What is psychotherapy? 10 useful facts and common myths

By Brian Dillon

June 2, 2021 at 4:09pm

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What is psychotherapy? 10 useful facts and common myths

The Irish Council for Psychotherapy has brought together a number of experienced and well-known psychotherapists for a unique podcast series. Psychotherapy Off The Couch aims to spread awareness and bust myths about what psychotherapy actually is.

Do we know what psychotherapy actually is? There can often be myths surrounding it, so it's important that we make it clear what the purpose is and how it can be useful to someone.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, mental health has been the subject of many a discussion. We have probably never talked about it as much as we have in the past year. Getting a conversation going and spreading awareness is super important, and that's why the Irish Council for Psychotherapists (ICP) has launched Psychotherapy Off The Couch, a new podcast series that acts as a resource for people who want to learn about psychotherapy and discover how it may help them.

With that in mind, we thought we would explore the topic with you guys, highlighting some useful facts as well as common myths about what psychotherapy actually is.

First of all, what problems are addressed in Psychotherapy?

The work of psychotherapy can address a wide range of problems such as addiction, feelings associated with loss, family crises (including separation), life stage development problems, past trauma, abuse issues, relationship problems, anxiety, depression, phobias, obsessions, self-harm or any other emotional or psychological difficulty.

Who are psychotherapists and how can they help?

Psychotherapists are people with special training who can relate to and treat people who are distressed. They use a variety of psychological methods and skills to alleviate suffering and to encourage change in someone's life.

Psychotherapy isn't just one thing

Perhaps a common myth about psychotherapy is that the same approach and methods are taken in every context. Just like the human mind, psychotherapy is complex in its uses.

There is Constructivist Therapy, which aims to help clients make sense of their experiences. Couple and Family Therapy helps clients examine the emotional, psychological and interpersonal problems that can arise in relationships. Humanistic and Integrative Therapy invites people to develop awareness as to what may be preventing them from accessing their own true nature in the inner and outer expressions of their life. Psychoanalytic Therapy aims to address the often unconscious sources of a person’s distress, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy aims to teach a client how to act and think in a certain way in response to events that have happened in their life.

How psychotherapy differs from other forms of help

In the third episode of Psychotherapy Off The Couch, host Stephanie is joined by John O’Connor, Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist, Assistant Professor in Clinical Psychology in Trinity College Dublin. Discussing how psychotherapy fits into the schema of mental health treatment, John explains:

"Psychotherapy’s central purpose is in the deeper examination of the human experience. It involves a timeframe and a commitment and an interest in exploring a person’s life. With psychotherapy, we tend to think of the present in relation to the past; we are not seeing the past as the only thing to be discussed; or that we are entirely trying to understand it remember it all, we are recognizing that the things of the past are actually continuous in the present.

"Counselling tends to be more focused on a particular problem that’s in the present; in terms of handling that, overcoming that and finding a way through it."

Forgotten memories can still have an effect on us

John also explains how it can be useful to address forgotten memories, even if we don't find ourselves thinking about them often. He says:

"When we’re busy, our minds can very quickly become trained to do what we do, over and over again and we can often forget what we may have mentally discarded from years ago. It’s that forgotten event or series of events that often manifests itself in a way that leads people to need help.

"Psychotherapy offers the opportunity to re-acquaint minds with forgotten memories and bring them back into focus so that together they can be recognised and individuals can move forward positively."

The difference between psychotherapy for adults and children

Naturally, psychotherapy looks very different for children than it does for adults. Joanna Fortune joins Stephanie and explains how she has witnessed a considerable spike in the number of parents wanting help with their children’s behaviour during the pandemic.

Explaining the unique approach that is taken when treating children, she says she uses 'play as a language'. The main message Joanne wants parents to take home is that they are enough. Children think more of their parents than parents do of themselves. It’s about getting curious about children’s behaviour rather than pathologizing it.

The pandemic's effect on our psyche

It's not surprising to learn that the pandemic and subsequent restrictions have been difficult for many. This is explored in the first episode of Psychotherapy Off The Couch when Stephanie is joined by psychotherapist, teacher and trainer Trish Murphy who touches on bereavement, loneliness, relationships and the pandemic's impact on each generation.

Talking about the pandemic's effects on young people, she says, "The lonely journey of youth has certainly been exacerbated during the pandemic. With the under 17s, in particular, shouldering very complex and adult questions on coping with family pressures, keeping up with friendship groups and helping friends who have suicidal feelings."

How do I find a therapist?

The ICP has a list of all of its accredited members, which you can see here. This will give you a breakdown of who is close to you and what they specialise in, so you can choose someone who will suit your particular needs.

Many people also find a therapist through word of mouth and some can get a referral from their GP.

Psychotherapists have a Code of Ethics

Each therapist registered with the Irish Council for Psychotherapy has a Code of Ethics that they follow. In other words, they have rules of practice that govern how they act in therapy sessions. It means that they must uphold a high standard of professional competence and personal conduct, including confidentiality and record keeping.

Lastly, there is no shame in needing help

Perhaps the biggest misconception around psychotherapy is that there is a shame in needing it, which should never be the case. Life throws all kinds of curveballs at us that can be very difficult to deal with. In the last year, that has become even more obvious.

If you want to find out more about psychotherapy and how it can help in various situations, you can listen to Psychotherapy Off The Couch here or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

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