Most people find that, at some time in their lives, they feel overwhelmed or stuck and need some assistance in dealing with their problems. Problems in relationships, family situations, the loss of a loved one, depression, stress, the loss of a job, or substance abuse are examples of problems that may seem difficult to deal with alone or perhaps insurmountable. Working with a trained professional can be invaluable in helping people to resolve problems and lead healthier, more productive and satisfying lives. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health has found that one third of adults in the U.S. suffer from an emotional or substance abuse problem, and one fourth of adults suffer from depression or anxiety at some point in their lives.
Additionally, research shows that physical and emotional health are closely linked (have you heard of the mind/body connection?). For example, a positive outlook can affect your physical health in a positive way, and poor emotional health can wear down your physical health. In fact, two thirds of all office visits to family physicians are due to stress-related symptoms (American Academy of Family Physicians). Likewise, poor physical health can bring you down, mentally.
A psychologist is a highly trained professional who has expertise in human behavior, psychological assessment, diagnosis, and treatment. Through the use of scientifically validated treatments, a psychologist works with people to change their behavior, feelings, attitudes, and approaches to problems so that they can develop healthier, more effective patterns of thinking and behaving.
Psychologists apply scientifically validated procedures to help people change their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Psychotherapy is a collaborative effort between an individual and a psychologist. It provides a supportive environment to talk openly and confidentially about concerns and feelings. Psychologists consider maintaining your confidentiality extremely important and will answer your questions regarding those rare circumstances when confidential information must be shared.
When choosing a psychologist, the right match is important because psychologists and clients work closely together. Once the psychologist’s credentials and competence are established, your level of personal comfort with that psychologist should be determined. Choose a psychologist with whom you feel a good rapport.
Convincing evidence exists to show that most people who have at least several sessions of therapy are much better off than those who have who choose not to get help with their emotional problems. Therapy can improve a person’s overall health. For example, immune system functioning can be one benefit of improved emotional health in therapy. Psychotherapy has become a common form of treatment for many people. For example, 80 percent of Americans reported that they have become more aware of how their mental health and emotions affect their physical health, and 78 percent said they would see a psychologist for help in managing stress (APA, 2005). Professionals in the field of psychology have long recognized that psychological factors affect physical health, productivity, feelings of well-being, relationship quality, ability to cope with stress, and ability to function in all areas of one’s life. Personal growth is another common reason for participating in therapy, since an increase in self-esteem and self-understanding, as well as the changing of negative patterns in one’s life, can all occur in therapy.
An often cited survey from Consumer Reports (1995) concluded that psychotherapy patients benefited significantly from psychotherapy, that long-term treatment was more effective than short-term treatment, and that psychotherapy alone was just as effective as psychotherapy plus medication. Again in 2004, Consumer Reports found that consumers reported talk therapy to be more effective than drug therapy for depression and anxiety. Another study found that 75 percent of people who participate in therapy show some benefit and that the benefits achieved through therapy tend to be maintained. I n 2007, Michael J. Lambert reported that 50% of people improved after 11-21 sessions of therapy, and 75% of people improved after 25-45 sessions.
The focus is generally on changing ineffective thoughts, emotions or behaviors. Most therapy focuses on individuals, although psychotherapists also work with couples, families and groups.
We know that the alliance between the therapist and the client is a very important factor in treatment outcomes. Certainly the very first step is to verify that the therapist you choose is professionally trained and licensed by a professional board for independent practice. After that, you want to be sure that there is a good relationship fit with the therapist. The therapy relationship is a purposeful collaborative relationship between a therapist and the client – what we call the therapeutic alliance – and is related to therapeutic progress. This relationship holds for all types of therapy. The therapeutic alliance is critical even in medication treatments for mental disorders. It is important that you have confidence in your therapist and believe in his or her approach. It may take some time to fully understand your psychotherapist’s recommendations so do not hesitate to ask questions. The most important aspect of effective therapy is that the client and the therapist work together to help the client reach his or her goals in therapy.
Your psychologist may recommend a more hands-on approach to treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy or behavior modification. These treatment methods often involve homework or specific tasks designed to help you develop more effective coping skills. In other approaches such as psychodynamic, humanistic or psychoanalytic therapy, you may talk about your early experiences to provide a better understanding of the root causes of problems that are affecting you now.
Treatment length depends on the problems or disorder, patient goals, patient history and characteristics, events occurring outside of therapy (e.g., divorce, change in employment status), and therapeutic progress. Evidence indicates that therapy typically is terminated when the patient is functioning adequately. Commonly, psychotherapy lasts six to 12 sessions, with more complex difficulties benefiting from longer treatment.
The first step is to identify the problem. For example, you may feel angry or frustrated but can’t easily pinpoint the cause. A psychologist will help to determine the best way to address your issues. Treatment will be based on current scientific research, the psychologist’s theoretical orientation, and your culture, values, and preferences.
You may contact Dr. Bresnick and speak with her on the phone or meet with her for a brief introduction (she does not charge for a 15 minute initial meeting) to see if she would be the right psychologist for you.
Some people choose to bill their insurance for psychological services, and others choose not to use their insurance, or they may not have insurance that pays for psychological services. At your request, Dr. Bresnick’s billing service can determine your benefits for you, prior to beginning any therapy sessions with her. Also, as a service to you, we will file claims to your insurance company for you.
If you don’t know the details of your health insurance plan, ask your benefits manager for a copy of your health plan benefits. You have a right to a copy of your own. This document should describe what mental health and substance use treatment benefits you are entitled to. It should also explain how to get services and how to appeal coverage decisions, if necessary, and explain what your financial responsibilities are.