Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What Can a Therapist Do For Me? Three Ways a Therapist Can Help

A year ago,a 46-year-old slightly built man with piercing eyes sat across from me, and asked, "what can you do for me?" He had come from a severely abusive background, and he didn't trust easily. All he knew at that moment was the pain of betrayal. Today, he is feeling better both physically and emotionally; he has had to make difficult changes in his life. Did the therapy help? He would say, "yes."

Don't you wonder if a therapist can help you? What can talking to another person do to help me? Telling a stranger your inner most secrets may seem difficult to imagine given that you are probably being a fairly sane, well-functioning adult. Shouldn't you be strong enough to get yourself out of the funk you are in?

Jonathan, another client, had a wife who berated him for coming to therapy. She would tell him that if he were a "real man," he would be able to solve his own problems. He later identified her lack of support and understanding as one of his problems!

Clients have often told me that well-meaning loved ones recommend that they "just stop thinking so negatively," or "exercise more and you won't be so down." Basically this is the American motto of "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" speech. While such a motivational speech might work for some situations, such as finding a new job, it doesn't help for someone who is experiencing clinical depression or anxiety. Most likely the person who hears this feels worse and like a failure.

Clinical depression and clinical anxiety require specialized treatment. And that is what a therapist can do. A therapist is not a "paid friend" who only listens and supports. And most friends require reciprocity. Therapists do not expect you to listen to their problems. Should you find yourself listening to your therapist's problems on a regular basis, change therapist!

A therapist receives years of special training so that he or she can do the following:

1. Asks the questions which lead to an accurate and objective assessment of the problem.. If there is a biological component to the problem, the therapist will recommend medication. Assessing the situation also includes determining the risk rate, i.e. harm to self or others. Those well-meaning others described above might not know that my client has considered suicide. While much rarer in my practice, my client might be thinking of harming someone else.

2. Guides the client through the maze of his or her past and present in a safe way so that maladaptive patterns can be identified and changed. Unless we are in an environment where we can become curious about why we think, feel and act the way we do, we can't identify those patterns that ultimately defeat us. In order to lower our guard, we have to know that we are heard, respected and understood. A therapist is trained to provide such an atmosphere so that the you can delve deeper into who you are. Facing those past pains and recognizing patterns of sabotage is difficult. We often prefer the pain of the known to the unknown, and the research from neurobiology supports this. We have well-worn pathways in our brain of the old maladaptive patterns. Changing involves discomfort and, at times, failure, before we can proceed to true change. Who wants to go through that? Having a guide who also supports and encourages the change during the rough times is often necessary. Talk therapy also has been shown to lead to that change as successfully as medication alone.

3. Facilitates change or improvement with special techniques that help the client gain clarity and awareness. Learning new behaviors, such as assertiveness, communication skills, or sleep hygiene, gives the client new tools to replace self-sabotaging ways. A psychologist, unlike social workers or marriage and family therapists, can use intelligence and personality testing to help decide what the least intrusive treatment. One person who was suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder as well as learning disabilities, needed the testing to confirm the diagnosis for herself and for the licensing board for her profession. She had failed the boards twice. When she asked for special considerations such as a reader for the test items, she passed the tests. Addressing these difficulties greatly enhanced that client's quality of life.

These are but three of the ways therapy can help you. I know that if you enter into a therapeutic relationship, you will discover others. Support and expert guidance is much preferable the pain of depressive and anxiety symptoms. Call a professional therapist today. You don't have to go it alone!

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