What is Talk Therapy?
Talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy, is a field of mental health treatment grounded in scientific principles that aims to improve an individual’s emotional and psychological well-being. It is based on the understanding that our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are interconnected and influenced by various factors, including past experiences, genetics, and environmental factors.
Talk therapy allows a person to discuss their concerns, goals, and challenges with another individual who has no preconceived notions, no biases and makes no judgments. It is designed to help a person target and eventually change patterns of thought and behavior that may threaten an otherwise healthy state of mind. The sessions between client and therapist are confidential and designed to create a safe space to share.
Talk therapy can help identify roadblocks and obstacles to healthy mental health. The reality is that many of us feel better after we talk to someone. Therapy helps us release shame and guilt; it allows us to share thoughts openly and honestly. Author and lecturer Brené Brown talks about shame being something that when kept inside it grows and when shared or released it loses its power and force. As a therapist and human being, I have seen this first hand in my practice with clients and for myself.
Beginning the Therapy Process
There are many reasons why people commonly seek therapy. It is a means to manage stress and anxiety, cope with sadness and depression, process previous traumatic experiences, work on breaking unhealthy habits, discuss possible lifestyle changes, pinpoint triggers in their lives and gain more positive coping skills and to help understand and improve family relationships.
So, how does it work?
When a person begins the process, the therapist will ask several questions during an initial appointment. This allows the therapist to gain a comprehensive understanding of the person’s history and background so they can begin to map out a plan for future sessions and treatment.
Generally speaking, the therapist will inquire into family history (birth and adoptive), developmental history (milestones such as walking, talking, etc.), history of mental health conditions, physical history (illnesses current or past), past traumas, daily life coping issues if any, significant present, and past relationships. It is also important for the practitioner to try to learn what the patient hopes to accomplish through therapy. During intakes with clients, I often explain that I am a detective of sorts, nosing around trying to get a complete picture of what is going on in the client’s life.
With the history complete, the real work of therapy begins. Talk therapy should be an open-ended dialogue about any issues or concerns a person faces. A therapist may take notes while a person shares information about their family life, relationships, childhood experiences, and symptoms or history of a condition, to name a few examples. A therapist must be a listener, a sounding board, someone with whom the patient can be open and feel safe about expressing their feelings and thoughts. In addition to this “reflective listening”, some therapists take a more active and directional role by offering insights, tools and strategies for the patient to take away and use in their day-to-day life.