The guidance of a psychologist is no longer limited to those with mental illness, those who have suffered a trauma or who are going through a difficult period in their lives - the use of therapy has expanded to a variety of people and arenas. For instance, psychologists in Behavioral Economics can help people make smart financial choices and better investments. Sports psychologists can help athletes develop the traits and skills needed to be mental as well as physical competitors. Psychologists can also help managers pick the type of employees who will be the most successful and honest, provide guidance on how to prevent job accidents and occupational stress, and even help workers balance their career and family life. And for those who think that psychologists only focus on the negative aspects of human behavior, you may want to put those rose-colored glasses on and take a look at two very influential movements: positive psychology and the emergence of life coaches, both of which focus on helping individuals set and achieve their goals, capitalize on strengths, and enhance their overall life.
Choosing to attend therapy is a big first step for many people. While the social stigma that used to be widespread has been fading in recent decades, hurtful comments might still keep those who need help from taking it. "Shrinks are for crazy people". "Only weak people get help". "You're depressed? Be a man and snap out of it!" What a sting, coming from a stranger, not to mention someone you love. As uninformed and unhelpful as such attitudes may be, the result is that some people who really need and want help end up suffering in silence, fearful of how family, friends, and work peers will react. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, approximately 20% of Americans hesitate to seek professional help for fear of the stigma connected with it (APA Survey, 2004), and 30% worry about other people finding out that they are seeking the help of a mental health professional (APA Survey, 2004).
In reality, somebody having the courage to look the truth in the eye and face his or her demons should be praised and supported. Whether the "demons" are marital problems, mental illness, performance blocks or a difficult period requiring a lot of introspection, those who seek help have the guts to open up, really think their issues through, own the good and the bad, and most of all, do something to become a better person. That means personal growth. That means greater understanding of self and better control over one's behavior, thoughts and emotions. A lot to be proud of, if you ask me, and nothing to be ashamed of.
Once you've bravely decided to take that first step (and kudos to you if you have), what's next? While several websites, including Queendom, the American Psychological Association and Psychology Today provide search options to help you find a therapist in your area, it is important to keep in mind that the type of therapy that is right for you depends on the mental health issue you are dealing with. That being said, knowing a little bit more about the approaches to psychotherapy available out there can certainly aid in your decision. The list below provides information on many of the mainstream therapeutic styles and some that are little less well-known, but still effective.
Remember: Don't be afraid to shop around when it comes to the type of therapy you are comfortable with and the type of therapist. If you are not at ease with either, you have the absolute right to seek out alternatives. Just as you would test drive a car or try an outfit on before buying it, there is nothing wrong with being a little picky when choosing the type of help that is right for you.
The goal: Psychodynamic Therapy is the umbrella term used for the methods that were practiced by two of the most famous theorists, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. In this approach, the counselor will attempt to explore the unconscious as a means for the client to obtain greater self-awareness.
What to expect: Clients are encouraged to speak openly about their thoughts and feelings in an attempt to uncover issues from their past - events, anxieties, complexes, and issues that are influencing their behavior and motivations today. This can also involve dream analysis, in which the therapist will attempt to interpret symbols and events in dreams in order to gain more insight into a client's personality. Some practitioners also use hypnosis.
What it's good for: personality disorders, depression, anxiety disorders, borderline personality disorder, panic disorder, sexual difficulties, etc.
Drawbacks: This therapeutic style requires a great deal of dedication and commitment, as it can be a very intensive therapy that may last several years.
The goal: While psychoanalysis digs deep into the past and the unconscious, Gestalt therapy focuses on the present. Gestalt therapists believe that it is only by shifting our awareness to the present that we can truly understand why we are the way we are, recover from psychological issues, and change unhealthy behavioral patterns.
What to expect: In this approach, the counselor will work with the client in a direct interaction to help him/her gain a greater understanding of himself/herself. Clients are encouraged to take responsibility for their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in order to gain greater independence and personal growth. Techniques often involve role-playing, confrontation, dream analysis, and ongoing dialogue.
What it's good for: post traumatic stress disorder, crisis intervention, alcohol and drug abuse, depression, anxiety disorders, psychotic disorders, borderline personality disorder, etc.
Drawbacks: While it depends on the characteristics of the therapist, some practitioners can be rather direct and perhaps a little "in your face". This is often an intense therapy that may not be appropriate for everyone.
The goal: In this therapy, the basic premise is that our thoughts have a major impact on how we feel and behave. It is believed that many psychological issues, like depression, are a result of how we interpret our experiences. The therapist will help modify unhealthy thoughts and behaviors and replace them with ones that are more positive.
What to expect: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (depending on the type of problem) tends to require fewer sessions compared to the therapies mentioned above. Therapeutic techniques often include journal writing, role-playing, Aversive Conditioning, and Systematic Desensitization.
What it's good for: CBT has been used to treat a number of problems quite successfully, including generalized anxiety disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, panic disorder, insomnia, hypochondriasis, dissociative identity disorder, etc.
Drawbacks: This therapeutic style requires clients to take an active approach in their recovery; those who are not willing to participate or to practice any recommended techniques or exercises will not benefit from this approach.
The goal: Behavioral Therapy attempts to change unhealthy behaviors by altering the manner in which a person responds to the events and situations around him/her. The goal of Behavioral Therapy is to change or reduce problematic behavior and encourage positive behavior.
What to expect: Common techniques used in this type of therapy include Desensitization or Graduated Exposure Therapy (slowly but steadily exposing a client to something they fear), assertiveness training, and relaxation techniques.
What it's good for: obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, depression etc.
Drawbacks: As in CBT where "homework assignments" are common, those who are not willing to actively participate or to practice any recommended techniques or exercises will not benefit from this approach. Moreover, depending on the type of problem and technique used, Behavioral Therapy can require a great deal of dedication and commitment on the client's part.
The goal: Cognitive Therapy, in contrast to CBT, focuses mostly on distorted thoughts that lead to unhealthy and destructive behaviors. By changing harmful thinking patterns, actions and behaviors will be impacted in a positive way as well.
What to expect: In this therapy, through the use of cognitive restructuring, skill-building, education, and problem-solving, the counselor will help change the manner in which a person thinks about himself/herself as well as the people and circumstances around him/her.
What it's good for: generalized anxiety disorder, depression, panic disorder, anger problems, marital problems, etc. It is also known to be useful in treating a number of medical issues, including chronic pain, hypertension, and fibromyalgia.
Drawbacks: Cognitive Therapy on its own may not be as effective as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and is not recommended for very serious disorders like Schizophrenia. Some experts believe that this school of thought doesn't pay sufficient attention to the biological aspect of many disorders. In addition, modifying unhealthy thought patterns may not always prove useful in changing problematic behaviors.