I will be answering this question in a short video that will be available soon at http://projectpsychotherapy.blogspot.com. My thoughts here are a version of what I plan to say less formally in the video.
Psychotherapy helps by offering a unique place in which to tell your story and to develop a healing conversation that relieves the distresses and increases the pleasures of living. There are three parts to the process: safety, exploration, and action.
We start with a safe and confidential space—and that is something we create together. We agree to meet regularly and our work is confidential. Every topic is welcome; our goal is to learn, to experience, and to understand. You set the agenda and you set the pace, I learn about your life from you, and we work together to nurture a welcoming curiosity about everything you experience—painful or pleasant, harmful or healing. We want to create a safe relationship—remembering that safety and comfort are not the same. This is our context for change. Psychotherapy helps in the long run because we create this context and work outward from there.
Inside this safe and confidential space, we explore your experience—past and present—and we test plans and goals for the future. Together we can challenge familiar patterns of feeling and behavior and explore new possibilities—figuring out how you have kept yourself safe in the past and exploring new ways of being safe and effective in the future. This can be scary, and even painful—but we can do the work because we have built a safe place in which to meet, to talk, to feel, to explore.
Our work will open new ways to act and to live in your everyday life. Because we often have overly narrow conceptions of what is possible in our lives, our work is designed to break out of those limits and to envision and then to practice a richer and more satisfying life. Things done and said in therapy will find their way into your daily life—and the therapeutic relationship will serve as a touchstone while you are testing new ways of living. We start small—with our relationship, and we build outwards—always using the space we have created together as a place to return to for reflection and revision.
Our relationship is what makes the difference—not because I am wise, but because the safe and confidential space, and the openness and safety of our conversations, helps you gain access to the full range of your own abilities.
There are two questions I am often asked: How is this different from talking to a trusted friend? How will I know when I am finished with therapy?
Our relationship is intimate like a friendship, but it is one-sided; it is focused on you, and you don’t have to take care of me. It is also more structured than a friendship—we have a purpose—to help you—and we pursue that purpose apart from the pressures of daily living. In addition, my training allows me to apply to your life knowledge of the life cycle, and of the common features of distress and recovery, in ways that can be helpful. Knowledge like that matters but it is not sufficient—we need our relationship to apply it.
You will know you are finished when our conversations have become a part of you, that is, when the things we experience and talk about together become things you do on your own.
By Michael Jones, Ph.D., LSW