Sigmund Freud and his early collaborator, Joseph Breuer, stumbled onto a way of working with people in emotional distress that Breuer called ‘the talking cure’. Well over a century later we know just how helpful it can be for someone to talk about their thoughts, feelings and difficulties, to go through the process of putting them into words and having them appreciated and understood by a therapist; the therapist and client can then piece things together, make sense of them and come to a fuller, and probably different, understanding of the issue. This is the essence of psychotherapy.
The process of putting things into words and understanding what is going on makes a difference to the way we feel about our difficulties and struggles and how we deal with them – we can come to ‘contain’ them in this way, and also to feel differently about ourselves. Rather than avoiding what we feel we can come to face it and become congruent with ourselves.
the importance of relationship
Over the years, the importance of the relationship to the therapist itself has also been recognised. We are primarily social beings and our pattern of relating to others influences almost everything we do and is almost always found to be behind our struggles. Because we carry this way of relating with us wherever we go it will inevitably shape the way we relate to the therapist.
For this reason, the therapist will often explore how we feel about the relationship with the therapist – this can seem strange when we have come to explore what seems like another problem entirely! In fact, the therapist is likely picking up the same pattern of difficulty in the relationship that the person is experiencing elsewhere. Addressing it as it is manifesting itself in the consulting room has been found to be the best way of addressing the difficulties directly. For example, the therapist might comment that the client seems to be experiencing the same sort of anxiety about coming to therapy as they experienced with, say, their family.
the past and the present
There is something of a myth that psychotherapy is ‘all about your childhood'. This is not the case. Whilst psychotherapists do realise how vitally important the early years of life are in forming the individual and determining how they feel about themselves and relate to others, understanding current difficulties in terms of the past is only one element of the picture.
We very much bring our past into the present and psychotherapeutic work is about working with current difficulties and patterns of thought.
Sometimes when working with someone's difficulties it may be helpful to meet more frequently, to give an opportunity to address difficulties more thoroughly and to be able to offer more continuity to the person, so that they aren’t left dealing with difficult emotions on their own, for the whole week between sessions. Meeting more frequently in this way, perhaps 3, 4, or even 5 times per week, can allow someone the containment and security needed to be able to properly address and explore the difficulties.
Meeting at this frequency is known as analysis and, whilst the content of the sessions may be very similar to a psychotherapy session, the individual may be able to explore and feel safer with deeper parts of themselves. The sessions may certainly feel different.
In this way, analysis provides a unique opportunity for intensive exploration of the personality and underlying patterns of behaviour. It can bring about deep-seated change. Analysis is a process that fosters the individual’s understanding of themselves and their difficulties and the way they relate to others.
Many individuals who have analysis choose to use the couch, rather than sitting face-to-face in a chair. They find it allows them to concentrate better on what is going on in their inner world and not to be distracted. The use of the couch is completely optional, however, it is a facility that is available if someone should wish to use it.
Counselling tends to be more focused, with a closer eye kept on a particular difficulty or problem e.g., having difficulty with a particular relationship at work. However, someone may well find that this is a difficulty that arises in other relationships as well, and it may be helpful to explore this link with other relationships.
As I suggested on the homepage, many people use the term counselling to describe any kind of psychological help.
If you would like to find out more about psychotherapy or to make an arrangement for an initial appointment, you can find my details on the contact page. At the initial appointment, we can discuss your situation and whether psychotherapy would be appropriate.
There is no commitment to come for therapy in attending the initial appointment. It gives a sense of what psychotherapy is like and gives you an opportunity to meet me and to see whether you would like to work with me. I do make a charge for the initial appointment, which is usually one hour long (subsequent sessions are 50 minutes).