Counseling and Psychotherapy are two words that for me mean the same thing. There are many theories that influence how a counselor or psychotherapist work. I have learned through 30 years of working in the mental health and recovery field that healing comes from insight and relationship. I have grown as I have studied, practiced and learned in the various settings that I have worked. I have found change comes from a therapeutic relationship where you feel understood, accepted and guided as opposed to told what to do. For me to make lasting change is not only about changing behaviors but about understanding how the behavior has served you. You wouldn’t be doing it if it didn’t have some kind of gain that comes with it. Often these behaviors served us before when our choices may have been more limited and now we continue to do them because we don’t know any other way to act. This change comes with understanding the beliefs we walk around with, learning how we came to those beliefs and challenging them, do they still hold true, did they ever hold true or were they leftovers of other peoples problems. I know many of us have been told we are stupid, or won’t amount to anything but often those that have said this to us have had their own insecurities and that is where these comments have come from. The problem is that when we are told this enough we believe it to be true and it usually isn’t. Once we have a clear picture of why we do things that are counter to our goals we can then start to insert alternative behaviors and achieve more successful outcomes in our world. As the Nelson Mandela quote says it is education that helps us to make change and it is the same for counseling or psychotherapy. We are educating ourselves about ourselves.
The way I work is more about understanding your world view and how you got there. It is learning to understanding that you have intellectual intelligence but you also have emotional intelligence and some people can be as smart as all get out but not know their emotional side very well. Often our emotional side is a product of how people have responded and related to use and we created an understanding and belief system about us based on how they perceived us. These beliefs and feelings set the foundation for how we relate to people in our lives and the world at large. It is the foundation of our attitudes and perspectives, our self-esteem and faith that we have in ourselves. I was recently watching the movie “Jobs” about Steve Jobs and found it interesting and sad about how he connected or had trouble connecting with people based upon his past. That he couldn’t tolerate that his girlfriend became pregnant and ignored his daughter for the first 2 years of her life but named a major project after her. I saw this as his conflict with the relationship and his inability or fears about having a relationship. I guess that’s why I became a psychotherapist is that human experience and how we relate to one another is fascinating to me.
It has been my experience that people who come in for psychotherapy have negative thoughts and doubts about themselves. As their awareness of their feelings and desires increase (growing your emotional intelligence) your options and behaviors expand. You can’t change how you feel but you can change how you respond to your feelings.
Our attitudes and beliefs are learned from our relationships. How people treat us reflects how we treat ourselves, especially from early childhood when we were the most vulnerable. It is not about blaming our parents or caretakers, but realizing they could only teach us what they knew and perhaps we were not given all the tools we need to navigate our way through life. We learned how to communicate, set boundaries, work with others and how to nurture ourselves in our families, or where we grew up.
In psychotherapy we come to understand ourselves in terms of these relationship models. We connect beliefs we have about ourselves to how others have treated us. For instance, you may have been taught how to prepare nutritious meals, but were never helped with financial matters. As an adult you find you are great at feeding yourself but your budgeting skills are weak and you need help with your financial matters. You may have come from a divorced family where your parents still cannot get along, so it’s a good guess that you were not taught how to resolve problems. Your parents couldn’t do it, so how could they teach you to do it?
Psychotherapy is a talking mode of therapy: the therapist does not usually offer advice and is more apt to offer alternative perspectives or interpretations of the current situation, make a possible connection to where you might have learned it and how to know now what you are feeling and needing. It is a therapy that is about thought, insight, consideration and understanding.
We have two means of gathering information: one is through our intellect, and the other is through our feeling, or emotional intellect. We may feel cold and our brain says to put on a sweater. Most often people who come from a traumatic life have been forced to abandon one mode or the other at different times. You might be having a feeling but not know why you are feeling that way. At another time you may be able to tell the story but realize you are not having the feelings that might go with the story. When you have access to both, you increase the information available to you and increase the possibilities for resolution. When you can tell a story and have the feelings that accompany it you have joined them together.
Change comes from the relationship you create with the psychotherapist, a healthy relationship where your thoughts, opinions and feelings, needs and wants are taken into consideration and valued. You’ll be amazed at how successfully problems can be approached when you feel like a valued and wanted person. In therapy, you will learn how you make relationships, how you treat those in relationship with you, and how you would like to be treated.