“Does therapy work?” is a simple question and I am very tempted to give a simple answer – “yes!” As with most things in life though, it’s not as simple as that because sometimes the answer is “no” and sometimes it’s “maybe – what do you think?”. Let me explain my ridiculously ambiguous response.
Can we “cure” people from mental health issues?
I think the first step needs to be deciding what we mean by “work”. There has been an ongoing debate in the Transactional Analysis (TA) community for years on what “curing” a client looks like. Some transactional analysts believe we can cure people and others believe that no one can ever be fully cured.
Let’s take a practical approach to this though. Imagine you come to me suffering from stress. We work together for several weeks and in that time we form a strong relationship, you learn about where your stress originates from and how it links to your past. You also are able to connect with your feelings better and live your life in such a way that you can manage your stress levels more effectively. Overall in a period of a few months you are feeling very much happier and more able to take pleasure in the things in your life that matter to you.
Are you then cured? I would say – if you feel cured then you’re cured!. Purists may argue that some of your childhood issues that link to stress may not be fully resolved and I fully appreciate that the work dome in therapy will not result in you never experiencing feelings of stress again in your life but overall you are a happier, more contented person and that is a positive result in anyone’s books.
Have you achieved your contract?
Another way of deciding if psychotherapy has worked is to see if the therapeutic contract agreed at the start of the therapy has been achieved. Transactional analysts love contracts and this question around “has the therapy worked?” is a great example of why we love contracts.
At the beginning of your work with a TA therapist you are likely to spend time discussing what you want to achieve in your therapy. This way both you and your therapist know where you are trying to get to and can identify if you are steering off course in your therapy sessions.
Contracts do not need to be rigid, they could be as simple as “I want to relax in the evenings and get a good nights sleep”. If you are suffering from stress this contract would show very clearly whether the therapy has worked or not.
Other ways of looking at “cure”
In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) there is a very different approach to the idea of “cure”. ACT does not focus on symptom reduction at all. ACT theory says that our quality of life is linked to mindful guided action which is possible whether you are experiencing symptoms or not, provided you can respond to the symptoms appropriately. It’s about changing the relationship to your symptoms rather than to try to “get rid” of them.
My experiences of psychotherapy working
I have experienced the psychotherapeutic process from both sides, as a client and as a therapist. There is no doubt in my mind that psychotherapy has worked for me. From the first experience of therapy, that I had as a young man in my twenties, I started seeing the world differently.
Now, after many years of therapy I feel much more in tune with myself, happier, more able to deal with the stresses and strains of life and I have very little negative self talk going on in my head (which is probably my biggest achievement).
There are still times when I behave or feel like I did before having any therapy but these times are infrequent and I am much more able to bring myself round quickly.
Clients feel better
Therapy has worked for me. I see this in clients too. I love seeing my clients grow and change. I love seeing their outlooks shift and their lives taking on more manageable paths where they experience the “here and now”, spending less time trapped in the past or worrying about the future. For some clients this happens in a few weeks, for others a few months or even years. It just depends where the starting point is and on what “stuff” they bring to sort out. I have to say that for some clients therapy may not be particularly effective.
I have worked with some people who have not changed and who seem to leave therapy little different from how they arrived. That’s OK. Why therapy has not worked for them is often difficult to work out. It could be that I wasn’t the right therapist for them, they were not ready to change or a multitude of other reasons. No process is infallible.
So coming back to the original question “does psychotherapy work?” I would go with “mostly” as my answer. The only way in which you will ever find out for yourself though is to have some. If you are interested in having psychotherapy or counselling in the Manchester area then please contact me at The Affinity Centre, Wilmslow. Ring 01625 529099 or use this contact form to get in touch.
Read the book
If you want a fantastic book to read about the relationships that form between psychotherapist and client then check out Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy (Penguin Psychology)*. Irvin Yalom beautifully describes eight case studies of his work with clients including what went through his head when he worked with each person and how each client took the journey to change.