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The family is the heart of cultures around the globe. Relationships within families are among the strongest connections we have, and can also, at times, be the most troubling. People are complicated and when disharmony arises in families it affects all the members. Family issues are common on all levels of society and it’s sometimes important, even critical, to reach out for guidance to resolve problems before they grow larger. Creating healthy family relationships can be one of the greatest challenges, and deepest satisfactions, of our time.
The rapidly changing society, especially the 24/7 intrusion of technology and social media bombarding our personal lives, is causing new complications for families. Humans tend to balance great achievements with unintended new problems, and finding the value and limitations of technology is one of the evolving challenges for 21st families.
Just because there are huge new issues arising from the impact of technology on personal relationships doesn’t mean the many other challenges go away. Communication, parenting issues, social expectations, illness, financial troubles, the dissolution of generational homes in one town, divorce and evolving gender relationships can impact the family as whole, the individual members and even the extended family.
Who Can Benefit from Family Therapy?
By its very nature, family therapy is intended to benefit each person and the family unit. While it may appear that issues arise from one member of the family, the deep emotional connection among family members means everyone is affected, so resolving issues with one person benefits everyone.
Parents: Any dysfunction between parents will impact the whole family. As much as parents may try to hide disagreements or deeper issues, children are intuitive and feel the distress. Adults who have problems such as alcoholism, drug addiction or depression honor their children by seeking guidance from a therapist who can help the parents confront their own issues, as well guide them in techniques for better communication. Improvement in the parents’ mental health will create a more honest and nurturing environment for their children.
Teenagers: At times, therapy becomes imminently necessary, for instance, if a teenager is having trouble that impacts school work or health. The issues could include eating disorders, bullying, drugs, anxiety, self-harm, depression or even thoughts of suicide. In those situations when it’s extremely difficult for parents to resolve the issues on their own, intervention by a mental health professional can provide strategies for better communication and may even be lifesaving. Sometimes intervention is recommended by a school guidance counselor, or in cases that involve law enforcement, therapy may be required by the court as an alternative to juvenile detention. The adolescent and teenage years are becoming more complex with each generation and research is shedding light on the possible cause of the problems, as well as guiding the development of new strategies to encourage good choices and healthy relationships.
Children: Even children in elementary school can experience anxiety or depression and can benefit from counseling that includes the whole family. Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, impact relationships at home and school. Parents are often exasperated by children with ADHD. In family therapy, the family can learn ways to help and support each other and establish healthy coping skills that may help minimize stress and power struggles.
Some Options for Family Therapy
All family therapy approaches are designed to help families improve communication, problem-solving and coping skills, and enhance the sense of connection to one another.
Family Systems Therapy: This therapy views the family as an emotional unit with each person connected to the others through overlapping relationships. Each member of the family is encouraged to understand and express the roles they play, respect one another, and see the cause and effect of certain behaviors. Once every member of the family recognizes their patterns, they can learn and begin to use more positive behaviors that help each person and the family as a unit.
Cognitive-Behavioral Family Therapy: This is an approach that focuses on principles of behavioral modification, which means replacing negative behaviors with more positive ones through reinforcement. The strategy encourages agreements among family members designed to change the patterns of relationship. The new patterns are meant to restructure distorted beliefs and perceptions that develop as a result of negative or misunderstood interactions. There is also a heavy emphasis on core beliefs, including the way a person sees himself, others and the world, in an attempt to evaluate how these affect the emotions and behaviors of other family members.
Duration and Goals of Family Therapy
Family therapy is generally results-oriented and commonly structured for an average of 12 sessions. Sometimes therapy continues for 20 sessions or more, depending on the individuals and the issues. Experienced therapists often use a combination of techniques specifically designed to allow each person in the family reach the goal of healthy choices and well-functioning relationships.
It’s important for parents to realize that the way Grandma and Grandpa raised their children, and the way their Mom and Dad led the family may not be suited to the changes that have evolved in the 21st Century. There are essential values of trust, safety and guidance that must be a foundation for any family. But today almost every child and teenager is connected nearly 24/7 to powerful outside influences that can override even the best intentions of parents.
Sometimes parents help their children best by reaching out for guidance from an experienced mental health professional who can see a bigger picture based on new research and the common experiences, and challenges, of families in the U.S. and other countries. Many challenges facing families have become all-too-common on a global level and strategies for family therapy continue to develop in England, Australia and many other locations. In a world that seems to grow more complicated each day, family therapy can help parents and children make their relationships healthier one day at a time.
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, “What is Marriage and Family Therapy?” Alexandria, Va., 2017
Goodtherapy.org, “Family Therapy,” Jan. 14, 2014 https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/modes/family-therapy
Dattilio, Frank M., “Cognitive Behavioral Family Therapy,” Nature, 2012 https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-1-4419-1428-6_771
Goodtherapy.org, “ADHD / Inattention, Impulsivity, and Hyperactivity,” April 18, 2016
Goodtherapy.org, “Systems Theory in Therapy,” Oct. 24, 2016 https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/systems-theory-therapy
Sween, Erik, “The One-Minute Question: What Is Narrative Therapy?” Dulwich Centre Publications, Adelaide, Australia, 1988 http://www.narrativetherapylibrary.com/media/downloadable/files/links/g/9/g982sween.pdf
Life is complicated. Many psychological issues begin in childhood and beyond our ability to control or understand them. Our biology also has a large effect on our emotional and psychological makeup. Other issues may develop over many years as a result of external influences or choices we make, sometimes innocently and without awareness of long-term consequences. Individual therapy, also known as counseling, talk therapy or psychotherapy, is a path to understanding these issues and taking steps to minimize or eliminate those that have an obstructive or negative effect on daily functioning. The goal is clear and simple – to markedly improve the quality of your life in a meaningful way.
Individual therapy is collaboration between a person and a trained therapist done in a safe and confidential environment. At its best, it is the forming of a deeply connected and personal special relationship, in which a profound understanding and acceptance of self also leads to healing and growth in important and lasting ways.
In many cultures, due to extensive research on the success of many forms of therapy and the positive changes that many thousands of people have made in their lives, the previous stigma about working with a therapist has dramatically diminished. Today seeing a therapist is considered a healthy choice for many, as well having a positive impact on family, friends and coworkers.
An individual may work with a therapist for as few as one to six sessions or more and sometimes many more to resolve a current challenge in mood, thought patterns, emotional disregulation, negative self-image or trouble relationships .
While disruptive emotional habits and barriers are confronted in therapy, it’s common to experience the positive balancing that occurs. Many people discover an increase in their feelings of compassion, self-esteem, love, courage, peace and strength.
Types of Individual Therapy
Just as each person’s life experiences are unique, the type of therapy or combination of therapies must be uniquely fitted to the individual. The reasons people begin individual therapy are extensive and can be as varied as childhood sexual abuse, alcohol or drug addiction, depression, anxiety or relationship issues.
That’s why a trained and trusted therapist is important for success in making a diagnosis and determining, with the individual, the best strategy for initiating positive changes.
For many therapies, research involving large numbers of people has provided evidence that treatment is effective for specific disorders. These “evidence-based therapies” have been shown to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
These are some of the most common types of individual therapy Its important to understand that many therapists use an eclectic approach to therapy which may utilize aspects of several approaches. Another important fact to know is that most studies show that the single most important factor in successful therapy is the quality of the relationship between client and therapist. When the utmost level of trust, mutual respect, deep understanding and shared goals can be established, most forms of therapy stand a good chance at success. With that said, here are some of the more common schools of therapy:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Referred to as CBT, this is the leading psychological treatment proven by research to be effective for many mental health disorders, including depression, post traumatic stress disorder or eating disorders. CBT is a type of “talk therapy” that helps a person become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking and develop positive responses to challenging situations. For example, if a person emphasizes being a failure at work and relationships and believes that “everything turns out badly,” a therapist applying techniques of CBT would help that person identify instances where work projects and relationships worked out well, and begin to put these issues in perspective. Turning the focus toward accurate and successful situations could help that person put more enthusiasm into work projects or developing personal relationships, and spark new approaches that continue to provide positive feedback.
Attachment Theory: The intricacies of attachment, focusing on the child’s bond with the primary caregiver, often the mother, may affect a person’s relationships throughout life. Attachment theory views this critical childhood relationship as a process that begins at birth and extends into the early years of life. Early intervention with children who have attachment issues can ease the way for them later in life. Research has also shown that adults who have attachment issues can benefit from therapy by understanding what healthy relationships look like and learning new ways to form constructive bonds with friends, children and romantic partners.
Person Centered: This therapy is based on the concept that nature, including human nature, tends toward balance and order and that people have an inherent capacity to move toward self-fulfillment or “self-actualization.” Person-centered therapy emphasizes a shared responsibility between the individual and the therapist, and instead of distancing the therapist as an “expert” it emphasizes a more collaborative and empathetic approach.
Relational Therapy: Sometimes referred to as relational-cultural therapy, this approach is based on the concept that mutually satisfying relationships are necessary for a person’s emotional well-being. Relational therapy takes into account social factors such as race, class, culture and gender and issues that develop as a result of these factors. This therapeutic approach is especially helpful for people experiencing distress from family, romantic, professional or social relationships. The goal is to find new ways to create healthier relationships.
Positive Psychotherapy: Mental health professionals are increasingly including “positive psychology” as part of the strategy to help individuals find meaning and fulfillment in life. It complements the focus on psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety and phobias with the concept that people want more than an end to suffering – they want to discover the best within themselves and enhance their experiences in love, work and play. It is based on three central concerns – positive individual traits such as courage and compassion, positive experiences, and in the larger perspective, positive institutions and communities that foster social justice and shared purpose.
Overall Goal of Individual Therapy
The extensive range of individual psychotherapy options offers promise in the effort to take control of your life and respond to challenging situations with healthy coping skills.
Whatever form of therapy or combination of therapies is used, the most important factor is the establishment of great trust, deep understanding, empathy, respect and the willingness of the individual and therapist to collaborate consistently and compassionately on the path toward increased well-being.
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, “Individual Therapy,” 2009
Goodtherapy.org, “Types of Therapy,” 2017
National Institute of Mental Health, “Psychotherapies,” November 2016
Mayo Clinic, “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,” 2017
Goodtherapy.org, “Attachment Issues,” May 23, 2107
Graziottin, Tiane C., “The Person-Centered Approach,” The Association for the Development of the Person-Centered Approach, 2015
Goodtherapy.org,” Person-Centered Therapy,” April 11, 2017
Psychology Today, “Relational Therapy,” 2017
Seligman, Martin, “Our Mission,” Positive Psychology Center, University of Pennsylvania, 2017
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