Useful Psychology Information: When Do I Need Help?
How can you tell if it’s time to ask someone for help?
How to Find Help Through Psychotherapy
Millions of Americans have found relief from depression and other emotional difficulties through psychotherapy. Even so, some people find it hard to get started or stay in psychotherapy. This brief question-and-answer guide provides some basic information to help individuals take advantage of outpatient (non-hospital) psychotherapy.
Why do people consider using psychotherapy?
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 assist them with changing their behavior. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one-third of adults in the United States experience an emotional or substance abuse problem. Nearly 25 percent of the adult population suffers at some point from depression or anxiety.
People often consider psychotherapy, also known as therapy, under the following circumstances:
They feel an overwhelming and prolonged sense of sadness and helplessness, and they lack hope in their lives.
Their emotional difficulties make it hard for them to function from day to day. For example, they are unable to concentrate on assignments and their job performance suffers as a result. Their actions are harmful to themselves or to others. For instance, they drink too much alcohol and become overly aggressive. They are troubled by emotional difficulties facing family members or close friends.
What does research show about the effectiveness of psychotherapy?
Research suggests that therapy effectively decreases patients' 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 it 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.
There is convincing evidence that most people who have at least several sessions of psychotherapy are far better off than untreated individuals with emotional difficulties. One major study showed that 50 percent of patients noticeably improved after eight sessions while 75 percent of individuals in psychotherapy improved by the end of six months. Psychotherapy with children is similar in effectiveness to psychotherapy with adults.
How Does "Therapy" Work?
Therapy is a collaborative effort. You and your therapist will identify your goals -- what you want to have happen -- and agree on how you'll know when you're making progress. Your therapist will talk to you about the length of time it may take to help you see changes.
A mental health professional can help you to identify your problems and their sources, and then to develop ways to best resolve them. You can learn to change contributing behaviors or habits, or you can find constructive ways to deal with a situation that is beyond your control.
Progress, and change, can happen. Nine out of ten Americans surveyed by Consumer Reports said that psychotherapy had helped them. And in another recent major national study, half of the patients studied were making improvement after eight sessions of therapy, 75 percent after six months of therapy.
How do I find a qualified therapist?
Selecting a therapist is a highly personal matter. A professional who works very well with one individual may not be a good choice for another person. There are several ways to get referrals to qualified therapists such as licensed psychologists, including the following:
Ideally, you will find more than one lead. Call and request the opportunity, either by phone or in person, to ask the therapist some questions. You might want to inquire about his or her licensure and level of training, areas of expertise, approach to psychotherapy, participation in insurance plans, and fees. Such a discussion should help you sort through your options and choose someone with whom you believe you might interact well.
It's important that you feel comfortable with the therapist, since your treatment will involve working together as a team. A good rapport with your therapist is critical. Choose a therapist with whom you feel comfortable and at ease.
The strengths of Psychologists
There are many types of mental health providers you can choose from. Psychologists have particularly strong training and qualifications.
Psychologists spend an average of 7.2 years, in addition to their undergraduate college degree, in education and training. They possess a unique combination of scientific methods, along with substantial skills and experience in working with people who have real life problems. Psychologists study the science of human behavior, and then apply it, in a professional setting. Psychologists are licensed by the state in which they practice.
If I begin psychotherapy, how should I try to gain the most from it?
There are many approaches to outpatient psychotherapy and various formats in which it may occur -- including individual, group and family psychotherapy. 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 outcome of psychotherapy is improved when the therapist and patient agree early about what the major problems are and how psychotherapy can help.
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.
How can I evaluate whether therapy is working well?
As you begin psychotherapy, you should establish clear goals with your therapist. Perhaps you want to overcome feelings of hopelessness associated with depression. Or maybe you would like to control a fear that disrupts your daily life. Keep in mind that certain tasks require more time to accomplish than others. You may need to adjust your goals depending on how long you plan to be in psychotherapy.
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. On the other hand, you should be open with your therapist if you find yourself feeling 'stuck' or lacking direction once you've been in psychotherapy awhile.
If you have any concerns about your therapist’s attitude toward you, of if you question any other aspects of his or her approach, tell your therapist about your experience and concerns. If you find yourself thinking about discontinuing psychotherapy, it is very important to talk with your therapist about this.
Patients often feel a wide range of emotions during psychotherapy. Some qualms about psychotherapy that people may have result from the difficulty of discussing painful and troubling experiences. When this happens, it can actually be a positive sign indicating that you are starting to explore your thoughts and behaviors.
You should spend time with your therapist periodically reviewing your progress (or your concern that you are not making sufficient headway). Although there are other considerations affecting the duration of psychotherapy, success in reaching your primary goals should be a major factor in deciding when your psychotherapy should end.
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.
Material on this page has been adapted from public brochures produced by the American Psychological Association. Original material copyright 1997, 1998 the American Psychological Association.