11 May What makes a good therapist?
How do you know your therapist is a good therapist that can support you with the difficulties you are going through? Studies show that therapy is effective 75-80% of the time (1). But why is that? What are the things to look for in a therapist? And what is it that makes therapy work?
the evolution of psychotherapy
Major exciting shifts have occurred in the last fifty years that will impact on the future of the mental health field. In the 70’s changing behaviour was the focus of therapy. In the 80’s science started to include the principle of changing unhelpful thinking patterns.
“Painful feelings lie at the heart of enduring problems`` - Edward Teyber
Over the last few decades research from several domains have started to pull Psychologists, Psychiatrists and Social neuroscientists in the same direction – looking towards emotion. It is now clear that changes to our thinking alone is limited, without changes to our emotional processing. Some would even go so far to say that there is a shift away from “technique” (2).
the emotional revolution
Neuroscience has greatly supported the psychotherapeutic movement towards listening beneath the words. And making contact with deeper emotions. This emerging shift challenges the long-held belief that reason must overcome bodily-based emotions (3).
“Loose your mind and come to your senses`` - Fritz Perls
When therapy is grounded in emotional empathy and the focus of thought follows an emotional lead, changes start to happen. Therapy starts to work. When your thoughts become guided by your emotions and body sensations, you automatically shift away from allowing the left brain to take over.
Self develops as mind and body
We process life experiences in a very complex way. Our bodies process information not just consciously in the brain, but also unconsciously. This happens at much greater speed than your conscious awareness and is referred to as implicit or somatic memory. Memories that you do not consciously remember, but don’t forget.
“Becoming aware of our bodily-based emotions is more essential than becoming aware of our thoughts” – Allan Schore
When you consciously become aware of something, your brain works like a search engine. Unconsciously you scan your memories, body and emotions for relevant information. Your brain then helps you construct what is happening in the now, with 90% of the input coming from this “internal scan” – not from the outside world. You may think that you see things as an objective reality, but the reality is we are organisms that naturally carry our past with us.
A good therapist helps unlock your growth
If we have experienced past difficulty, we are vulnerable to misinformation. Misinformation that our minds will assume to be true. This can damage a lifetime of relationships, without us being aware that it is taking place (4). All therapies attempt to address this processing, with varying techniques and beliefs about what best supports growth and wellbeing.
What happens in good therapy?
We now know that the structure and function of the mind and brain are shaped by experiences (5). These experiences get embedded largely through right brain to right brain emotional learning. Psychotherapy is a relationship based learning environment. Successful therapy draws on the brains ability to relearn in a safe environment. How you are able to relearn depends on your therapists ability to stimulate making these new connections in the brain (6).
Another good article that describes how psychotherapy brings about change is available on the Good Therapy website. Click here for direct access.
“The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn to change” - Carl Rogers
So what should I look for in a therapist?
Most importantly, find a therapist you fully trust. Someone you feel is truly interested in understanding what life is like for you.
How well does your therapist pay attention to you? Is he or she be flexible in approach in a way that feels good for you? A therapist that keeps up to date with recent developments, is involved in training and their own therapy will also serve as good indicators when you first meet.
2) Schore, A N. The Science of the Art of Psychotherapy W.W. Norton & Company. 2012