Deciding to have psychotherapy is a big step for most people. You might feel so overwhelmed and can't cope with your problems alone any more that you know you need to talk to someone, a therapist
might have been recommended to you by your GP, you might have heard on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour that CBT is an NHS evidence-based treatment for anxiety and depression, or you might have your
friends and family telling you need therapy. But, the next stage can feel like entering a maze if you don’t know anything about having therapy.
Therapy can be a truly life-changing experience. It can help you to step back from your life and see what is going on in a different light; you can understand how your problems arose and think about new ways forward. Therapy can empower you to make positive changes in your life and help you to move away from repeating negative patterns that are maintaining your difficulties.
There are lots of different types of therapies and you might choose a therapist who’s a specialist in one particular approach or a therapist who’s trained in a number of approaches and can tailor your therapy to meet your needs (you might see someone call themselves an ‘integrative therapist’ if they can offer this). The word ‘therapist’ can be applied to a number of professions: clinical psychologists, counselling psychologists, psychotherapists, counsellors, CBT therapists or psychoanalytic therapists – basically, anyone who offers therapy.
Talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are particularly good at giving you a structured focus for specific problems, such as anxiety, teaching you tools that you can use to manage and overcome your fears. It is particularly helpful for people who suffer from panic attacks and specific phobias, such as fear of flying. For example, people who've been in car accidents and are scared of being in a car can make particularly good use of CBT, often seeing a significant improvement in 6-10 sessions. You can read more about CBT here http://www.babcp.com/Public/What-is-CBT.
A newer therapy, called EMDR (which stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing), has been recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Evidence (NICE) for people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. It can also be helpful for any other problems which have a core trauma associated with them, such as childhood sexual abuse, accidents and surgical traumas as explained here: http://www.emdrassociation.org.uk. EMDR is available on the NHS but provision across the country can be patchy.
If you have long-standing problems stemming from your childhood which still affect your life, psychodynamic therapy might be the approach which suits you. It is very relationship-focused so you can start to identify how early relationships define your current relationships with others and your relationship with yourself. Patterns which you repeat in your daily life can be examined in the therapy room and you can decide if you need to change these to live in a more emotionally healthy way. This is generally a more longer-term therapy: http://www.psychotherapy.org.uk/iqs/dbitemid.644/sfa.view/different_types_of_psychotherapy.html
If you’re not sure which therapy is right for you, any good therapist should be able to give you some idea if their therapeutic approach will help your particular issues, whether that’s a relationship problem, depression, chronic pain or disability. It's important to ask any questions you need to, either during a brief phone call or during an initial appointment. With motivation, desire and hard work, therapy can offer you the opportunity to take control of your life and make changes that you never thought possible!
Dr Joanne Weston is a chartered clinical psychologist offering CBT, EMDR and other psychological therapies in Bristol.