What Is And What Is Not Psychotherapy?

What Psychotherapy is and what it is not

What is therapy? This is a recurring question in my patients’ first session. Therefore, I think it is important to dedicate this space to knowing what it means to do psychological therapy or psychotherapy.

It is common for us to start thinking about the possibility of going to a psychologist or other mental health specialist when we feel that certain situations in our daily lives are causing us a lot of discomfort.

But before requesting the help of a mental health professional, we usually seek the advice of a friend or family member we trust. This can only temporarily relieve our distress or discomfort.

Why isn’t the help of a family member or friend enough?

Due to the fact that there is an emotional bond with that person to whom we turn for help, many times we do not dare to express everything that mortifies us, either to avoid “looking bad” with them or, perhaps, because we think that We can affect you emotionally.

At the same time, keeping even a small part of the story to ourselves can be counterproductive because we will surely continue thinking about the issue that worries us and thus we only manage to reinforce it in our mind because it can trigger what, in psychology, is called mental rumination. This occurs when Those mortifying thoughts keep repeating themselves in our minds, without being able to control them, causing us more and more unrest.

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Likewise, the friend or family member who plays the role of confidant, due to the affection he or she has for us, will not “look” neutrally at the conflictive situation we are experiencing, and if it is a couple conflict, it will be even more difficult for him or her to maintain impartiality. Furthermore, our friend or family member does not have some tools that the study of psychology provides a mental health professional.

What is psychotherapy?

In principle, based on etymology, we can say that psychotherapy is the therapy of the psyche or therapy of the mind. Yes, just as physical therapies relieve pain in the body, the mind too may eventually require a form of therapy. It even often happens that mental wear and tear has an impact on the physical side and vice versa.

How and when was psychotherapy born?

It can be said that the precursor of psychotherapy was the Greek philosopher Socrates, back in the year 400 BC. At that time, the Socratic dialogues were famous, which in essence were the dialogues that Socrates established with his disciples. These dialogues were known as Mayeutics a word that comes from Greek and means “to give birth.”

Socrates, through dialogue and, specifically, through his questions, facilitated the “giving birth” to those thoughts that afflicted his disciples. Therefore, the Socratic dialogues were not “recipes” that Socrates gave, but rather through the dialogue the “recipes” arose, properly speaking, in the minds of his interlocutors. They themselves, progressively, were identifying the answers to their own concerns.

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A review on the history of psychotherapy as a scientific method

It is necessary to mention that psychology, as a science, was born in 1879. Its origin is attributed to the German philosopher, doctor, physiologist and psychologist Wilhem Wundt, who in those years carried out the first experimental studies of human behavior.

However, it is in the first half of the 20th century when the first psychotherapeutic models emerge, strictly speaking. He psychoanalytic model, proposed by the renowned Austrian doctor Sigmund Freud, was the predominant one of the time. In essence, according to psychoanalysis, the origin of psychological problems is found in the unconscious.

In the middle of the 20th century, another important psychotherapeutic trend emerged, in response to the emphasis given by psychoanalysis to the study of the unconscious in human beings. This current is behaviorism which focuses on observable behavior, a product of stimuli and learning, and which marks a diametric difference with psychoanalysis.

Behaviorism, however, leaves aside a transcendent dimension of human behavior, such as cognition, represented by thoughts and emotions. This is how one of the most widely disseminated and used models in clinical practice emerges, which is cognitive behavioral therapy, which also has scientific validity. This means that its effectiveness has been tested in different samples of people, unlike certain psychotherapeutic models that have not been empirically tested.

However, in the 21st century, therapies known as third generation therapies are becoming increasingly popular, as they represent an advance in the understanding of human behavior, adding new dimensions to their approach, thus incorporating the holistic aspect. Among them we can mention Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. This model integrates knowledge from the humanistic current of psychology and even knowledge from Eastern philosophy, and has scientific validity.

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Final considerations

Psychotherapy is not a “recipe,” much less a standardized recipe that the psychotherapist provides to a patient to resolve the situation that is mortifying. It is rather a path that both undertake, patient and psychotherapist, so that the first finds, through his own reflection and with the help of the second, the best solution to those thoughts and feelings that affect him and do not allow him to take the correct actions and decisions. This way he will be able to recover his own well-being and, surely also, the well-being of the people who are part of his family, social, educational or work environment.