So, what IS therapy all about?

As far as I know, you sit on a couch and… talk? There’s got to be more than the cliche.

Have any of you been to see a therapist? What do they do? Did it help?

There are many, many, many different kinds of therapy. I don’t think there’s anything they all have in common.

I saw a cognitive-behavioral therapist for about six months following the birth of my third baby. Essentially, she taught me techniques and methods for handling anxiety and depression, by approaching it from a logical standpoint. I had been resistant to therapy for a long time because I envisioned the classic “sit on a couch talking about your problems” style, but cognitive-behavioral therapy was very different from that, and taught me some really concrete and helpful ways to deal with my issues. Highly recommended if you’re considering therapy.

My therapist has had me examine a lot of my past, what I’ve learned from it, and how I came to feel the way I do about certain things. Doing that helped me identify patterns in my life that have held me back or have been in some way destructive. It has also helped me to confront emotions that I’ve buried deep for most of my life and made me realize that some things in my life affected me more than I had previously thought. Just connecting with these things has helped me put my life in perspective in a way that I wouldn’t have before.

It’s a very individual thing. I’ve found my best results have been with therapist who use a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach. You don’t sit/lay on a couch discussing if you had a good relationship with your mother. Instead, they help you understand who you are today and teach you the tools to be a better you.

As MsWhatsit said, I was also treating for anxiety and depression so different methods may work better for what ails you.

To try and help with the issues covered in this thread, I’ve got my first CBT appointment in a couple of weeks.

I’ll post back and let you all know how it goes.

The primary benefit of therapy, as I see it, is to allow yourself to see where you are going wrong, simply by saying out loud what is going on.

I study person-centred and existential, and consequently this is the type I have - a requirement of the diploma.

Carl Rogers’ three core conditions can shed some light on this - empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard. When your therapist shows you these, it is beneficial to you as a person to experience it - especially UPR. To state the darkest secrets of your suol in a completely safe environment is very valuable IMHO, particularly for survivors of traumatic events. For example, although I don’t have a cite, I have heard anecdotally from many therapists that survivors of abuse may feel guilt that they in some way enjoyed the attention, but could never admit it, and the relief that comes from doing so is very important.

An oft-cited metaphor for person-centred counselling is this: your therapist can’t comb your hair for you, but can hold up the mirror to show you where it needs it.

Your therapist joins you in your experience of life, and aims to understand you - being understood means a great deal.

Other forms of therapy differ wildly - CBT is very prescriptive and has been accepted as a good model for addiction, OCD and/or depression.

My mother goes to the sit on a couch and talk type of therapist. For her, it’s a very good thing. She doesn’t deal with negative issues in her life, she just pushes them to the side and ignores them, so having a safe place to talk about things that she has been repressing for years has been a positive experience for her. It has helped her with handling the day to day downers that happen on occasion and my sisters and I have seen some changes in her since she’s started seeing a therapist in late October/early November.

One of the more concrete changes is that she’s started taking care of her dog properly. Her dog has eye issues and needs daily drops. My mom wasn’t doing it; she was ignoring the issue. Talking about things completely unrelated to her dog has helped her to acknowledge and deal with the relatively small issue of her dog’s eyes.

One of my sisters was in therapy in high school for depression and it was slightly different than my mother’s. She still just sat on a couch and talked, but it was more about things that was happening currently and to give her coping mechanisms beyond cutting herself. That was a psychiatrist though, so anti-depressants were also part of the equation.

If you are considering seeing a therapist, discussing it with your regular doctor could give you an idea of what type of therapy would be best for you. Doctors also are able to refer you to local therapists.

To each his own, but that is exactly the kind of therapist that would put me off. I’ve never heard that one – that victims of abuse enjoy the attention. I thought that most therapist stayed away from blanket statements like that these days.

I’m not able to be drawn into whether that specific statement is true or not, not having had the experience from either side(therapist or victim) - hence I wanted it to be anecdotal. But I wouldn’t call it a blanket statement in itself; certainly *not *intended to label every experience the same. Especially as you’re right, blanket statements, such as a lot of Freud’s work - “You don’t have a penis, you must want one” - have been largely discredited.

Interestingly, as an aside, there is an article by John Heaton on ‘The Epoche’ in which he details what he calls skeptical therapy. My understanding of it is that there is no given path for skeptical therapy, it can’t be described until it is experienced and as such there are no labels/blanket statements/benchmarks, just the relation between therapist and client as it develops.

I had understood the initial quote as “some victims of abuse liked getting attention even if it was negative; some of those who enjoyed getting negative attention feel guilty about it.” Not a blanket statement at all, I’d say.

My father wasn’t abusive, but our “heavy” interactions often were negative (giving me the list of my failings after less than perfect grades, for example, with no possibility of response): every time he adressed me with something else than “set the table” there would be a little spark of hope that this time he’d want to… have a dialogue with me rather than a monologue to me. My mother is much worse, and again, every time she “wants to talk” there will be a little spark of hope that this time we’ll make a deal and she’ll hold her side. Depending on who was the abuser, I can see the victim having that little spark and enjoying the fact that for once this all-important person was “paying attention to (the victim).” For every victim? Hell no. For some? Yes.

I’m a psychologist, and I think this site explains the basics very well.

There was also another recent thread on the subject of therapy which you might find useful - lot’s of personal experiences in it.

I’ve been seeing a therapist for nine months now. Her speciality is CBT, but our sessions have run the gamet (at least, IMunprofessionalO).

There’s a couch in her office, but I sit in an armchair (it’s a recliner, but I’ve only reclined it a couple of times when we’ve done relaxation techniques). She sits directly in front of me, about two feet away, next to her desk so she can take occassional notes. The room is lit softly, not with harsh fluorescents, and there’s a hanging plant (in a birdcage) in the corner that I like to look at when I’m talking. Sometimes I just want to curl up and go to sleep because the atmosphere is so quiet and soothing.

Sometimes we talk about the past, but usually we focus on how I’m feeling about what’s going on now or in the recent past. This accomplishes two things: getting me to focus on my feelings (which often seem elusive and non-important) and getting me to put my feelings to words, which I have difficulty doing.

Things I like:

  1. My therapist is very human. I didn’t know important this was until I went to a psychiatrist who was kind of aloof. We sat on opposite ends of the office, and whenever I would say something, there would be a long pause as he took notes. He also had a weird minstral, blackface picture on his wall. I stopped going to him after a few sessions primarily because of that (that and I didn’t like how he once grilled me about Obama and me not really being black). My therapist (who’s a psychologist) laughs and smiles and tells jokes/stories. She talks about politics, which is probably a big professional no-no, but I don’t mind since we have the same leanings. She becomes more engaged when I’m upset rather than pulling herself back to maintain a professional distance. I’m not touchy-feely, but I like those attributes.

  2. Because we don’t talk about the past often, she doesn’t attempt to weave a convoluted narrative of my life to explain my current problems. I don’t do well with BS, so I wouldn’t do well with that.

  3. We haven’t spent much time on diagnoses. I don’t feel like I’m a disease or a disorder, even though the insurance forms and my personality test results indicate what my “clinical” picture is. So I don’t feel like I have to conform to or rebel against any label. I can be “me”.

Things I don’t like:

  1. We haven’t spent much time on diagnoses. I don’t want to be a disease or a disorder, but sometimes I’d like to feel that my problems aren’t so idiosyncratic…that they make sense given that I have __. Because we don’t talk about my diagnosis, I don’t know if I’m “typical” or not. And sometimes I have doubts about if she really knows what’s wrong and isn’t just shooting from the hip.

  2. Sometimes my therapist is too “human”. When I say something self-derogatory, she’ll talk about how pretty and thin I am, as if these things actually matter to me. Sometimes she can tell too many stories or jokes and I come away feeling like our interaction was kinda superficial. Fortunately that doesn’t happen that often, and when it does the next session turns out being better.

  3. Because she’s a psychologist, she doesn’t really know the “medical” side to mental illness. Which is fine, but that means establishing trust with another person (like that aloof psychiatrist) when I need meds, hoping they’re on the same page as my therapist, and making room in my schedule for another bunch of appointments.

Overall, my therapy experience has been positive, even if I can’t say I’ve markedly improved since I’ve started (I probably have and I just can’t see it;)). I think finding the right balance between “things you like” and “things you don’t like” is key. Give it a few sessions before deciding whether you want to stick it out or not.

monstro brings up a good point. If you don’t “click” with the first therapist, then for heavens sake find another one. The relationship you have with the therapist is a very personal one.

I was very lucky and found a gal the first time that I really liked. She moved to Phoenix. (Not cool when you’re treating for separation anxiety.) I then was referred to one of her highly respected colleagues and after two or three visits, I could tell we just weren’t connecting.

I have just started a new psychotherapeutic odyssey.

My early attempts were very unfortunate – due to not having any money, I was seeing psychiatrists, who are covered by medicare, to do nothing more medical than bitch about my issues, and their responses to same were pretty unsatisfactory.

For a while, on a friend’s recommendation, I saw a therapist at my university, and that was quite good. Unfortunately we couldn’t really deal with some of my issues around gender and sexuality (she was a very nice person but she just didn’t have the expertise for that) but I did feel some improvement. I stopped going after a while when I felt better.

Now, again on a friend’s recommendation, I’m seeing a new therapist to deal with some stuff like burnout, lack of energy and motivation, and my perpetual nobody’s-attracted-to-me whine. Her approach (which I quizzed her about before seeing her, as I’d learned you ought to do) is very practical – she gives you assignments and so forth to do during the intervals between visits (having complained that I spend all my time in front of the computer and don’t have the energy to devote to recreation I really want to do, such as paint, she has assigned me to paint for an hour every two days). She also has an explicitly pro-queer, pro-genderqueer, pro-feminist mandate, which I need – this is not only a basic condition, as it were, but actually a specific psychotherapeutic approach.

I had a few visits with a therapist after my brother’s suicide. Clearly just one person’s perspective but I don’t think there was anything there that I couldn’t have gotten from talking to almost anyone who would listen. However, the key is that the topic is a hard one to work around to in conversation. Going to the office and writing the check kept me from avoiding the topic by “forcing” me to talk about it.

As a teenager I was taken to a ‘sit and talk about why you feel this way’ therapist. Two, actually.

That type is, IMO, a total waste of time. The therapist doesn’t say anything productive, so basically you’re paying a ridiculous amount of money for the privilege of sitting in a neutrally-decorated office and yakking about yourself. I soon realized I could get the same results by, you know, thinking.

It’s also, if you’re for some reason required (say, you’re a teenager and your parents force it upon you) incredibly easy to make a therapist think whatever you want them to. All you do is sit in their office and at most talk about hypothetical situations or things that happened at a different time outside their office, and if you have two brain cells you know why you’re in therapy, so it’s comically easy to just tweak your answers to ‘right’.

What everyone else said. But also, and this may only be a partial benefit, to find someone who is ready and willing to listen to you yammer on and on about your problems. Honestly. Bitch sessions with friends are invaluable, but some people who don’t necessarily have major issues to work through can benefit from therapy simply because it puts less strain on their friends and loved ones.

Absolutely. And I’ve been in more than one very difficult situation having repeated, long, draining conversations with friends who didn’t have access to therapy, in which I found myself turning into their therapist. I’ve found it’s really important – but still difficult – to set appropriate boundaries there, so that I don’t end up burning myself out or practising therapy without a licence or both.