April 10, 2023

What is psychotherapy? What happens in a Therapy Session?

There are many reasons why some people find it difficult to seek therapy: they might have been told that it’s shameful to go to therapy, that it’s a sign of weakness or worse that therapy is only for those who suffer from mental illness. But when you break a bone, you naturally visit a doctor who will cast it so that your bone can eventually heal with time. When you suffer from headaches or a chronic fatigue, you visit your family doctor to understand the causes of your symptoms in order to treat them. The same principle should naturally apply to your mental health.

Anyone at any point in their life can inevitably struggle with depression or anxiety, no matter how strong they usually are because life is unpredictable. You may find yourself stuck in a conflicting relationship, overwhelmed at work or unable to manage your anger: it doesn’t mean that you’re “seriously disturbed”.  It’s only a sign that you’re simply human and that you’ve reached a point in your life where you feel stuck, unable alone to find your way out of the painful situation you’re in. you’ve spoken to your friends and family about your pain, but nothing seems to get better. You’ve finally decided to seek support from a mental health professional.

But what happens during a therapy session?

It’s important to first mention that I was trained as a psychodynamic-analytical psychologist. Psychodynamic therapy, also known as insight-oriented therapy, focuses on unconscious processes as they present themselves in a person’s present behavior. The goals of psychodynamic therapy are a patient’s self-awareness and better understanding of the influence of the past on present behavior. During the first few sessions, you will be assessed for therapy, you will be invited to speak openly about what brings you to therapy, your family history as well as some elements from your childhood. At the end of these assessment sessions, we will agree together on how and on what we should work on. Each session lasts 50 minutes. The content of the discussions will be strictly confidential (except in the situation of child abuse, homicide and self-danger). The space of the therapy, along with the therapeutic relationship, provide a safe setting in which one can say exactly what they feel without the worry of feeling judged.

How long will the therapy process take?

A lot of patients ask how long the therapy will take in order for them to get better. This varies from person to person. Some patients book only one session to discuss a specific issue without feeling the need to come back: sometimes, one brave, honest conversation is really all they need.

Other patients can book sessions over a period of several months, focusing on one issue, resolving that issue, then perhaps moving on to a different challenge. Then there are other patients who appreciate having a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly session. Therapy is really about whatever a patient needs—a one-time conversation, a temporary source of support during a life transition, or an ongoing insightful experience. 

Why see a therapist? Why not just talk to a friend or someone in my family?

People who already know you might not always be completely objective when listening to you. Some might judge you or interrupt you to tell you what they think you should be doing to solve your issue. You might end up feeling misunderstood and completely alone even if you’re surrounded by friends and family members. This is why working with a therapist can be so valuable, at the heart of that unique relationship, you find yourself  allowed to share your feelings and thoughts without interruption, or anyone projecting his or her own anxieties onto the conversation, or worse advising you and telling you what you “should” or “shouldn’t do”. 

The freedom to love and to work

When once asked what he thought a “normal” person should be able to do, Freud replied: “being able to develop the freedom to love and to work”. People usually come to therapy because they usually struggle with their relationships (with themselves and others) or with their incapacity to be creative. Therapy is a unique experience that can help you gain a deeper and better understanding of yourself. That self-discovery will bring you to make healthier choices in the present moment which will inevitably allow you, maybe for the first time, to experience the freedom to be a person of your own.