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What Is Therapy? What Does A Therapist Do?

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What Is Therapy? What Does A Therapist Do?

Therapy is a type of mental health care. There are lots of different kinds and lots of reasons why people might see a therapist. Even if you’ve never been to therapy, you may have heard about someone going at some point.

What is therapy for?

Therapy is a tool that some people use to help take care of their mental health. Like choosing a medication to take or a type of exercise to do, it is a personal decision someone makes about their own health. Their reasons for going have to do with their own mental health care needs. Some reasons might include:

  • Extra support in dealing with something hard, like a difficult break-up, the death of a loved one, or a traumatic event like an injury, illness, or sexual assault.
  • Help managing mental illness, such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or bipolar disorder.
  • To talk through personal conflicts with a neutral and supportive third party.
  • Just to have a safe place to vent!

There are lots of different types of therapy. Which type someone does, and which therapist they choose, depends on what they hope to get out of it.

Why are there so many different kinds of therapy? Which one should I try?

Because there are many different types of therapy, many therapists specialize in specific therapeutic techniques. People often choose a therapist based on their areas of expertise. Some common types include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, may be used as a short-term treatment when someone is struggling with irrational fears or anxieties. CBT teaches the patient to identify and manage fears that aren’t based in reality. It is often suggested for people who have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, or major depressive disorder.
  • Dialectical behavioural therapy, or DBT, teaches patients how to manage their emotions, especially distressing ones like anger or fear. It may be used to help people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) or complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD).
  • Art therapy involves using drawing, painting, performance, and other art forms to help patients express things they might not be able to put into words.
  • Mindfulness-based therapy focuses on teaching patients to recognize and understand their feelings and what they mean while staying ‘in the moment’. It is often used in combination with other types of therapy, like DBT or CBT.
  • Family and couples therapy focuses on how people can understand and support each other better. It can be helpful for couples or families who are dealing with eating disorders, substance abuse problems, illness, or trauma.

Different therapists might have different approaches to the same types of therapy. Most therapists tailor their sessions to suit their patients’ needs.

How do I start seeing a therapist? What should I expect?

When someone decides to see a therapist, the first step is finding the right one. Some people pick a type of therapy they want to try and look for therapists who specialize in that type. Some people look for a therapist they feel comfortable with first, then figure out what type of therapy they want to try.

It’s very important that a patient be able to trust their therapist. This is because patients need to be able to tell their therapist things they might not be able to tell other people. If a therapist makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, it’s okay to see a different therapist instead.

Once you’ve found a therapist, you’ll decide together how best to approach your therapy. This means deciding how often you want to see your therapist (once a week? Once a month? Only in emergencies?) and what type of therapy you’ll do together.

A therapist should never pressure you into treatments you don’t want. Therapists also aren’t allowed to have romantic or sexual relationships with patients, and are usually encouraged to have strong professional boundaries.

I want to try therapy, but…

Therapy can be an important part of someone’s healthcare. But it’s common for people to feel nervous about starting with a new therapist! Maybe you’ve heard people say that therapy is self-absorbed, or that only really wealthy or “privileged” people can afford to go to therapy. Maybe you’ve had bad experiences in the past with therapists who weren’t able to help you the way you wanted or needed.

Whatever the reason, know that seeing a therapist is very common, and so is being nervous about it! Anyone can see a therapist, and people from all different backgrounds go to therapy — not just the wealthy and self-absorbed. There’s no “wrong” reason to see a therapist.

It’s also common for people to take time in finding the right therapist for them. If you’re worried about finding a therapist you like, you can pick a few potential therapists and ask if any of them would do a quick phone interview before meeting you. Screening therapists can be a good way to help you get the most out of your appointments.

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