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What exactly does a Psychotherapist do?

One’s path to recovery and healing can feel overwhelming and challenging. Often those who are healing will seek out friends, family, and trusted others to help support them on that path. Whether you have trusted people in your life or not, it can still be difficult to be vulnerable and open about the challenges you are facing. To help guide you on your path to recovery and healing, psychotherapy treatment supported by a psychotherapist can provide you that safe space to be fully vulnerable and help you develop ways to cope through life’s challenges.


What does a psychotherapist do?

Psychotherapy is used to treat and support challenges and symptoms associated with mental health. Commonly, psychotherapy is used to treat diagnoses such as depression, anxiety, substance misuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and many more. Psychotherapy is conducted by a registered and trained psychotherapist. These practitioners are trained to help an individual manage and challenge their symptoms that are interfering with daily functioning and safe living. A psychotherapist can help a service user understand their diagnosis, underlying feelings, and support them in facing their challenges. A psychotherapist provides a safe, non-judgemental space to allow the person to be authentic and vulnerable in order to challenge and understand their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.


How are psychotherapy sessions conducted?

Psychotherapy can be offered individually, in a group setting, with a family or a couple. The best part about psychotherapy is that it can be offered to children and adults who are struggling with life’s challenges. Dependent on your needs, sessions can be as frequent as needed. The frequency can be dependent on your symptoms and if they’re impacting daily functioning, impeding challenges, and the progress you have made.. The length of sessions can vary as well, meaning, offering short-term support (limited amount of sessions), or longer term support (months or years). The short-term support allows a service user and their psychotherapist to break-down immediate challenges, whereas the long-term support can offer a space for the service user and psychotherapist to understand and cope with longstanding and deep-rooted challenges.


What are the types of psychotherapy?

There are multiple modalities that a psychotherapist will use, depending on your goals, challenges and needs. Each modality can offer specific tools to manage the symptoms that are interfering with your daily functioning. These modalities can be used in conjunction with one another or used separately. Here are some of the most common therapy modalities: 


  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a psychotherapy modality that is used to treat a range of diagnoses such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), ADHD, and eating disorders. CBT’s model is to understand and identify the relationship between our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. CBT can help us identify and understand the unhelpful thinking and behavioural patterns, while giving you the tools to challenge and replace them with more helpful and effective patterns. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy can provide you ‘homework’ that allows you to reflect and practice in-between sessions.


  • Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT)

Branching from CBT, Dialectical Behavioural Therapy is a modality that helps treat those that struggle with suicidal ideation, borderline personality disorder, PTSD and even eating disorders. This modality, like CBT, offers different tools and skills to tolerate intolerable moments. DBT can give you different ways to cope with reality and help you understand how to radically accept the moment. This modality can challenge the unhelpful behaviour patterns and give you a new way to be with unmanageable moments. DBT is offered within a group setting, or individually.


  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

ACT is a third wave of CBT that can help an individual who is struggling to connect to their own life. ACT uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies alongside challenging unhealthy behaviour patterns so that you can live according to your values. The biggest component of ACT is to reconnect you to the things that are important to you, as well as making a commitment to yourself to change the things that are not working for you. ACT can connect you to the human experience and how to live your life with purpose, openness and fun!


  • Supportive Therapy

In this modality, the psychotherapist can support the service user by offering a safe space to talk about vulnerable thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, providing the service user coping strategies to manage through life’s difficulties, and helping someone understand their emotions and thoughts. This type of therapy can help a service user improve their self-esteem, decrease anxiety or stress, as well as improving daily functioning.


How to get started with psychotherapy?

Finding the right psychotherapist for your needs can sometimes be a difficult process. There are numerous providers, clinics, and online psychotherapy services that it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the choices. Do you need a referral? How to select the right provider? Does insurance cover these services? Do I need to see my family doctor before seeing a psychotherapist? The possibilities are endless so it’s no wonder people get discouraged. Here are a few tips to help you get started with psychotherapy: 


  • You don’t need a referral to see a psychotherapist

Unlike seeing Psychiatrists or other mental health providers in the public health care system, you don’t need a referral from your family doctor to get an appointment with a psychotherapist. However, if you are unsure where to look, your doctor can offer more insight into your mental health challenges and help support you in finding a psychotherapist that fits your needs. 


  • You should select a psychotherapist based on your needs

Before you start searching for therapy providers, it can be beneficial to narrow down the basic criteria that are important to you such as 1) things you want to work on, 2) proximity of the therapist (in-person or virtual sessions), 3) important qualities of the psychotherapist you would like to work with. After you have identified some of the things that are important to you, your search can become a lot more streamlined. 


If after selecting a psychotherapist you still find that there’s a disconnect, don’t be afraid to switch providers. Your psychotherapist will always want to provide the best support for you and there’s no judgment if you need to part ways. 


  • Be willing to share openly and ask questions

Once you select your psychotherapist be prepared to come to the sessions with an open mind. Openly sharing and being vulnerable with a stranger can be intimidating but remember that your therapist is not there to judge you. Therapy is a safe space to listen and explore your situation. 


If you need help getting started with psychotherapy, I can help you explore your options. I invite you to book a free 15 minute consultation here. I look forward to meeting you!

About the Author

Nichole Williamson

Registered Social Worker
Nichole has worked with children, youth, and their families over the last three years, using Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, CBT, Family-Based Therapy, Emotion-Focused Therapy and Solution-Focused Therapy approaches. She has a drive and passion to support those who are suffering from mental, emotional, and behavioural challenges by providing a safe space to talk and come up with ways to manage these challenges within their daily lives.