What is psychotherapy? Is it just a chit-chat?

Despite seeking for psychotherapy is becoming more common in Hong Kong, there are still many people who do not understand what psychotherapy is.  Many people had asked questions such as “Why do I have to pay for chatting with a stranger?”; “Is it the same as talking to a friend about my problems?”; “Can talking really cure my depression and anxiety?”; “Is it only crazy or weak people go to psychotherapy?”  To answer these questions, it is important to know what psychotherapy is not.

Psychotherapy is not only chatting or talking. It is, in fact, a conversational process based on psychological theories and techniques with scientific evidence to help the client to achieve one’s goals.  In this sense, it is totally different from someone chatting with ones’ friends about personal problems in social gatherings. Psychotherapy is also not only for the “crazy” and the “weak”.  People who seek psychotherapy come from diverse backgrounds. Some may have distress related to problems in their lives, such as work stress, marital issues or addiction. Others may experience various symptoms or issues such as depressive mood, anxiety or impulsivity. Some people may seek psychotherapy for self-exploration and personal growth. In fact, many clients undergoing psychotherapy are high-functioning individuals who have high educational attainment and are engaging in high level of work in their career.

Those professionals who offer psychotherapy are someone trained professionally to help their clients to alleviate distress, facilitate learning, enhance insights, or cultivate personal growth. These professionals abide by ethical guidelines in many areas, including competence, informed consent and confidentiality, etc.  It is, in fact, a professional service that intends to offer help in consideration of the best interest of the client. The client’s privacy, right to know and therapeutic needs are protected.

Therapists who offer psychotherapy have different orientations. That is, different therapists have different theoretical perspectives in practicing their therapies with clients. Examples of these orientations are psychodynamic, individual psychology, existential approach, person-centered theory, cognitive behavioural approach, family system approach, and integrative or eclectic approach. In fact, the effectiveness of psychotherapy is affected by many factors other than therapists’ orientations. One of these factors is the client factor, such as severity of the problem, motivation for therapy, and psychological-mindedness. Another factor is other sources of help and support in the client’s environment. One very important factor is the therapeutic relationship between the therapist and the client. Apparently, both the therapist and the client contribute to this important factor.

Before deciding to undergo psychotherapy, one needs to understand the qualifications and the experiences of the therapist. In Hong Kong, those who have registration in professional bodies such as the Hong Kong Psychological Society and the Hong Kong Institute of Clinical Psychologists, abide by the code of ethics in their practice. This means that choosing someone with proper registration can make sure ones’ interests being protected. Undergoing psychotherapy is an important journey for ones’ well-being. Therefore, it is important to have a better understanding of what psychotherapy is and to choose a therapist with professional qualifications.

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