Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go to therapy? Psychotherapy has been thought of in the past as mysterious; an experience where a therapist does something to a patient who is expected to passively receive treatment and be cured. Another idea people have about therapy is that it is something a person does for years, possibly for his entire life. This might be true in the movies, but in real life, therapy can be a lot more straightforward and short-term than that.
If you would like to know what happens in a therapy room, just ask a therapist! He will likely tell you what methods or techniques he is trained to use to help people with their problems. One type of therapy that is widely practiced and a highly effective way to treat a variety of mental health problems is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). A key component of this type of therapy is that the patient and the therapist work together to develop a trusting therapeutic relationship and set clear goals for what the patient wants to change about his life. Together, they collaborate in carrying out a plan to meet these goals. This can be a helpful and hopeful approach when a person is suffering and sees a dark tunnel ahead with no end in sight, because, as part of the therapy process, it defines what that light at the end of the tunnel looks like and how to reach it.
A person that visits a therapist who uses CBT is likely to do some talking, listening and activities designed to help him understand the link between his thoughts, feelings and behaviors. He also will practice new behaviors that will help change his life in a positive way. For example, someone who suffers from depression might use therapy sessions to talk with his therapist about the kind of thoughts he has about himself and the world around him. He might explore thoughts of hopelessness and low self-worth that lead to feelings of sadness, and then see which thoughts are strong enough to be considered “core beliefs.” Then, the therapist might help him challenge his thinking when it is distorted in a negative or pessimistic way.
In addition, the therapist would work with him to come up with ideas for actions to take that are different from the way he usually spends his time. For instance, depression will often cause a person to isolate himself from other people and disengage from relationships that have the potential to provide relief from depression. He might stop doing activities he once enjoyed, or stay inside and avoid healthy activities like getting the right amount of sleep and exercise. A CBT therapist can work with someone who is depressed to set goals, nurture healthy relationships, and plan to do pleasant activities. This can take the form of “homework” which is done between therapy sessions so that what happens in the therapy office can be taken out into the real world and new skills can be practiced. When the person meets with the therapist again, and discusses the thoughts and feelings about the new behaviors he engaged in, the healthy patterns that alleviated or prevented depression can be encouraged.
CBT is often time-limited, structured and directive. It can take just eight-to-10 sessions until the person feels relief from his symptoms and is ready to move on from therapy and return to his life. The objective is that he has learned new skills and behaviors that can be used without the therapist’s help.
Therapists joke that the goal of their work is to put themselves out of business. We do want our clients to benefit enough from the work they do in therapy to not need it anymore, get to the end of the tunnel and come out stronger on the other side.