Frequently Asked Questions About Psychotherapy
- What is psychoanalysis?
- Is it okay for a religious or spiritual person to see an analyst?
- What can I expect to happen in a family therapy session?
- How do you integrate religion/spirituality into psychotherapy?
Psychoanalysis is a chance to really understand yourself. It allows you to see your potential and limitations; to build on your hopes and express your fears. It provides a connection, a chance to be seen, heard, understood, and validated. It’s also learning about how to trust another so completely as to let all of yourself, or every side of yourself, out in the open to be faced and dealt with—leaving no stone unturned, as it were. Psychoanalysis is looking into the mirror our selves, smudges and all, and accepting who we see looking back at us; realizing that we have the power to change the parts of the reflection we don’t much care for; and enacting the help to do just that. Psychoanalysis means accepting personal responsibility, without negating our personal histories. It’s looking back while keeping an eye on our future and learning to live in the present. It’s asking for help when you need it, not necessarily when you want it; being open to change while resolving to find who you truly are, and embracing that, without regret or guilt.
There’s a plethora of varying opinions on this question. Some spiritual and religious leaders will tell you that true counseling comes from God or a Higher Power, and that seeking help elsewhere is futile. Having personally experienced spiritual/religious comfort, I’ve also noticed that this comfort comes through people we’re in relationships with. And having a relationship with an analyst/therapist, someone who is qualified and trained to handle human emotions, thought processes, and personality issues is no different. Think of it in terms of medical doctors: many believe God or a Higher Power heals. But when you are sick, you still seek out a medical professional; someone trained to heal the human body, to help you get better. This in no way takes away from God or a Higher Power as the Healer; it’s a mere reflection of the kind of healing he/it can provide. I feel the same logic holds true for analysts/therapists. There are people out there who need to heal emotionally and spiritually; and they can come to an analyst/therapist, a professional trained to deal with those issues, to help them. Analysts/therapists don’t minimize the healing that comes from above; we reflect it in our relationships with our clients.
Openness. It may seem simplistic, but being open and honest with fellow family members can be one of the hardest things to do in the day-today of your life. In a therapy session, learning how to be open with each other about hurts and frustrations is going to happen. Once the feeling all come tumbling out, the next step will be learning to negotiate those feelings: learning how to express them constructively, learning how to deal with the feelings when they happen, and just as important, listening to others’ feelings when they have them. Families are individuals, all with separate needs and desires, who have to learn to function together. It’s a vital lesson to learn that navigating together as a family means listening to each other, communicating effectively with each other, and as I already said, learning to function together, without invalidating anyone’s feelings.
Again, this is something that depends on the clients’ needs. Some clients like to talk about their faith openly, about their questions and concerns on how their faith is affecting their lives. Some talk openly about their spiritual struggles, and ask for advice on how to manage their actions while seeking spiritual renewal and forgiveness from others. And for some, faith isn’t something that comes up at all in session. They feel that the faith part of their life isn’t something that needs to be brought up, since they are primarily there to talk about their feelings, thoughts, and relationships with parents, spouses, significant others, children, etc. For me personally, my faith informs how I interact with every client. I strive to practice compassion and empathy, and have a listening heart, to give clients the room they need to be angry, sad, joyful, and everything in-between. I feel that God or a Higher Power is big enough to handle all of our humanity (good, bad, and ugly), which often in distress, pain and trauma gets distorted, like our reflections in fun-house mirrors. If my clients desire part of their therapy to be focused on these issues, then I am willing to help them work through it.