The prospect of seeking out psychotherapy may be one of the most complex decision making processes an individual can engage in. How to choose a therapist? Does seeing a psychologist imply something is wrong with me? Clinical, Counselling or Educational Psychologist? A trusty Google search comes up with a myriad of options, which often results in more confusion!
A therapeutic relationship is essentially that – a relationship. In much the same way as we find we ‘click’ more with some people than with others; the same is true for the therapeutic relationship. However, it is important to remember that the rules of social engagement don’t necessarily apply in a therapeutic space. Therapy exists as a collaborative process between the psychologist and client. The facets of empathy, unconditional positive regard and genuineness offer a space that is free from judgement and encourages a deeper exploration and understanding of self. Therapy should not revolve around giving advice, much to the client’s frustration! It is important that your therapist facilitates a sense of self-empowerment and a belief in your own ability to change, grow and problem solve.
Each therapeutic process is highly individualized and tailor made depending on the client and their presenting concerns. Psychologists practice from different theoretical paradigms, which imply that they will have different approaches to therapy and the therapeutic process. It is recommended that sessions take place once a week for between 50 and 60 minutes. Therapy is not easy and oftentimes, it is not fun. The process involves honesty, self-exploration, challenges and bringing difficulties to light. On the other hand, there is much to be gained – confidence, fulfilment, growth and empowerment.
Registration categories can also provide much confusion. There are common misconceptions held about different registration categories: that counselling psychologists are ‘just’ counsellors’; that clinical psychologists are more knowledgeable and better trained. In truth, many training institutions in South Africa offer the same theoretical training programme to both clinical and counselling psychology students. The Health Professions Council of South Africa outlines clinical psychology as focusing on the diagnosis and treatment of psychological distress and psychiatric conditions. Counselling psychology holds a holistic focus on cognitive, personality, emotional and neuropsychological functions and their combined impact in relation to life challenges. No matter the registration or paradigm, the therapeutic relationship remains fundamental to the efficacy of psychotherapy.