Psychotherapy has a history that traces back to Freud. Psychotherapists are trained to understand deep patterns of thinking, feeling & relating. They appreciate the many ways that past difficulties may cause current emotional or relational distress. Essentially they help you make sense such knots and kinks and support you let go of unhelpful patterns and develop more satisfying ways of being.
Some people find this a bit scary, yet contemporary psychotherapy is practised in a warm, friendly, open and affirming way. Simply put you are invited to talk about, or create something to represent whatever is foremost on your mind. This can be problems, confusions, anxieties, feelings, thoughts, memories, or dreams etc. The therapist listens and tries to help you make sense of whatever is happening.
Some people find it reassuring to learn a little more about psychotherapy so the information below outline some of the central concepts of traditional psychodynamic psychotherapy.
The Therapeutic Relationship
Research has shown that what is most important to therapeutic outcomes is not the type of therapy but the quality of the therapeutic relationship. Arts therapy and psychotherapy has a strong interpersonal emphasis.
While being a professional relationship the therapeutic relationships is also intensely personal. Like any relationship it is likely to have its ups and downs. Clients are encouraged to express their thoughts and feeling about the therapist and the therapeutic process in the therapy with their therapist. This not only gives the therapist feedback but keeps the therapy alive and real. It has the potential to provide exploration and insight into basic ways of being and relating.
You might like to think of therapy as like going to the gym, in this case an emotional and relational gym. It takes time and consistent effort to gets results. Part of the therapy is doing the difficult stuff; putting out the things that are hard to say. This requires taking the challenges yet with careful pacing. It may be tough at first but ultimately rewarding!
Some of the most common reasons for people seeking psychological help are depression, anxiety and anger. Indeed people come to therapy wanting help to control and manage their emotions. No wonder our emotional lives are a key feature of therapy! In therapy we tend to start from the inside out rather than the outside in – to treat the underlying cause rather than the symptom. Thus we are firstly interested in understanding to origins of the emotional disturbance.
In many people’s upbringing some emotions were valued and some were not. While some families valued fun and laughter but ignored and suppressed sadness others may have valued fear and worry while not tolerating any spontaneity or tenderness. Thus many people come to psychotherapy with an emotional mindscape where one or more basic emotion has been repressed, distorted or shamed.
Most people have developed ingenious ways of managing unwelcome emotions. Much of this goes on below the level of conscious awareness. For example one common solution is to suppress all emotional responsiveness. Another is to cover over one emotion with another such as covering over sadness with anger. Unfortunately these defences can come at a large cost to ourselves and our relationships and can lead to depression, anxiety, relationship issues etc.
For many the prospect of facing long buried feelings is understandably terrifying. The trouble is that suppressed emotions can come out all wrong when they are first expressed. Yet most people in their heart of hearts know what needs to be faced and have a fair idea of challenges that this will pose to them. They want to be able to understand their emotions and learn how to express them constructively and effectively without humiliation or damaging to their personal, family or professional relationships.
The therapeutic setting is an opportunity to explore and express your emotional life in a safe environment where you will be accepted and not judged or shamed. This may be difficult at first but gradually new and creative ways of handling and expressing difficult emotions can be discovered. Over time and practice this will contribute to feeling free, positive, authentic and generally better about yourself while enhancing your relationships.
Holistic Arts Therapy
Arts therapy is a holistic discipline. It recognises and respects the complex relationships between body and the mind and understands that many physical illnesses may have a psychological component and/or a psychological impact. Physical symptoms such as headaches, migraines, stomach upsets, asthma, lethargy, tiredness, impotence or loss of sexual interest, and even repeated colds or infections which may relate to suppressed immune system, may be related to mental and emotional issues.
Arts therapy also recognises and respects that each of us belongs to a matrix of social relationships in our family and in our wider community and culture. It values and honours the individual’s relationship to their wider social fabric. Further that cultural, religious and spiritual beliefs and values are often of profound importance and integral to our lives.