What to Expect
It is not very easy to describe psychological therapy in just a few sentences. Besides, the term is often used synonymously with other related practices such as psychotherapy and counseling which can make it a little bit confusing. What they all have in common though is that the intervention or treatment can only succeed if you are able to find a therapist with the kind of manner, personality, outlook, values and expertise that you will feel comfortable with to help you.
For the majority of people the journey they embark upon when they decide to access help can be rather uncertain, and in some case anxiety provoking. There might be a whole range of reasons for this. For some it is because they feel too embarrassed to seek help or to discuss their particular difficulties. For other, their sense of shame fuels their reluctance to speak out.
Over the many years of listening to the stories of individuals who have been through some very difficult and often confusing life events, I have encountered and heard from people from all walks of life and personal backgrounds. Difficult times befall all of us at some point in time in our lives and for some it occurs more frequently. Whatever it is that had happened to you or that you experienced, you can discuss it in confidence and in the knowledge that your issues will be dealt with sensitively and within the strictest of confidence.
There are many different types of psychological therapies and some have more of an evidence base than others. Indeed, some therapies, based on their proved efficacy through research, are perhaps more prominent. The choice of therapy will depend on the nature of the problem, past experience and outcome of therapy, as well as therapist expertise. Equally important though is that the choice of therapy needs to appeal to the person seeking help. For that reason, and to ensure that the therapy journey is a satisfactory one, all interventions are based on a thorough assessment and shared understanding, also knows as a psychological formulation, of the problem.
Noteworthy is the fact that a psychological therapy session or consultation is different from a visit to your GP or other medical professional in that it will require you to take on an active part in your own healing and recovery. There will be plenty of opportunity to explore and understand the difficulties for which you have sought help. Of course, this could mean you have to discuss matters that are highly personal or perhaps share aspects of your life that you have not dared to talk about to someone before. It is therefore not uncommon for people to experience a wide range of feelings at the start, during or possibly even after psychological therapy. Unpleasant feelings such as embarrassment, loneliness, guilt, sadness, anger or frustration and sometimes even a sense of helplessness when you least expect it can all surface at any point.
Ideally though, we would all like to see that our clients find the therapy experience helpful and rewarding, and that they continue to participate in therapy, because they can see how it makes them feel more empowered, better able to deal with difficult and challenging situations, more optimistic about their personal lives, and enriched and encouraged in the ways in which it is helping them to experience more satisfying relationships and better quality of life.
A course of therapy though does not come with a guarantee of success, although every effort will be made to assist you in finding something in the experience that could make a difference. The best chance of success though is a true collaborative effort between you and your therapist and lots of hard work and determination to work through and address some of the difficulties both during and in between sessions, which prompted you to ask for help.
A typical timeline for individual psychological therapy
A first consultation will give someone the opportunity to get an overview of what to expect during the different stages of psychological therapy and to raise questions to help them make a decision on whether to proceed or not.
It also aims to get an initial shared understanding of the problem(s) for which help is sought and to identify treatment goals. Sometimes questionnaires are used to highlight particular areas of concern. There will also be an opportunity to discuss ‘the next steps’, including frequency of consultations and the most convenient times for follow-up.
In order to proceed with an effective treatment schedule an assessment period, usually the first two or three sessions, will follow and this will help with a deeper understanding of the presenting difficulties. These early sessions are very important, can be very enlightening and therapeutic in itself, and set the scene for the middle phase of treatment - the intervention.
During this phase therapeutic strategies and protocols are introduced and applied to address identified areas of concern. This may involve specific therapeutic actions in between consultations to help raise awareness and learn new skills.
The final stage of treatment is aimed at consolidation. That is, to look back on what has been learned, what areas to continue to focus on, how to stay well and continue to benefit from therapy, and also, how to deal with potential setbacks.
The duration of treatment can vary greatly and it depends on a range of factors, including complexity, chronicity, practicalities to attend sessions, funding and, of course, speed of progress. No one person’s journey will be the same as that of another and be prepared therefore for it to be a highly personal and hopefully rewarding journey of discovery, learning and healing.
And finally, psychological therapy involves a commitment of time, resources (funding), and energy, and so it is vital that you are at all times happy and comfortable with the therapist you choose to work with. You will at al times be encouraged to ask questions and to participate in the decision-making process that forms part of your therapy.