Using Therapy to Change your Life: Psychotherapy, Group Therapy, and Counseling
Talking Therapies and What They’re Good For
Let’s talk about therapy: talking therapies. It’s not all about lying on a couch talking about your dreams and sexual fantasies. Therapy is an amazing tool for rising above your challenges – depression, anxiety, stress, difficult relationships, stuck-ness in any area of life – and finding new understanding that helps you thrive. And more and more people are seeking therapy in the past few years.
It’s a sign of strength rather than weakness to get help. It’s easy to get lost in all the jargon out there, and getting to grips with all the different types of therapy can be a recipe for overwhelm. We’ll unpack the essential need-to-knows about the most common types of therapy – Psychotherapeutic Psychotherapy, Counseling, and Group Therapy – and get you started on your road to recovery from what life throws at you.
Sometimes Intense but Worth It: What Therapy’s Like
All talking therapies involves talking about your problems, needs, desires and hopes with someone who will listen and try their best to understand – then help you to use different tools that empower you to take charge of your life and change where you need to. That said, there are a lot of different approaches to this, which we’ll look more closely at a bit later. Why does listening help so much? Well, we all need a sounding board sometimes – and maybe your friends are tired of hearing all your problems, or can’t give you the objectivity you need.
A therapist provides a safe, confidential holding environment for you to examine what’s not working in your life, why that is or where that comes from. Psychotherapeutic Psychotherapy involves looking at long term issues and spending several months or years in the therapeutic process, including looking at your family history in detail. Counselling is great for shorter-term, temporary problems like dealing with a loss, a big change or a new anxiety.
Person-centered counselling is the most common form of counselling and is where, unlike in psychotherapy, the counsellor does not give direct suggestions, but uses empathy to uncover what you are experiencing and to help you re-frame it so that you can move forward, discovering your own resources and finding new ways of being. It’s been found to be very effective for many people’s problems.
With group therapy, you’ll work through your problems in a group with people with similar problems to yourself – facilitated by a therapist. Hearing other people share about their experiences and feelings is very powerful and can reduce any sense of guilt, shame or less-than that you might have about your struggles. You’ll also receive valuable feedback from your group members. Group therapy is a more cost-effective option than individual therapy and can help break you out of isolation. Group therapy approaches have a huge span: some are behavior therapy focused, some are psychoanalytical, and some use Gestalt approaches.
You can also go for family therapy – with members of your family – or couples therapy. Peer group therapy includes groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. Whatever kind of therapy you choose, it’s a boundaried experience – you commit to being there at the agreed time every week (or every second week) and you won’t be able to go over your time. But within that time, it’s all about you – something we don’t often get in our busy lives.
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Getting your Therapy Journey Started
Even the healthiest type of therapy can be used in a less than healthy way – so it’s ultra important that you do your research not only of the type of therapy that’s best for you, but which therapist you choose. The kind of therapy you choose really depends what you want to achieve. If you have recurring problems that have hung around despite your efforts to change them, and you’re willing to spend a few months to a few years on your therapy, unfolding your family history a lot more, then psychotherapy’s a good option.
If you have a temporary problem you need some extra space and support to work through, like a recent bereavement or life change, counseling’s worth looking at. And if you’re a bit cash-strapped for individual therapy, and are open to working with others in a group context, try some group therapy. Whatever kind of therapy you go for, you will need to get super honest with yourself and your therapist, and that means facing whatever comes up, with the help of your therapist. Intense at times, but worth it.
Decide whether you want to commit for the long term or do a short-term course of therapy. If you work well with a particular therapist for a contracted time, like six or twelve weeks, it’s often possible to contract for another longer period with them. Many therapists offer a no-commitment introductory session or at least a phone call where you can sound each other out and see if you can work well together. Here is one resource for finding a counselor near you. Once you’ve chosen a therapist or counselor to work with, muster your courage and go for it!
What’s Behind Psychotherapy, Counseling & Group Therapy?
Let’s unpick the different kinds of therapy a bit more. If you want to look at your experiences in your family and how that’s affecting you now, psychodynamic psychotherapy is the way to go. It’s a psychoanalytical type of therapy that has roots in Freud‘s theories about the unconscious mind, but has taken a lot of new directions since then, and is often influenced by person-centred approaches from Carl Rogers. This approach is to bring out repressed (pushed down) emotions that maybe weren’t safe to feel and impossible to cope with back when you were younger. In the safe supported space of a psychotherapeutic relationship, you can feel these old feelings in the light of new understandings and your ‘adult’ self, resulting in change.
Counseling can also take many different forms but most common is a humanistic, person-centred therapy based on the work of Carl Rogers – it’s all about the counsellor meeting you in the here and now, as you are, offering you what’s called ‘unconditional positive regard’ and reflecting back what you are expressing, so that you can find new insights and more self-acceptance. Rather than focusing on your problems and difficulties, person-centered or Rogerian counseling sees you as a person with the ability and desire to grow and change in a positive direction – to ‘self-actualize‘. Group therapy, whatever approach it is informed by, provides encouragement, emotional support and inspiration as you see how others in your group overcome similar challenges to what you face.
From Freud to Rogers to Peer Group Therapy
Psychoanalysis, which has profoundly influenced the development of psychotherapy, was developed by Sigmund Freud around the turn of the 19th/20th century. Carl Rogers’ humanistic therapy developed during the 1940s, and by the late 1960’s we can see a whole load of different types of psychotherapies. Economic issues made it necessary for shorter-term therapies to be developed, such as group therapy.
Group therapy’s history has also been influenced by a desire to get away from a situation where the therapist has too much power – and to explore the interactions between people. Soldiers during WWII were treated with group therapy, and peer group therapy approaches have exploded worldwide with the Twelve Step movement (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, etc). Today almost all types of therapy offer a brief form to help with resolving specific problems. Therapy also has a lot less stigma these days and has become much more accessible.
How will this help you to transform your problems and pain?
Therapy offers you some powerful tools and ways of moving forward in your life when you’re struggling with stress, depression, anxiety or life changes – or just wanting to heal from things in your past that are keeping you stuck.
Transform your pain and make change happen fast by working with Alison McAulay as your coach.
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