For many people suffering from major depression, an anxiety disorder or emotional distress, psychotherapy has been shown to be an effective treatment. In fact, it has been shown that most people who have at least several sessions of psychotherapy are far better off than untreated individuals, and that while 50% of patients noticeably improved after eight sessions, after six months this figure had increased to 75%.
Psychotherapy is a partnership between an individual and a professional, such as a psychologist who is licensed and trained to help people understand their feelings and come to terms with painful experiences, and to assist them in changing their behaviour. According to the American National Institute of Mental Health, about one third of adults experiences an emotional or substance abuse problem, and nearly one third of adults experiences depression or anxiety at some stage of their lives. In South Africa, a country still in an uncertain adjustment phase, with a traumatic history, these figures are undoubtedly higher. Kevin Bolon believes that the therapist and patient should work together to enhance the patient’s sense of control over their condition. “Therapy gives the patient something tangible that they can do”.
For people who are unable to be on medication for one or other reason, or who would prefer not to be, psychotherapy is a viable alternative. For those whose distress is a reaction to negative environmental influences, often medication is not enough. In many cases medication helps the individual to cope, while they work with their therapist to change themselves and their environment.
Research suggests that therapy effectively decreases patient's depression and anxiety and related symptoms, such as pain, fatigue and nausea. Psychotherapy has also been found to increase survival time for heart surgery and cancer patients, and can have a positive effect on the body's immune system. Research increasingly supports the idea that emotional and physical health are very closely linked and that therapy can improve a person's overall health status.
If you are experiencing any of these situations you may want to consider psychotherapy:
· If you feel an overwhelming and prolonged sense of sadness and helplessness, and you lack hope in your life
· If you are experiencing emotional difficulties that are hampering your everyday functioning e.g. if your job performance is suffering as a result of being unable to concentrate
· If your actions are becoming harmful to yourself and others e.g. if you are drinking too much and are becoming overly aggressive
· If you feel very troubled by the emotional difficulties facing your family members or close friends
Choosing a therapist is an important step in the process. It is a highly personal matter and it is essential to find a therapist whom you trust and with whom you believe you might interact well. If you are not happy with your current therapist you may want to discuss the problem with them or perhaps try another therapist. Don't worry about hurting the therapist's feelings. They are there to provide a service and if the therapy is not going well they will also know.
To find a therapist you may want to talk to close family members or friends for their recommendations, especially if they have had a good experience with psychotherapy. You could also ask your physician for a referral. Tell the doctor what is important to you in choosing a therapist so he or she can make appropriate suggestions. You could also contact the Depression and Anxiety Support Group for telephone counselling and a referral to a mental health professional who specializes in your area of difficulty, and who is nearby. The Depression and Anxiety Support Group can be contacted between 8am and 8pm, Mondays to Saturdays, on (011) 783-1474/6.
There are many approaches to outpatient psychotherapy and various formats in which it may occur, including individual, group and family therapy. Despite the variations, all psychotherapy is a two-way process that works especially well when patients and their therapists communicate openly. Research has shown that the result of therapy is improved when the patient and the psychotherapist agree clearly about what the major problems are and how psychotherapy can help.
Patients often feel a wide range of emotions during psychotherapy. Some people may have some reservations about entering psychotherapy due to the difficulty of discussing painful and troubling experiences. This can actually be a positive sign though, as it indicates that you are starting to explore your thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
You and your therapist both have responsibilities in establishing and maintaining a good working relationship. Be clear with your therapist about your expectations and share any concerns that may arise. Psychotherapy works best when you attend all scheduled sessions and give some forethought to what you want to discuss during each one. After a few sessions, it’s a good sign if you feel the experience truly is a joint effort and that you and the therapist enjoy a good rapport.
Psychotherapy isn’t easy. But patients who are willing to work in close partnership with their therapist often find relief from their emotional distress and begin to lead more productive and fulfilling lives.