All you need to know about psychotherapy

Devojka razmislja o psihoterapiji

In 2017, the World Health Organization presented the grim data: over 400,000 people in Serbia suffer from depression. 

But because statistics are computed based only on registered cases, we can be certain that the figure is, in fact, much higher. That this is not just a hypothesis is confirmed by the fact that SOS centers are receiving more phone calls than ever, that an increasing number of people contact suicide prevention centers, and that the waiting rooms in counseling centers are most often packed.

Unfortunately, despite the increasing number of those seeking expert help, the old way of thinking that mental health issues are to be dealt with exclusively behind closed doors is still present in our society. 

Over time, we have managed to include the mental health issue in everyday conversation. Numerous programs, public discussions, forums, and support groups are now helping people change their minds and open up.

 Don’t worry if you are not quite familiar with all this, because by being here you have already taken the first step – you are getting informed and examining the ways of coping with current or upcoming issues. We are introducing you to some basic terminology and principles, as well as providing you the necessary guidelines for taking the next step and contact a psychotherapist. 

What is psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is a general term for a structured process involving you and an expert, where you learn how to deal with mental problems and physical challenges, as well as work on personal growth.

Psychotherapy involves conversation and other activities you engage in with your psychotherapist, specially chosen to boost your mental health. Through psychotherapy, you will adopt mechanisms for coping with a particular problem and techniques that will come useful in other aspects of your life, as well as in coping with future challenges. 

How long does psychotherapy last?

Psychotherapy is a personalized experience, i.e. it is adapted to each person depending on his or her needs. Among other things, it means that the number of weekly sessions is individual and the sessions are scheduled by your psychotherapist based on their experience and expert opinion. 

On average, people see a psychotherapist once a week and the sessions last between 45 and 60 minutes. How long you will be in therapy in relatively regular intervals depends on different factors:

  • the kind of problem and seriousness of the situation,
  • the level of stress,
  • the time you experienced the problem before turning to therapy,
  • the pace of your progress,
  • the support in your immediate environment,
  • your readiness to work on yourself,
  • the relationship with your chosen psychotherapist.

 Some mental issues can be resolved in a year, while others may take years of therapy.

Please bear in mind that psychotherapy is continuously developing and changing in line with global changes. It is constantly adapting to the needs of all of us who rely on it when we need complete understanding of our thoughts and feelings.

Psychotherapy does not have a beginning and end in the traditional sense. While it can help you deal with a specific problem, it is possible that life will surprise you with a new and completely different challenge you may wish to overcome through this kind of help. 

Who is psychotherapy intended for?

Everyone can see a psychotherapist, regardless of their gender, age, or life circumstances. It should be noted that psychotherapy is especially recommended to those facing certain changes or going through a difficult period on a personal or professional level – death or loss of a loved one, loss of job, illness, domestic violence, etc. 

No problem is small or insignificant. We cannot go through life with the motto ‘’it could be worse’’, because this is the kind of attitude that leads us to our boiling point – the moment when all those ‘’small problems’’ have accumulated into a big one, making us feel anxious for longer than a few days, weeks, or even months.

Is psychotherapy for me?

We believe that, even having read this far, some of you are still skeptical when it comes to seeing a psychotherapist or think that the problems troubling you are not serious enough for seeking expert help.

Psychotherapy can be of use to all those who

  • struggle with longer periods of sadness and hopelessness,
  • fail to deal with current problems, regardless of actions they take or changes they make in their lives,
  • experience a lack of concentration, focus, and motivation for work,
  • experience increasing shortness of breath or breathing problems, even when they are not physically active,
  • do not see ‘’the light at the end of the tunnel’’ in any situation and don’t believe there is a way out of a difficult period, 
  • notice that their actions, thoughts, and feelings have a negative impact on themselves and their immediate environment.

Even if none of the above applies to you, but you still feel the need to talk to an expert before making a major decision or certain changes in your life, you can consult a psychotherapist. 

You can undergo psychotherapy preventively

Psychotherapy is a field that constantly develops and changes based on new accomplishments and advances in the treatment of clients. As such, it is no longer considered only a tool used when we need to address a particular problem. On the contrary, psychotherapy has proven to be exceptionally useful with individuals who are planning to make big changes in their lives or have decided to work on themselves, in both specific and general terms. 

Even if you know that people closest to you mean well and you can rely on them in the period ahead of you, they are often unable to assess your circumstances objectively and, therefore, give advice that is to some extent based on their emotions.

Psychotherapists offer much more than conversation and attentive listening. Thanks to their knowledge and skills, they can understand the complexity of the problem you need to deal with and propose techniques that will help you adopt the best approach for coping with it.

What is the difference between a psychotherapist, psychologist, and psychiatrist?

Psychotherapists hold a bachelor’s degree (most often in the humanities) and a license granted by a professional association or government body. The education in psychotherapy lasts a minimum of four years, with specialization in one or more theoretical approaches. Psychotherapists treat depression, phobias, anxiety, panic attacks, alcoholism, and other disorders. They can also help in periods of major life changes. Conversations with psychotherapists are confidential, and the information you disclose to them is protected in accordance with the Law on the Protection of Personal Data. 

Psychologists hold a bachelor’s (or master’s) degree in psychology and are commonly employed in health and educational institutions, public and private companies, counseling centers, etc. In some cases, psychologists work side by side with psychiatrists and other medical experts as a part of expert teams. Because they are not doctors, psychologists do not make medical diagnoses and cannot prescribe medicines. They are qualified for providing psychological counseling and carrying out psychological tests and evaluation, which are extremely important for understanding the psychological state of individuals who seek their help. 

Psychiatrists hold a bachelor’s degree in medical sciences and a specialization in the field of mental health. Their approach to treatment is based on collecting medical and general data on patients, which they rely on in making accurate diagnoses and treatment plans. Unlike psychologists and psychotherapists, psychiatrists can apply pharmacotherapy and prescribe medications such as antipsychotics, sedatives, anxiolytics, and sleeping pills. They diagnose and treat patients suffering from more severe forms of mental diseases, such as schizophrenia, hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, and panic attacks. 

How to choose a psychotherapist?

Since the relationship you establish with a psychotherapist is of essence for successful therapy, it is important to approach the choice of therapist in a strategic manner. You should consider their credentials, field of expertise and experience, but also take into account how you feel in their presence. 

You can make an initial list of potential psychotherapists after consulting friends and family members who have undergone therapy. Additionally, you can ask for recommendations at local counseling centers or on relevant forums, as well as read other clients’ reviews of certain therapists. 

However, until you have talked with a psychotherapist face-to-face, you cannot be sure that you have made the right decision. That is why many people do short telephone or in-office interviews with their potential therapists, to see whether their energies are synchronized, whether they feel at ease in their presence, and whether they can relax and open up with them. 

We recommend that during the initial conversation you also inquire about the following:

  • which type of therapy they specialize in (individual, couples, group), in order to establish whether their experience matches your needs, 
  • what age are most of their clients (children, teenagers, adults),
  • whether they have experience in working with clients who have been through difficulties similar to those you are struggling with,
  • what is their approach to therapy and what methods they have used with other clients with the same problem as yours,
  • how much the psychotherapy costs and what ways of payment they accept.

In case there are any dilemmas you want to get out of the way before you schedule the first session, the best thing to do is resolve them during the first conversation with a therapist. That way, you will avoid any unpleasant situations in the future if you decide to change your therapist.

The first psychotherapy session

During the first session, the psychotherapist will want to get acquainted with you and find out what has brought you to therapy. Gathering the most important information is mostly done through conversation, although clients may sometimes be asked to fill in a prepared form.

Your psychotherapist will also inform you about themselves, their office, and way of work, so that you can get an idea of what the sessions will be like and what you can expect to happen during them. During the first (and all following) sessions, the psychotherapist will set some time aside for questions related to the therapy process or a particular problem. 

The psychotherapist will commonly define a few minor goals that are easier to achieve during the first session, as well as propose techniques for achieving them. 

It is completely normal for you to experience different levels of nervousness before the first session, even if you have already visited other psychotherapists. You can prepare for the first session by thinking about (or even writing down) the issues that trouble you and that you want to discuss. The psychotherapist will ask what has motivated you to turn to therapy at that particular time in your life, because this information will help him or her to identify the problem and determine which psychological methods could help. With regard to goals, they are often difficult to define in the course of the first session. That is why you and your therapist will probably set a few smaller goals that are easier to achieve, as well as talk about the frequency of your visits and possible further steps in your therapy.

What results can you expect?

As with many other questions related to psychotherapy, there is no universal answer to this one. Furthermore, there is no universal remedy, a box of pills you can take two to three times daily after a meal and see the first results in a week. 

Your current situation will not change overnight, and the process you go through with a psychotherapist is personalized and focused on reaching specific goals that you define together. 

In general terms, psychotherapy helps you connect to your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. During the process, you will find the strength necessary for learning how to face your problems and cope with them. Some of the newly-acquired skills will help you to

  • gain control of your thoughts, feelings, and actions,
  • reduce and, at some point, completely eliminate the symptoms of psychological problems,
  • find the best problem-solving ways,
  • develop the sense of control,
  • free yourself from internal stress and pressure,
  • recognize the thoughts and behaviors that affect your life,
  • reduce internal conflicts and improve relationships with others,
  • increase the level of satisfaction with life. 

How to get the most out of therapy?

Rule one: don’t run away from your problem or be afraid to talk about it.

Visit your therapist with an open mind and readiness for change. Therapy is most effective with individuals who are prepared to make certain changes related both to their way of thinking and future actions. Best results are achieved when people allow themselves to relax before a psychotherapist, who will do his or her best to create a pleasant and supportive atmosphere.

Rule two: be honest.

A psychotherapist will not be able to help unless he or she gets thoroughly familiar with you and the challenges that are holding you back in life. There are probably overwhelming thoughts and feelings you haven’t been able to share with anyone, despite the support of those closest to you. It is in these situations that a psychotherapist will give you objective expert help. 

Since the interaction with a psychotherapist is one of the factors with the biggest impact on the success of therapy, if you need more time to build trust with your psychotherapist, it is extremely important to let them know how you feel. They will then take necessary measures and adapt their approach to strengthen the relationship. 

Rule three: psychotherapy is a continuing process that demands your active participation.

Psychotherapy does not only involve the time spent in a session. Everything you learn from a psychotherapist needs to be implemented actively and daily in order to accomplish visible results, and, as in all other aspects of life, you will have to roll up your sleeves and work actively on the realization of the defined goals. No matter how experienced and knowledgeable they are, psychotherapists cannot change your life radically unless you want the change it too and work on achieving this goal. It is important to give your best during each exercise and activity proposed by your psychotherapist during the session, or assigned as ‘’homework’’. 

Rule four: the road to change is long and sometimes painful.

No one can predict when you will notice the first results. Many experience a great sense of relief after only a few introductory sessions simply because they have taken the first step by seeking psychological support. Nevertheless, radical change takes time and mental strength to cope with the problems you have been suppressing, hoping they will just disappear. 

During therapy, you will have to step out of your comfort zone, face your challenges, and be prepared for the possibility that you may not feel too well after certain sessions. But it is then that you will often discover mechanisms that will serve you as weapons, get you out of a bad period, and lead you to feel calm and satisfied. 

Rule five: honor the agreement.

You will not always be in the mood for therapy, and there will be times when you will even be tempted to cancel it due to other engagements. It is important to understand that each time you break the continuity you take a step backward. Even if you feel discomfort regarding a particular topic or an activity you are supposed to undertake during the next session, don’t run away by canceling the appointment. Speak about your problem and explain precisely what makes you nervous about it, so that your psychotherapist can choose a different approach to keep you on your path to recovery. 

Ready for the next step?

The Selfnest platform gathers experts qualified to give you psychological support at all times. We offer you the opportunity to identify your needs and easily find a psychotherapist with the necessary experience to help you deal with a particular problem.

You can go through the entire process anonymously. Don’t be afraid of talking about the issues that trouble you. 

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