as well the joy of watching them transform in numerous ways.
Everyone can benefit tremendously from this process in all
aspects of their life. Remember, in essence psychotherapy is about helping you
learn how to experience and use your core emotions effectively and how to have
greater connections with others.
If you have been considering participating in psychotherapy, I encourage you to take the leap. Listen to the words of one of my clients during a Q & A session after a lecture I gave recently. He stated, “My work with John has literally changed my life.” This is the potential good psychotherapy can have. I do not share this to assert that I am so great but to share what is possible for every client who chooses to do this work.
If you are looking for a psychotherapist available for online consultations or a psychotherapist near Boynton Beach Florida open for office visits, please call today 561-332-1818.