Chris Cooper PhD

Psychotherapy FAQs

WHAT IS PSYCHOTHERAPY?
Some therapy is uses a solution-oriented, problem-solving approach related to specific problems or stresses. More generally, therapy can be viewed as a more internal process addressing some part of a person’s life that is causing pain or distress. On one level it is designed to help people solve problems in living by making changes in thoughts, feelings and/or behaviors. On a deeper level, the purpose is to bring to consciousness unconscious processes that are driving behavior, affecting your emotional life or interfering with your functioning. Once those processes are brought out of the unconscious into the light you can make conscious choices about whether and how to act around them.

According to shamanic practitioners there are four levels at which one can work: intellectual, emotional, mythological and energetic — each deeper than the previous one. Psychotherapy usually focuses on the top two of these levels, however, you can work at any of these levels depending on your wishes and the capabilities and training of the practitioner with whom you work.

WHAT CAN I EXPECT WHEN I GO TO THERAPY?
Most therapy sessions consist of you sitting across the room from a therapist and talking with the therapist. Some therapists incorporate relaxation training, art, dance or other modalities. You should ask the therapist you will be meeting with for the details of their procedures.

WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE USE COUNSELING OR THERAPY?
All kinds. Everyone faces problems and challenges throughout their lives. Contrary to popular belief, no one solves all their problems or reaches their potential on their own or with ease. In my mind there are different reasons for seeking out therapeutic help. Sometimes it is because of perceived problems or difficulties that feel overwhelming or unsolvable. Our complex, demanding society– including the demands of work or school– often make even daily tasks difficult. It is also common to be faced with unexpected challenges for which we have had no chance to prepare. When that happens, coping skills can get overwhelmed, leading to distress in various forms. Such distress may lead a person to seek advice or help. In addition, a person may find themselves in a creative block, or wonder why they react the way they do in certain situations. Or a person might just want to understand herself better and explore her inner world. Psychotherapeutic work can be used to increase self-awareness, engage in personal growth, and help navigate through transitions.

BUT I THOUGHT SICK PEOPLE WENT TO PSYCHOLOGISTS. I’M NOT MENTALLY ILL!
Some people have misgivings about going to therapy, believing it is for the seriously disturbed only. It is true that many therapeutic techniques were developed in response to people who were having severe problems. However, these techniques can be helpful to anyone struggling with problems and adjustments that are not responding to other efforts, or people striving to understand themselves more fully and to develop their internal lives.

THIS SOUNDS GOOD, BUT HOW CAN I AFFORD TO DO THIS WORK? IT MUST BE EXPENSIVE!
Psychotherapy, especially if you are interested in long-term, in-depth work, can mean a significant expenditure of money. However, this can be thought of as an investment. This has been likened to the thinking that goes into paying a significant sum of money to further your education. People generally pay money for education because they think that education will be both a personal asset bringing enjoyment, confidence, and personal fulfillment and because they believe that with additional education, they will be able to get a better job, make more money, and in the long run to earn back the amount invested with interest. The same thinking can apply to psychotherapy. The return from this investment might be increasing your comfort in the world, better relationships, or even removing blocks that interfere with your work and your productivity.

WHAT ARE THE GOALS OF THERAPY?
Because people use therapy to help with a variety of problems and challenges, it is important that goals be individualized. You and the therapist work together to determine goals. That said, there are some general goals that almost always apply.

For example, distress is usually associated with the attempt to solve some problem or meet some challenge. The connection between the distress and the underlying problem is often unclear. One goal is to clarify this connection, and requires a growing awareness about yourself, getting to know yourself, your relationships, and your environment better.

Another goal might be to find better problem-solving and coping strategies, to find more meaningful and effective ways of living your life.

HOW DOES THERAPY WORK?
It is my belief that work in therapy happens on a number of levels, and depends not only on the verbal interchange between the client and therapist, but on the intangibles that come from talking with another person and developing a therapeutic relationship.

The metaphor of the “story” is often useful in illustrating how therapy works. You’ve come to therapy because there is something about your life story that is not working, that you don’t understand, or that you want to explore. The process of therapy is a collaborative one in which you and your therapist work together to help you re-author your story into one that is more empowered, more meaningful, more workable. Therapy can also be seen as your journey to explore your feelings and the meaning of your inner and external life. The therapist serves as a more experienced guide as you take this journey into your life, your feelings and your personal mythology.

Sometimes people come to therapy hoping for a quick answer. While this is understandable, it rarely happens. Few people go to the trouble of coming to therapy without having tried hard to solve their problems or engage in personal growth on their own. Therapy, growth and inner journeying are hard work. However, the rewards of this effort can be profound.

IS THERAPY EFFECTIVE?
Research shows that therapy is helpful to most people willing to invest the required effort. Sometimes, however, it is not. Some things that might impede therapy include poor rapport between you and your therapist and a poor fit between the therapeutic method selected and your problem or personality. If after a few sessions you do not feel comfortable, you should bring this up with your therapist.

WHAT KINDS OF FEELINGS MIGHT I EXPECT DURING THERAPY?
Therapy can be emotionally painful at times when issues long avoided or hidden are raised. Remembering or talking about unpleasant events, feelings, or thoughts can result in your experiencing discomfort or strong feelings of anger, sadness, worry, fear, anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, and other feelings of discomfort. In addition, increased insight and self-awareness sometimes produce initial discomfort which ultimately may be a catalyst for change. Therefore, it is unrealistic to expect to feel better after each session. And, there may be times when you may leave the session feeling somewhat anxious or upset. If this happens regularly, however, you should tell your therapist. This pain should not be endured for its own sake but only in the service of your therapeutic goals.

Additionally, to hear what another person is trying to tell you, it is necessary to lower defenses and allow sometimes-difficult information to come in. This, too, often feels uncomfortable or threatening and requires courage.