Psychotherapy – What is it?
Psychotherapy is a part of the therapeutic management of most psychiatric conditions whether we are talking about stress, depression, anxiety or personality disorders, with scientifically proven effects. While medication used to be considered a treatment for biological conditions and therapy for psychological ones, studies over the last two decades show indisputable evidence that therapy alters brain structure, with complementary effects to those of medication, and leads to a better recovery of the patient.
A 2016 meta-analysis (a study evaluating the results of several studies on the same topic) showed that cognitive behavioral therapy used in patients with major depression produces changes in their brains that do not occur in patients receiving medication alone, namely: changes in activation patterns in the frontal and temporal cortex – areas associated with processing and storing memories, as well as the act of thinking about ourselves.
Benefits of a psychotherapy session
Psychotherapy has a “top-down” effect. It’s tied to the way we perceive the world, as well as our place within it. Complementary to this effect, is the “bottom-up” effect of medication, which acts on the level of profound emotional structures. They diminish the psychosomatic symptoms of depression (fatigue, chest pain, etc.)
On the other hand, another study suggests that in cases of patients that respond well to anti-depressive medication, psychotherapy furthers the benefits of treatment by diminishing residual symptoms, as well as lowering the rate of relapse. With this in mind, it’s recommended that patients opt for both types of treatment.
Patients suffering from schizophrenia or other types of psychosis are rarely directed towards psychotherapy. A recent study on paranoid schizophrenia patients that have benefited from cognitive-behavioral therapy, showed a heightened neuronal connectivity in the amygdala, as well as the prefrontal cortex. The amygdala is the part of the brain that governs over emotion, while the prefrontal cortex is specialized in the executive function of the brain, expressing personality, and decision-making.
Medication or psychotherapy
No changes in the medication-only group. Clinically, these changes translated into an improvement in patients’ symptoms and a very high remission rate. This study shows important proof that psychiatric conditions with a biological substrate can also benefit from psychotherapy, while having very good results.
In the case of borderline personality disorder, a study evaluated neuronal changes in patients that benefited from dialectic-behavioral therapy, and if these changes would indicate an improvement of symptoms.
As expected, psychotherapy led to lower electric and vascular cerebral activity in the specific areas of negative emotions. This is the mechanism we use to diminish the emotional hyperactivity that is characteristic to this disorder.
Unfortunately, contrary to all scientific evidence, psychotherapy is still viewed with suspicion and doubt. Many people only turn to it as a last resort.
It’s time to switch up the narrative. It is time to fight back against the stereotypes perpetuated out of ignorance, regarding psychotherapy. It is imperative that people have access to the healthcare they need.
Psychotherapy myths versus reality
1. A stranger cannot understand you. You can get the same results by talking to a friend.
Psychotherapy is often confused and compared with interpersonal relationships in our daily lives. This comparison is wrong from the get-go. Psychotherapists are professionals that have years of study and hours of experience behind them. The relationship they have with their clients is exclusively a professional one. It’s to be expected that your interactions with your psychotherapist be different from your interactions with your friend, and this is an advantage:
It offers the freedom of saying what’s bothering you, with no fear of judgement or ruining a relationship. Your therapist is legally obliged to keep everything you share with them confidential, so there’s also no fear of secrets being divulged.
Your psychotherapist has a wide arsenal of techniques that were developed within numerous therapy schools, whose efficiency has been proven in treating people and improving their quality of life.
Psychotherapy is exclusively dedicated to you. Friendships are mutual, so it concerns the problems and experiences of both parties, not just yours.
2. Psychotherapy is only affordable if you have a high income
While it’s true that the psychoanalysis Freud – the man that founded the basis of speech-based therapy at the end of the 19th century – practiced was expensive and only accessible to people of privilege, this has changed radically in present day. In Romania, discounted psychotherapy sessions are available with the help of CAS, or other organizations that provide these services for free. What’s more, the prices of psychotherapy sessions are not restrictive in Romania. You should consider that it is a long term investment in your mental health and quality of life. A well-timed intervention could prevent more severe conditions, both physically and psychically.
3. Therapists are brainwashers
One of the potential causes of this belief is the fact that people often change while in the therapeutic process. These changes could be anything: gaining emotional and financial independence, improving their self-confidence and perspective on the world, giving up on toxic relationships. These changes are results of the improvement and evolution of the patient, not of a therapist’s advice or directives. Psychotherapy is strictly regulated by ethical, moral, and legal norms. In Romania, they are applied by the College of Psychologists, and one of the directives of good practice is respecting patient autonomy.
Psychotherapists do not offer advice or judgement on people or events in our lives. These practices don’t reflect their training or role as a therapist. Therapists only provide the support and tools needed to solve our problems; they offer an encouraging, guiding space where we can explore our options, and the potential consequences of our choices. They help us find answers to issues that eat away at our mental wellbeing.
4. Psychotherapy is a scam, talking cannot solve serious issues
This preconception has its source at the lack of knowledge on therapy. First of all, this statement is an oversimplification of what psychotherapy represents. Obviously, within session time, there is dialogue between the client and the therapist, but this is far from a simple discussion. Rather, it is a complex activity, based on methods and techniques whose efficiency is scientifically proven. Every therapy school has its particularities, of course. There are countless studies that prove the efficiency of psychotherapy in both treating psychological conditions, and improving quality of life.
Psychotherapy can be combined with medication. This combination is superior to pharmacological treatment alone. Such is the case with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder. Other times psychotherapy is the treatment of choice in the management of conditions such as: personality disorders; post-traumatic stress disorder.
5. Psychotherapists will divulge all things I share with them
Trust is a delicate subject in the post-communist society of Romania. It has been sabotaged by decades of life being under close surveillance by the state. The state had countless collaborators that often disclosed compromising information about even their loved ones. This tendency to be overly careful when protecting your personal life has been passed down generations, so it is understandable that some people would be reserved when it comes to sharing the most intimate aspects of their life with a stranger.
However, it’s important to mention that, as mentioned above, psychotherapy is a strictly regulated profession. Confidentiality represents one of the most important rules of the ethical code, and is protected by law no. 213/2004 regarding exercising the profession of a psychologist. The psychotherapist has the obligation to keep patient information secret even from their closest relatives, including after the patient’s potential passing. The only exceptions to this rule are contexts in which the patient or someone else’s life is threatened.
6. Psychotherapy takes forever
Again, this myth probably originates from the beginnings of psychotherapy as a whole. This process could, in truth, take a long time, between 4 and 10 years, but this is only one of the many kinds of psychotherapy.
According to a study, 50% of patients have achieved incredible progress after only 8 therapy sessions, and, after half a year of therapy, 75% of them felt better than before.
Of course, we all have our own rhythm of evolution, so there is no deadline for psychotherapy, but ending the therapeutic process is a crucial aspect. It is as important as any other step of the process. The psychotherapist’s duty is to recognize the moment when evolution stagnates, the client has reached the goals they established for themselves at the beginning of therapy, and is ready to apply gained knowledge on their own.
7. I can get better on my own, without psychotherapy.
Western society is becoming increasingly individualistic with financial, technological and demographic developments. There are more and more of us and, paradoxically, more and more alone. Cities with millions of inhabitants cannot offer the proximity and connection of small communities. That’s probably why we’ve learned that we have to do it ourselves and not rely on others. But this can be harmful to our mental health and stops us from asking for help when we need it.
No one is unbeatable, and mental illness is as real and important as physical illness. It’s important to accept that just as we don’t treat our cardiovascular diseases alone, we shouldn’t be alone in the fight against stress, depression or anxiety.
Interview Dr Gabriella Bondoc www.ziare.com.
When should I seek psychotherapy?
You don’t feel like yourself, your feelings seem unmanageable, and you can’t seem to be able to explain feeling anger, sadness, or fear; You exhibit auto-sabotaging behavior (excessive eating/drinking, etc.) or you practice self-harm;
You’ve had a traumatic experience (you’re an accident/abuse/disease/crime survivor)
You stopped finding joy in life or things you used to be passionate about.
Why choose group/family/couple’s therapy?
Family is where we’re born, where we form our relationships, where we learn what love and hate is. It’s our first playground, our first relationship; it’s the beginning of the journey we call life.
What we learn from our family is what we bear into society, into our relationships, into the environments we’re part of.
Psychotherapy is recommended to everyone who feels they need help with their personal development, the improvement of their quality of life, or treatment for[…]
Family is the main core in which we’re born. It is the “membrane” that protects us, that we’re raised in, that builds us up as unique human beings. Family helps support in building a “safe space” […]