What is psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is the general name for a variety of psychological approaches designed to help people resolve emotional, behavioral, or interpersonal problems of various kinds, and in so doing improves the quality of their lives. The basic goal of therapy, therefore, is to assist you in becoming more self aware, and in taking more active and effective charge of your life.

Therapy can have benefits and risks. Psychotherapy has also been shown to have many positive effects on a person’s life. Therapy often leads to better relationships, solutions to specific problems, greater effectiveness in dealing with problems, and significant reductions in feelings of stress and anxiety.

Since therapy involves looking into deeper aspects of your life, you may experience uncomfortable feelings like sadness, guilt, anger, frustration, loneliness, and helplessness. For some people this is a normal part of the process as it means they are becoming more directly involved in their lives

What is the difference between a therapist/life coach/psychiatrist?

This is a confusing topic for most people, and even I get lost in the details at times. I’ll do my best to provide the broad strokes of my current understanding. Please remember these are generalizations and many exceptions apply.

A therapist is typically someone that has undergone significant higher education and clinical training in working with individuals, couples, and families specifically in a therapeutic setting. He/she tends to provide services that work with communication, skill sets, emotions, relationships and other interpersonal situations.

A life coach has often undergone some training (often with a few classes) and looks to provide services that help people in daily life tasks. They are not bound by ethical regulations or licensed at this time. Life coaches usually provide assistance in a specific time frame for basic life issues rather than deep personal concerns.

A psychiatrist is usually trained medical professional, i.e., doctor. He/she can make medical evaluations, diagnose specific mental health issues, and prescribe medication. He/she often provides services that work with clients to regulate medication. Some psychiatrists also work with clients on a therapeutic level.

Your choice of what type of person to pick really depends on your needs. It is advised that you contact any or all people you might be interested in working with and asking them questions about their background, training, education, and approach. With this information most clients can make an educated choice as to what kind of person they want to seek out to help them on their journey.

Licensed or Not Licensed?
Being licensed, as I am, in the mental health field describes those who meet regional and national standards of trusted care. They have a lot of education and training, worked with clients in an internship, maintained residency for a number of years to continue working with clients, provide high ethicals standards that are regulated, and passed numerous exams to provide care . They are in good standing with national and state health care organizations, and are allowed to accept insurance.

One can be a therapist/counselor/social worker/life coach without being licensed. They may specialize in a certain field but have not undergone the rigorous training and examinations that are required to be licensed within the field of mental health. It is up to you to decide if the person you choose for your therapy needs to have certain qualifications or not.

How to pick the right therapist?

Obviously, therapy involves a commitment of time, money, and energy, so you should be very selective about the therapist you seek out. For therapy to be effective, it is extremely important that you trust and feel comfortable with your therapist.

I suggest that you interview your therapist. This is your emotional well-being we are discussing, hence finding the right match for you is crucial. This is your life and if you are going to make the choice to share it with someone you want to make sure they match your goals, personality, and needs.

In my opinion, any therapist worth his/her salt will be happy to answer any and all questions you may have before, during, and after a session. There should be a mutual respect for one another with an understanding that it takes both of us to make therapy a productive choice.

Specifically, when working with me, if you have questions about our work together, we should discuss them whenever they arise. If your doubts persist, I will be happy to help recommend a meeting with another mental health professional. It is my personal goal to provide therapy in a way that works for you, if we are not the right match it will not hurt my feelings in the least. My primary concern is you getting the care you want and need. Honesty and directness are the mottoes I work from.

Is therapy confidential?

ALL discussions with me will remain confidential. I will not give out any information about you to your employer, parents, friends, or others without your written permission except in circumstances described below as required by law:

If you are under eighteen (18) years of age, I reserve the right to advise your parent(s) or legal guardian about developments that could significantly affect your health or well-being. In such situations, the contents of specific meetings between us will not be discussed, but your overall progress may be discussed in general terms.

Sessions will be documented in writing. Only information considered critical to the counseling situation is maintained as part of the counseling record. I am required by law to maintain client records for a period of seven years. These will not be shared with anyone else unless I am court ordered by subpoena to provide your file due to a case.

There are certain, specific situations in which your confidentiality is overridden. I am required by law to report any statements of child or elderly abuse or neglect to the appropriate authorities. Further, if you make statements that indicate you intend to harm yourself or others, I am required by law to notify medical and/or law enforcement and/or those directly involved in possible harm.

You must give signed permission before I can share any facet of your counseling with anyone. If you give me written permission, you will have the right to designate who should receive information from your file, what information they are allowed to receive, the intention for which they will use the information and the period of time during which you are granting the permission.

Examples of circumstances requiring a release of information include: certain inquiries from insurance companies, a new counselor wanting to use records from a previous counselor to provide continuing care, and collaboration with another agency or professional in your treatment. I may consult and seek supervision with a mental health professional regarding your assessment and care. This consultation is free of charge to you. Any identifying information (to protect confidentiality) will not be revealed. All consultants are legally bound to maintain confidentiality.

What is a First Session Like?

You will call or email to set up an initial session. You’ll start with just a little paperwork, all you’ll ever need. So as not to use up our time during session, I encourage you to print out the forms and fill them out ahead of time. You will bring the forms to session or fill them out at the office, depending on your choice.

If you have been to therapy you know probably know to expect to sit in the waiting room for a few minutes before your session starts. It is natural to feel a bit nervous while flipping through various magazines and wondering what you might talk about with someone you have never met before.

Once your session begins most people typically sit down on one of the comfy couches and look around the room. It appears clean, minimalist, (link to room photo) and professional in nature. I typically sit in a chair, but really it doesn’t matter to me. Sit where ever makes you feel comfortable and that can change from session to session or even during session if you like. I tend to be relaxed so if you need to take off your shoes, curl up, lay down, or stand, I will not have an issue. I want you to feel as natural as possible during what can be considered a slightly anxious situation.

I will probably ask you how you are doing to get us started. Then I’ll jump into the legal/requirements about my policy, confidentiality, HIPPA, and my personal approach to therapy. I do this as a way to help set you more at ease. This way you are not on the spot to answer questions right away. I really do try to make the process as seamless as possible since I know that you are here to get started on your work, not just listen to legal stuff. However, it is necessary for you to know what you are entitled to as a client.

Next, I’ll ask you if you have any questions about what I explained, my background, how I do therapy, or general questions about therapy. Once those are taken care of we will get to the good parts. I’ll ask you about what it is that you want to talk about, your goals, what brings you to therapy, or questions along those lines. This is your time to shine and guide therapy in the direction you want to go.

It is okay if you are nervous and not really sure why you are seeking therapy. It’s fine if you are quiet to start and not sure what to say or not say, that is normal. All, I ask is that you say exactly that. Tell me if you are scared, nervous, unsure, or ready to change your life for the better in the next 50 minutes. I will move as quickly or slowly in the therapeutic process as you want. I trust that you know yourself well enough to take the time you need to feel safe with a new person. That could be anywhere from a few sessions to the first five minutes, as each person is different.

Sessions are generally an hour in length and unless previously discussed, respecting that boundary for other clients is important. I will let you know when we get close to the end of the session and at that point you and I will discuss if we both want to continue to see one another again for further sessions. If we both agree, then we will set up our next appointment and either way payment will be made at the end of each individual session (unless otherwise discussed).

How long does therapy take (aka when do I know when I’m better)?

Contrary to what most medical insurance companies would have you think, there is no specific time for each person’s concern on any given area. There are some people that come in knowing exactly what they want to work on and others that are looking to find direction. My approach as a therapist is that you are the one that determines your life and your goals.
A wise woman once told me that therapy is like your regular health care. It is not something you just go to once and never go to again. One goes to therapy in times of crisis, for a check up, when things are unclear, or to maintain a stable sense of self. There is no specific time set, we go as long as the client wants.

As a therapist, I do have the experience to know often if certain topics will require more long term work than others. For example, if you have experienced past trauma or abuse, working through those issues can take longer as building trust is often an issue for the client. However, if you are looking to work on dealing with a boss who makes you want to scream, we probably can deal with that in a few sessions.
Each person is different and I do not judge what the client needs on a time frame basis. I trust that you know yourself best of all, and you are simply teaching me how to best help you reach your goals. I will work with you and continue to reflect back your progress. We will assess the continuation of therapy as your goals are met.

Most people engaging in therapy can expect the duration to be from three months to a year, either on a weekly or bimonthly basis. Ending therapy will usually be mutually agreed upon, but you are free to terminate at any time.

However, in a few special instances I may decide to stop working with you, even though you wish to continue. These include a need for special services outside of the area of my competency, prolonged failure to make progress in our work together, and/or a failure to meet the terms of our fee agreement. Should this occur, the reason for termination will be discussed with you, and you will be helped to make different plans for yourself, including a referral to a more appropriate resource.

What is a “LMFT”?

LMFT stands for Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. According to the AAMFT, a marriage and family therapist is trained in psychotherapy and systems theory, and licensed to treat mental and emotional issues within the context of family, marriage, couples, partnerships and individual systems.
While I specifically do not feel that one has to be married or have a family to seek out therapy, the MFT field is one of the only segments that addresses issues in a systemic fashion. This means that everything involved in the client’s life matters, not just one area. There is no one approach that works for each person. Rather than a cookie cutter perspective the systems approach allows for the therapist and the client to work together to achieve the person’s goals using their specific skills.
©2008 JSJ Therapy. email: jsj@jsjtherapy.com Jasmine St. John, LMFT, WI #788-124


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