How Does Counseling and Psychotherapy Work?

By HUI KUANG HSIEH 

As mental health professionals, we take into account a person's bio-psycho-social factors, genetic makeup, and life experiences. We use the information provided by clients to understand how they develop their worldview, habitual thought patterns, coping mechanisms, as well as underlying sense of self, others, and the world in general. We aim to find out how their worldview affects their behaviors, moods, and interpersonal relationships. In short, we seek to understand elements that may attribute to clients' presenting problems or personal difficulties. Then, we use several skills and our relationship with the client to assist them in acknowledging this cause and effect relationship, so that they can have a better understanding of themselves and the interplay between their personal issues and any challenges in their interpersonal and romantic relationships. After increasing their level of personal awareness, we work on letting the client take responsibility for their own reactions and personal choices. Furthermore, learning new tools to regulate their emotions and express their needs helps them gain a sense of self-control and empowerment to face personal challenges on a daily basis.

Therefore, you can understand now that psychotherapy is a process of cooperation that takes time. Progress not only heavily relies on the client's emotional stability, cognitive capacity, current mental status, and readiness for treatment, but also on their relationship with the therapist. The client's ability to trust their therapist, so that they feel safe and secure is the crucial factor to achieve desirable outcomes. However, the time taken to meet client expectations and achieve this varies according to the above conditions. Meanwhile, for patients suffering from psychotic symptoms or more severe degrees of physiological discomfort, integration of psychiatric medicine into the treatment is also very important.

Undoubtedly, everyone has their own perspective as to what constitutes a "desirable outcome". With my services as a mental health professional, I hope that clients learn to regulate their emotions by themselves, so that they have the ability to function independently, take on responsibility, and perform their roles in relation to their families and society. Ultimately, I desire to see them enjoy their lives, accomplish personal goals, establish fulfilling and meaningful relationships, and achieve a sense of inner peace and happiness.

Does talk therapy work?

I consider psychotherapy as a process that rewires the brain and reshapes a person's experiences. Does talk therapy work? Do all those hours spent in interventions and sessions work, even if clients might be unaware of their outcomes? These are not just questions asked by clients. As mental health professionals, we ask these questions a lot too.

Fortunately, with advances in neuroscience and technology, researchers have been able to use brain imaging techniques to see demonstrable and definite changes in a person's brain after psychotherapy. Researchers have been exploring every section and function of the human brain, linking it with various mental and neural processes. They discovered that when an individual develops a psychiatric disorder, their brain changes. However, researchers have also identified similar changes in people with mental illness, including depression, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, as a result of undergoing psychotherapy. During the process of psychotherapy, several changes in the neural architecture of the brain occur, bringing about a change in the neural mechanisms of the brain and producing long-lasting effects. On top of that, numerous studies have shown that most people who receive psychotherapy experience symptomatic relief and a better ability to function in their daily lives.

In short, I hope this scientific perspective helps relieve any doubts over psychotherapy you might have. In addition to finding a therapist who meets your personal needs, I encourage you to approach therapy with a cooperative, open, and honest attitude as well as a readiness to commit to the process to get the most out of counseling and psychotherapy. However, even though you might experience many ups and downs along a rough journey, you will not be alone.