The Malta Independent 23 June 2024, Sunday
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Your therapy questions answered

Tuesday, 21 May 2024, 13:52 Last update: about 2 months ago

Psychotherapist Danjela Falzon works with clients on issues related to anxiety, depression, burnout, stress, relationships, sexuality, personality disorders, self-esteem and self-growth. She forms part of the team at paths Clinic. For more information, visit www.paths.care

Your therapy questions answered

There's a lot of uncertainty and confusion about what happens in the therapy room. In fact, I'm often pleasantly surprised that, despite the uncertainty and anxiety involved, people are still willing to take the risk of sharing their most private thoughts and emotions with a complete stranger. It tells me a lot about the determination of people to overcome painful circumstances and live a more satisfying life.

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In an attempt to reduce the uncertainty about what therapy involves, I'd like to answer some common questions about therapy.

 

Is therapy only for people with serious mental health issues?

While therapists do support clients with severe mental health issues, much of our work involves working with people on everyday issues which impact one's health and well-being. This may involve supporting someone through separation, bereavement, stress or anxiety. It may also involve teaching clients how to manage their emotions better, manage a stressful work environment or cultivate stronger, more meaningful relationships.

 

Will I be prescribed medication?

The mental health field is made up of a range of different professionals. Only doctors and psychiatrists can prescribe medication, not psychotherapists.

 

How do I choose a therapist?

Check what qualifications the therapist has and what their area of expertise is, to understand if these align with the issues you wish to discuss in therapy. It's advisable to think about whether you'd be more comfortable with a male or female therapist, and what kind of age you'd like your therapist to be. These are personal choices only you can make.

 

How often should I attend?

This varies from person to person and really depends on what you feel you need. Since therapy may bring up difficult or painful emotions at first, attending every week or every fortnight, will allow the therapist to support you until the process gets easier. Over time, sessions can be more spaced out.

 

What actually happens during a session?

As every therapist has their own unique style of working, it's hard to generalise as to what will happen in each session. Generally, however, clients are invited to share their thoughts and feelings with the therapist, without being judged, criticised or pressured to be a certain way. This is a very unique relationship in that, unlike when speaking with friends or family, the focus will be on you and meeting your needs.

 

Will my privacy be respected?

Therapist confidentiality is an essential part of the client-therapist relationship. However, you also need to know that mental health professionals have an ethical responsibility to break confidentiality if the client is in danger, that is, you are at risk of attempting suicide or at risk of being seriously hurt by another person or if there's a risk of harm coming to another person.

 

How long should therapy last?

This depends on a number of factors and what your needs and wants are. Some people have a specific problem they wish to work on, such as handling stress, and may address this issue adequately within 5-10 sessions. Someone else may be experiencing various symptoms, such as anxiety or grief, requiring long-term therapy which lasts months or even years. Ultimately, it's your choice how long you stay in therapy. It may be helpful to ask your therapist for guidance on this and come up with some therapeutic goals which you can work towards together.

 

Will my therapist give me advice?

The role of a therapist is to empower the client to make their own choices, knowing that when therapy is over, he/she has the skills, tools and self-confidence, to manage issues and challenges when they arise.

 

How do I know if my therapist is good at what he/she does?

Therapists need to be ethical, competent and professional. We are all human, however, and may disappoint you in some way, as is the case in all relationships. Naturally, since you're investing the time and money to seek help, you want to know your therapist is good at what she does.

Here are some signs to look for:

  • She fosters independence - it's natural at the beginning of therapy to feel quite dependent on your therapist. A good therapist can hold these dependency needs but will, at the right time, empower you to support yourself and feel confident to stand on your own two feet.
  • She listens, is sensitive to your emotional state and responds to you warmly and appropriately.
  • She's knowledgeable - your therapist should be able to communicate concisely and clearly with you about what may be causing your distress and pain, while also being willing to consult with another professional about the work.
  • She doesn't over-share - therapy is a unique relationship where the focus is on you. While therapists will share information about themselves if they feel it will benefit the client, therapy shouldn't involve discussing the therapist's issues or life circumstances.
  • She's reliable - ideally, your therapist attends sessions on time and doesn't cancel last minute, unless there's an emergency. These practical issues foster trust.
  • She has good boundaries - although therapists genuinely care for their clients and are invested in their growth and well-being, your therapist isn't your friend and certainly not more than a friend. They don't lend you money, do business with you, meet you outside therapy to socialise or do anything which could lead you to feel abused, betrayed or hurt.
  • She makes you feel accepted for who you are - a therapist won't criticise you or judge your life choices. She certainly won't impose her religious or personal beliefs and values on you.
  • She's open to feedback - good therapists are open to receiving feedback from you about how you feel therapy is progressing, or how they're feeling in therapy, without being defensive or angry.

If you do decide to seek therapy, be patient with yourself throughout the process, since everyone's experience in therapy is unique and, while you may see immediate progress, at times it will be more gradual.

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