It was Joan’s last session with me, and we were reviewing what she had accomplished in our work together. She had come to see me originally because she was having trouble dealing with her co-workers, and was concerned that if she didn’t find a way to handle the situation better, she would lose her job. She was stressed all the time, having trouble sleeping, laying awake worrying about work problems (people problems, really), and the stress was starting to take a toll on her health.
Joan found it a relief to be able to talk about this situation in a safe place, and sort out what was going on and what she could do about it. She did, indeed, work with some difficult personalities. She also came to realize that she was contributing the problem herself, inadvertently. She liked her job well enough and didn’t want to lose it, but she knew she couldn’t keep going like this. We looked for ways she could feel more in control, and I taught her some basic strategies for dealing with difficult people. She was also able to experiment with new ways of expressing herself that were more likely to be successful, and enable her to work better with her co-workers, so that she wasn’t contributing to the problem. (This can be the most difficult part; recognizing that it’s not all the other person. However, it is very empowering, in that we have much more control over changing our own actions than someone else’s.)
One of my favorite things about psychotherapy is the often-unexpected knowledge, understanding and set of skills that clients walk away with at the end. Of course, when a person makes an appointment with a psychologist, it is because there is some sort of problem that is causing them pain in their life. They want to fix it, or find a way to deal with it, and feel better. Whatever the specific problem, this is what everyone has in common when they walk in my door for the first time. But when all goes well, and they walk out of my door for the last time, having accomplished their original objective, they also leave with an unexpected bonus. In the process of discovering the solution to the original problem, they have learned valuable lessons in psychological problem solving that will help in the future with similar problems. Whether it is relationship skills, learning to deal effectively with anger, controlling anxiety or depression, or handling conflict more skillfully, it’s a bonus they usually didn’t anticipate when they first came in.
The American Psychological Association recently completed a review of more than fifty peer-reviewed research studies on the effectiveness of psychotherapy. The answer was definitive: “Psychotherapy is effective, helps reduce the overall need for health services, and produces long-term health improvements.” Also, “the average effects of psychotherapy are larger than the effects produced by many medical treatments.” Finally, “psychotherapy teaches patients life skills that last beyond the course of treatment. The results of psychotherapy tend to last longer than psychopharmacological treatments."
With the glut of commercials touting the benefits of psychiatric medications, it’s easy to think there’s a medication for every problem. There are times when medications are beneficial, and even necessary, but they are not the solution to all our problems. Research shows that a combination of medication and psychotherapy is often most effective in treating depression and anxiety, for example. And the results of psychotherapy are comparable or better than the results of medications, without the potential for side effects. Psychotherapy shows its value clearly in both improved results and cost savings.
So, like Joan, take care of your mental health. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s also good for your physical health, your relationships, and even your job!
Dr. Catherine Aisner is a Psychologist in South Lake Tahoe, helping individuals and couples improve the quality of their lives. She can be reached at 530-541-6696 or online at www.CatherineAisner.com