Psychotherapy is the process of applying expert techniques of skill building and analysis to bring about positive changes in the ways people think, feel, and act. Although this is, seemingly, a simple definition, there are a lot inherent within the definition in order to truly understand what psychotherapy is (and is not).
First of all, psychotherapy is a “process” of bringing about positive changes. The idea here is that, generally, for psychotherapy to be effective, there needs to be more than one visit to the psychotherapist. Psychotherapy involves changes made over time whose cumulative effect can produce profound and lasting improvements in a person’s life. The changes in psychotherapy do not always feel good, though. Often, some of the most significant changes in psychotherapy are the result of individuals facing fears or confronting ingrained, unhealthy ways of thinking and behaving. Positive changes in psychotherapy are often hard fought. Indeed, there are times in the course of effective psychotherapy that individuals may leave the psychotherapist’s office not feeling especially good and may question if the decision to enter psychotherapy was the right one. These sort of feelings are normal and often set the stage for positive growth as the individual works through these feelings with their psychotherapist.
Second of all, psychotherapy involves the “application of expert techniques.” This is important to understand because it is often a misconception that going to see a psychotherapist is kind of like talking with a really good friend that can give advice and can tell you what to do. To be effective, the psychotherapist must maintain a stance of objectivity and apply expert technique and theory to try to help individuals overcome their presenting problems. This is precisely why it is not the same as talking with a friend. A friend cannot be objective when dealing with your problems. They care about you and do not want to hurt feelings. They also do not have an understanding of normal versus abnormal thinking and behavior and cannot distance themselves from your problem situation to critically analyze it from the outside in. Although a friend can certainly give advice, effective psychotherapy is premised upon “skill building” – or, learning more effective ways of coping with life stressors, including stress management, anger management, and problem-solving skills – and “analysis” – or, critical examination of the factors that contribute to individuals’ problem situation with particular emphasis on focusing on factors that can be controlled or changed.
Last, effective psychotherapy is designed to bring about positive changes to way people think, feel, and act. There are different ways that psychotherapists try to achieve this end. But, make no mistake, the goal of all forms of psychotherapy is to produce positive changes in your life and, hopefully, help you overcome whatever issues brought you into counseling.