Fact vs. Fiction
Is Talk Therapy Effective?
If you've never before been in therapy, you might have some preconceptions about what actually happens in therapy. I think for many people, hearing that word "therapy" conjures mental images of lying on a couch several times per week for years on end, telling a therapist about one's deepest, darkest secrets, dreams and fantasies. But what is it really like? And really, does therapy work?
Well, let me begin by saying that there was a time when maybe the scene I described above was the norm--back in the 1950s and 1960s. Since that time major advances in the field of psychotherapy have occurred, allowing therapists to help clients find relief in a much shorter period of time (typically weeks or months, rather than years). Although there are various types of therapy, some tend to be much more effective than others. One such advance in the field of mental health occurred when psychiatrist Aaron Beck, M.D. and psychologist Albert Ellis, Ph.D. each noticed that human emotions (i.e., disappointed, sad, hurt, frustrated, irritated, etc.) were not caused directly by the events in clients' lives but rather by the "automatic thoughts" or
"self-talk" associated with the emotion. I always explain this to clients in terms of a really nasty, congested traffic jam. It would be easy to say that the event itself were causing drivers to feel irritated, frustrated and angry. If that is indeed the case, though, wouldn't we expect everyone in that traffic jam to be yelling, cursing and throwing up the middle finger? So what differentiates the angry driver from another driver, who maybe sits there calmly listening to the radio? The answer is his or her "self-talk" or "automatic thoughts": we are constantly making unconscious judgments about the events in our lives--telling ourselves if the event is good or bad, if it is fair or not fair and if we can cope with it or not (whether or not this is actually true). Part of my approach to therapy is teaching you how to spot this problematic self-talk when it occurs and to systematically evaluate the evidence for and against it. Think of it as "putting the thought on trial"--weighing the evidence for and against it and then arriving at a verdict. I often hear clients tell me, "I try to tell myself positive thoughts, but it doesn't work." My approach is not about telling oneself positive thoughts but rather about telling oneself realistic thoughts.
Most of my clients tell me that I am "the first therapist, who's ever really given me tools to help me...all my past therapist did was listen and didn't really help me make anything better." Additionally, clients typically tell me only two to three months into our work together that they feel much more empowered and no longer feel that they need therapy. That is my goal--to ultimately help you to become the person you have always wanted to be.
What Therapy Is
I believe that therapy is a collaborative relationship, in which we can explore and set goals for positive change in your life. Therapy is an opportunity for you to experiment with new behaviors in a welcoming, non-judgmental atmosphere. It is a chance for you to explore and evaluate your beliefs, personal values and mindset about your life. We will typically meet by video (or phone if you feel more comfortable) once per week, although some clients choose to meet more often than that. I will often share with you information about how your own beliefs about yourself and the world around you may have developed and offer an alternative, objective perspective when needed. Many of us turn to family or friends with personal difficulties, and while they usually have good intentions, it can sometimes be difficult for family and friends to be unbiased in what they say to us in response. I tend to be welcoming but direct when needed, and many clients have told me that they found this especially helpful in getting them to think about thought patterns and behaviors, that were no longer serving them. I specialize in work with LGBTQ clients, addictions, depression and anxiety--although I have several years' experience with other clinical problems, as well.
What Therapy Isn't
Many clients initially come to me, asking me for "advice" or "tips" on how to make their particular problem go away. While I wish that I had a magic wand and could provide such instant relief, I think it is more important to allow you to make your own decisions--but to help you evaluate whether those decisions are going to ultimately benefit you. Therapy is not a therapist telling you what to do. It is not, as I explained before, lying on a couch and talking about deep, dark secrets for years on end. Therapy is not normally an overly emotional experience, although it can at times bring up emotions, which may feel uncomfortable in the moment. It is important that when this occurs we are able to talk about it and process it together. Lastly, therapy is not, for most people, something needed for years. Most people can find effective relief within only a short period of time.