Seeing a psychotherapist isn’t like seeing a doctor. When we see a doctor we expect him or her to do something to us, or for us: prescribe medication, provide a treatment, tell us what to do. We expect doctors to do something to us to make us better, with us in the role of largely passive recipients of this treatment.
Psychotherapists, by contrast, invite us to take action to ‘heal’ ourselves. In psychotherapy the patient, or client, must bring the motivation and energy to engage in the work, with the psychotherapist providing guidance, according to his or her training, experience, creativity and intution. Bringing material that you want to look at and being open to exploring it in new, creative or novel ways allows you build the learning process and enable change to take place.
Psychotherapy, counselling and personal development, then, are all intrinsically about channelling your motivation into learning and personal discovery, not ‘treatment’ in the medical sense. The learning process involves being open to new information and being curious about new experiences in order to effect personal change. Change is the product of this learning process, which only you have the power to allow by choosing to be open or closed: open to new information, old and new experiences in yourself, the ‘unknown’, and new ways of thinking and doing things, new ways of relating to yourself and to others, and new ways of acting in the world.
Often new ways of doing things can feel uncomfortable or anxiety-provoking, and so it is important that you are ready and willing to engage in work that may start off feeling a little uncomfortable. The good news is that you will be supported in your efforts, with any initial discomfort usually passing as you begin to integrate new ideas, behaviours and learning into your life.
Cultivating and adopting a learning mindset is crucial if you are to make the most of any therapeutic process. This process is seldom easy and is never passive, but it can be liberating and engaging. Adopting a passive role whereby you expect change to happen as a result of the psychotherapist’s power to motivate you or ‘make you change’ will be frustrating and ultimately a waste of your time, and money. This is always true in psychotherapy, even when you have a psychiatric diagnosis.
Being the author of your own change process and development as a person is not only empowering to you, it is the only way that psychotherapy, counselling or personal development can actually work. If you bear this in mind every time you attend a session then you will be in the best position to make the most of your time with your psychotherapist.
In order to make the most of your sessions, it can be helpful to prepare yourself for taking responsibility for your learning by reminding yourself that your psychotherapist’s role is to support and help you learn. Each question, comment, or observation he or she makes is offered to you fundamentally as a means of inviting you to take part in this learning and discovery process. Being honest and speaking openly about yourself and your experiences, being willing to face yourself squarely, is what you bring in order to make any work possible. This can sometimes be uncomfortable and scary, but is often liberating as a pathway to personal growth.
Keeping a notebook in which you record memories, dreams, things you want to focus on, questions that come up, new ideas, feelings or ways of seeing things can also be very useful and contributes to the experience of actively participating in a project of self-exploration. Applying this learning process from your sessions to everyday life is essential for new ideas and experiences to translate into greater awareness and real change. Change isn’t merely thinking differently. It’s about doing things differently.
If you need to clarify more about what is involved in psychotherapy, please feel free to ask during your next meeting.