Psychotherapy 101

South Shore Women's Journal - Health & Wellness
By Dr. Julie A. Johnson

What are some of the reasons people seek out psychotherapy?

People come in for therapy for a variety of reasons such as depression, anxiety or loss. Other issues that may prompt people to seek support are major life changes such as marital problems, divorce, job change, family issues, health problems, or a difficult time functioning personally and or professionally.

How do people start the process of therapy?

It is always a good idea to see your primary care physician first to rule out any medical problems. Sometimes an over or under active thyroid can look like a case of depression or panic disorder. To find a therapist, many people choose to ask their physician, friend or family member for a good referral. There are several resources available to find qualified therapists such as the internet or your insurance company. If you decide to contact an agency you will go through an intake process. The intake process usually entails a representative from the agency asking questions about what your specific needs are and then passing your information on to a therapist who will contact you to set up an appointment.

What can I expect on my first appointment?

Often times there is paperwork to be signed and filled out. After the paperwork portion is completed, I take time to talk with my patients and find out what is bringing them in to therapy at this point in their life.  Patients generally feel a great sense of relief to tell me what is happening.  It is common for people to become teary or emotional when explaining why they have decided to come in for therapy. An individual therapy session generally lasts about 50 minutes. Toward the end of the session we will develop a plan as to the frequency of the sessions and what is important to focus on. It is important to find a therapist that you feel a good connection with. For most people, you can usually tell if you connect well to the therapist by the third session. If you are feeling disconnected try to bring this up and discuss it. Talking about it may help to resolve it. If it persists, you may want to change therapists. Your relationship to the therapist is important!

If I attend therapy, do I need psychiatric medications?

Not in all cases. It depends on the person and their symptoms. Some people’s symptoms are so severe that they have a difficult time functioning. In those cases, medication is an important adjunct therapy. Research does indicate that psychotherapy and psychotropic medication is the best modality to treat some forms of mental illness. At our agency we have a psychiatrist that works very closely with our clinical team.  This is helpful to the patient from a continuum of care point of view. It is all managed under one roof.

How long do people need to be in therapy for?

Therapy is about change. The hope from my professional perspective is that whatever the problem that initiated the patient coming in for therapy has been resolved. The patient has learned new ways of coping and feels more confident managing their life than they did prior to beginning therapy. There is no “magic” length of time. Some people’s symptoms decrease rapidly while others have more embedded issues. Some patients choose to stay in therapy longer because they feel as though they need the support in their lives. As long as patients are benefiting and that is exemplified in their self-report and behaviors, we are on the right path. Some patients choose to take a “therapy holiday”. They may take a few months off or even years at a time.  It has been my experience that most people who chose to come to therapy enjoy the process of getting to know themselves better. 

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