Frequently Asked Questions
It is daunting enough to contemplate sitting opposite a total stranger to discuss your inner most thoughts and feelings. But if you know what you can expect on a broad scale, the factors you should take into account before embarking on such a journey, and the part you will be expected to play, then you have a good chance of making a reasonably informed decision about what to do.
Below are some of the most common questions that potential clients ask:
Psychotherapy varies, depending on the personalities of the psychologist and client, and the particular problems s/he brings forward. There are many different methods a psychologist may use in order to deal with the problems which the client hopes to address. Psychotherapy is not like a medical doctor visit. Instead, it calls for a very active effort on the client’s part. In order for the therapy to be most successful, the client will have to work on things that are discussed during therapy sessions, at home. Psychotherapy can have benefits and risks. Since therapy often involves discussing unpleasant aspects of a person’s life, s/he may experience uncomfortable negative feelings. On the other hand, psychotherapy can also lead to better relationships, solutions to specific problems, and significant reductions in feelings of distress. However, there are no guarantees on what a client can experience, as each individual is different. A likely indicator that a potential client may benefit from psychotherapy is when s/he finds him/herself having persistent difficulties dealing with negative feelings or behaviours, resulting in some aspect of his/her personal, social, or working life being affected in a negative manner.
As the years are going by, mental health disorders are becoming more prevalent, resulting in more people seeking counselling/psychotherapy. According to Consultancy Africa Intelligence (CAI), mental health disorders are steadily approaching the title of the second highest cause of disability in the world. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) found that as many as 1 in 6 South Africans suffer from anxiety, depression or substance-use problems.
The problem with talking things over with family or friends is that usually they cannot, even with the best intentions in the world, offer unbiased responses. In their desire to show you sympathy, they may contribute to the problem by reassuring you that your anger or anxieties are fully justified. These reassurances can prevent you from recognizing how you may be contributing to the situation and result in you not making adjustments to your own thinking. They may also offer simplistic solutions to the problem, which may solve the situation temporarily but in effect, complicate the situation further, in the long run.
People often describe psychotherapy as having a chat with someone who will tell you what is wrong in your life, and give you advice or instructions on how to fix it. This is not the case in reality. Psychotherapy is about self-help; an active, collaborative process designed to enable you to explore unresolved issues in a secure environment, and to better understand why they may be causing you difficulties. It is about change; changing from ways of thinking and acting, that may be holding you back in life, to the adoption of courses of action that enable you to move forward.
For counselling to be effective, it is essential that the client trusts the psychologist and is comfortable with sharing their inner most feelings, knowing that whatever they say will be confidential. For this reason, strict confidentiality is observed and is fundamental to the requirements of all professional counselling. The only recognisable exceptions to confidentiality are:
- Where the psychologist has strong evidence that a client may harm themselves or another person, in which case they may want to contact their client’s GP or the authorities.
- Where the psychologist is required, by the Court, to provide information pertaining to the client that may be relevant in Court proceedings.
- Where the psychologist is given consent, by the client, to share such information.
A number of factors will affect the overall time you spend in counselling/psychotherapy. If you are experiencing difficulties in just one area in your life, then sessions are likely to be quite focused and results may be achieved sooner than if you need to address more complex matters. However, this does not mean that more time will not be utilized to address specific issues, should it be required. It is also important to recognize that your own commitment will have a significant impact on how long therapy needs to continue and how successful it will be. Missing sessions or not doing the work required in between sessions may hinder the therapeutic progress you make.
When entering into counselling with a psychologist, it is essential that you know what you want to achieve from the counselling process. Your goals should be reasonably specific, but also realistic. It is important that you discuss fully and frankly, the factors that are causing you problems, with your psychologist. Always bear in mind that the essence of therapy is not for the psychologist to tell you what to do, but to enable you to find your own solutions to the problems you are experiencing, together with his/her facilitation. One of the harder aspects of counselling is that very often we may feel worse before we feel better. Therefore, it is important that you build stamina to stay the course, and tolerate the discomfort that comes with the therapeutic process. Lastly, it should be noted that counselling is not a magic potion, and to fully benefit from the process, it is essential to commit to regular, usually weekly, sessions. If the continuity is broken, you may risk drifting back to the default position you were trying to move away from.