Alongside these external factors, we may be experiencing challenges such as ill health that has an impact on our family or friends. Sometimes, however, we appear to be physically well, but instead are experiencing other stresses – for example, in the workplace, which is all consuming.
The ‘coping zone’
We can feel exhausted by the unrelenting hours and never-ending deadlines, where even a two-week holiday is either impossible to achieve or offers no reprieve.
A more serious concern is when a workplace culture can allow bullying and inappropriate behaviour to go unchecked. It appears that you are spending too much time in the ‘coping zone’, the most dangerous place to be for your wellbeing.
When work and personal stress are present, it can be helpful to explore these stresses in a place where you feel safe, and where you are being listened to in a non-judgemental manner. Speaking to a psychotherapist or counsellor provides such a space.
Find a therapist
You can self-refer and find a therapist near you on www.psychotherapycouncil.ie. The therapeutic relationship is one of confidentiality and anonymity.
There are many professions that care for the mental health of society. Disciplines include psychiatry, psychology, psychotherapy, and counselling. Each profession has its place (medical and non-medical), and it is up to you to identify the help you require.
You can make this decision with the help and support of your family, friends or GP. This article discusses psychotherapy and counselling, providing you with details of each.
What is psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy supports people in developing awareness about what may be preventing them from accessing their ‘true self’.
This awareness can bring about an insight into integrating mind and body, aiming at the person as a whole: body, emotions, and psyche. It looks at resilience, as well as the person’s own resources and capacity for self-determination and ability to improve their lives.
Psychotherapy is an independent discipline, practised at an advanced, qualified and scientific level. It covers a range of approaches and methods based on a well-established body of theory, methodology and research.
Psychotherapy may be short term to long term. You may wish to address a current situation or seek help because of more general underlying feelings of depression and anxiety, difficulties in concentrating, dissatisfaction in work, or inability to form satisfactory relationships.
Psychotherapy can provide an effective treatment for people who may seek help for more specific reasons, such as early childhood trauma, eating disorders, psychosomatic conditions, suicidal ideation, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessional behaviour, or phobic anxieties.
It can also address the needs of people who experience feelings of emptiness or meaninglessness in their lives. It can provide support when dealing with death and marriage breakup.
Psychotherapy can benefit adults, adolescents, children and families. Psychotherapy covers a range of approaches and methods: they all involve a psychological (as distinct from medical or pharmacological) treatment for a range of psychological, emotional and relationship difficulties and disorders.
The relationship between the client and psychotherapist is an essential element of psychotherapy.
Confidentiality in a private setting is provided where difficult experiences may be explored and worked through. This relationship (otherwise known as the ‘therapeutic alliance’) is probably the most analysed within psychotherapy research.
Theoretical and empirical research findings indicate that the therapeutic alliance, especially as experienced by the client, is a significant indicator in the success of the work of psychotherapy.
The process of psychotherapy is collaborative. This bond depends on the psychotherapist’s capacity to be empathetic and the extent to which the client feels listened to, understood, and supported.
Qualifications and training
The total duration of psychotherapy training is not less than 3,200 hours, spread over a minimum of seven years, including a relevant university degree.
The latter four years is spent in the therapeutic space, in training that is specific to psychotherapy, with a minimum requirement of QQI Level 9.
Psychotherapy training involves a minimum commitment of 250 hours of personal psychotherapy or equivalent reflective practice throughout training to address the dynamic forces and processes in relation to the therapeutic alliance.
This commitment by psychotherapists is to understand and know themselves. It begins during their extensive training and continues throughout their ongoing professional life, with a minimum requirement of 50 hours of CPD annually. The awarding body is the Irish Council for Psychotherapy.
Psychotherapists are required to attend supervision a minimum of once a month. The purpose of this is to bring another perspective to the work, with a clinical supervisor, and to ensure that best practice prevails. This work is confidential and anonymous. Supervision is compulsory for psychotherapists and counsellors.
How is counselling different?
Counselling differs from psychotherapy at training level and scope of practice. The minimum standard required is QQI Level 8, and the amount of personal therapy hours is 50 throughout training. The CPD requirement is also less, at 30 hours per annum.
Counselling training is between three and four years. Counselling focuses on specific issues and is often designed to help a person with a specific problem. Counselling usually works with the here and now, and can be short term.
Many psychotherapists have also undertaken training in counselling. The awarding body is the Irish Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy.
Types of psychotherapy
- Cognitive behavioural psychotherapy: the philosophy underpinning this approach is that a person learns to act and think in certain ways as a result of their lifetime experiences and how they perceive those experiences.
This learning is a lifelong process. Clients seek help for a variety of reasons. Cognitive behaviour psychotherapists postulate that people can achieve change by working directly on their own patterns of thinking and behaviour. In therapy, they need to learn more helpful and functional thought patterns.
- Family therapy: this is a term used to describe a range of psychotherapeutic approaches that seek to bring about change in close relationships. Family therapy, (also called ‘systemic psychotherapy’) addresses the problems people present within the context of their lives and their social networks.
Systemic psychotherapists are trained to work with individuals, couples, children, or other network groups, and to move between one setting and another as the needs of the therapeutic relationship demand.
- Constructivist psychotherapy: the clearest hallmark of constructivist and related schools of therapy is an invitational mode of enquiry, which assists clients in making sense of their experiences. George Kelly, the founder of personal construct psychology, articulated a fundamental belief of therapists who work from a constructivist perspective: “No one needs to be a victim of their biography.”
When clients seek psychotherapy, they have a story to tell. It may be a troubled, hurt or angry narrative of a relationship, or a life in crisis. Constructivist therapists work in a variety of settings with individuals, couples, families, and in organisations.
- Psychoanalytic theory: psychoanalytic theory and practice is essentially an enquiry into the human condition from psychopathology to the broader philosophical, social and cultural context. It endeavours to facilitate an understanding of the underlying, often unconscious, sources of a person’s distress or disturbance by increasing awareness of their inner world and its influence over relationships, both past and present.
Psychoanalysis as a clinical activity is essentially a special form of dialogue. It is a method for experiencing and observing the unconscious processes going on in the mind.
- Humanistic and integrative psychotherapy: this approach emphasises that people are self-regulating, self-actualising and self-transcendent beings, who are responsible for themselves. While recognising the tragic dimensions of human existence, it emphasises peoples’ ability to grow and change and realise their true nature more fully.
Based on a phenomenological view of reality, the emphasis is on experience, and the therapeutic relationship is seen as a meaningful contact between equals.
What to expect?
The process of psychotherapy begins when you commit to helping yourself and to look for a therapist. When you make contact, the psychotherapist will arrange an appointment for you.
The next step is to turn up for the appointment. There is no need for an agenda, although you can bring a list of topics if you so wish.
You will be met in an empathetic, non-judgemental manner. This is your time. You are well on your journey to improving your mental health and overall wellbeing.
You and the psychotherapist will decide how many sessions you may need as you engage in the process. The importance is that you are getting support and you are giving yourself the time.
You can expect empathy and confidentiality as you begin and continue your journey.