It is not uncommon to feel some level of dis-ease or distress when sensing a need to reach out for some support, whether from family, friends, and/or from someone that might be more objective, such as a therapist or counselor.   It takes inner strength and courage to ask for help with taking care of yourself, whether mentally, physically, and/or emotionally. If you are considering some sort of ‘talk therapy”, as with many experiences we try for the first time, it might feel a bit overwhelming, especially if you don’t know what to expect or who to turn to. It is my hope that the questions and answers provided below bring you a greater sense of ease as you explore your options on your journey toward improved health in mind, body, and spirit. After reviewing these FAQs, should you have any additional questions, please connect with me by calling (714) 707-1277 or by sending me an email at linda@sanctuary4compassion.com and I will be happy to provide any further information you might need to take the first step.

Psychotherapy is an approach to healing through the use of language. A psychotherapist will encourage you to put words to your beliefs, emotions, experiences, thoughts, and values and express those words in a safe and supportive environment. Therefore, the foundational aspect of psychotherapy is the collaborative relationship between you and the psychotherapist. The journey of exploration through a dialogue around what may be challenging you in the present can be demanding and sometimes unpleasant, so it does require a commitment to growth by being honest with yourself, taking responsibility for how you experience yourself, others, and the world, and an openness to the process of identifying and gaining a greater understanding of what is holding you back from experiencing more ease and peace in your life.

You might consider psychotherapy if you have a sense that the quality of your life is not what you would like it to be and you have tried other approaches to improving your quality of life, but nothing else seems to be creating the change you desire. You may be successful in managing problems, but may still wonder if there is more to life than simply moving from one problem to the next. And, as you are managing your problems, if you feel a sense of overwhelm that seems to linger longer than you would like or leads you to procrastinate in addressing your problems until they build up and can no longer be ignored, psychotherapy might be an approach that can help bring a deeper felt sense of inner peace and joy even as you manage problems.

Below is a list of some situations when psychotherapy can be helpful if you:

  • Struggle to accept and love yourself
  • Desire to increase your understanding of your purpose in life
  • Are unable to let go and forgive (yourself and/or others)
  • Would like to increase your ability to experience compassion (for yourself and others)
  • No longer want to feel responsible for everything
  • Want to increase your emotional intelligence
  • Would like to feel more self-worth without having to be perfect

Considering psychotherapy does not mean there is something wrong with you. This approach to healing is sought out by people with everyday problems looking to improve their life proactively similar to how people go to see their primary care physician for wellness visits preventively.

First and foremost psychotherapy offers hope that change is possible in your life. When you feel stuck or have begun to notice patterns in your life that have you perplexed or bringing up self-doubt, talking with an accepting and compassionate person can help you feel less alone in your experience and realize others where you are have been successful in getting unstuck and learning new ways of being in the world. Second, and no less important, simply putting a voice to your beliefs, thoughts, and feelings that you have and are challenged with and truly connecting with another person by being seen, heard, and understood is very healing. In addition, if you are open to the process and willing to make the investment in yourself, psychotherapy can go beyond symptom relief and offer long-lasting benefits that are capable of transforming many areas of your life, including but not limited to your sense of self, how you view others and the world, your relationships, and how you respond to challenges that this human experience presents.

Yes, there are many different types of psychotherapy, because no one approach heals everyone. Some psychotherapists may exclusively use one type while others may include elements from several different types. It is important to have a basic awareness of the different types of, or approaches to, therapy so you can identify ones that will fit your beliefs and needs. Below is a list, and brief description, of some of the more commonly used approaches:

  • Attachment-based therapy – Focuses on early bonding and connection experiences with our primary caregivers and how those relationships influenced who we are as adults and contributed to the patterns of interactions in our current relationships, as well as our emotional experiences and our ways of navigating the world.
  • Cognitive Behavioral therapy – Focuses on the interaction between thoughts, behaviors and feelings to identify unhealthy thought patterns and change those thought patterns to more healthy ones. Homework is typically assigned between sessions to record negative thoughts and replace those thoughts with more positive ones. CBT is a relatively short-term, problem-focused approach that requires active involvement by the client to learn new skills and strategies that can be applied to current and future problems.
  • Emotionally-focused therapy – Focuses on honoring powerful emotions as a source of intelligence and the importance of healthy, secure relationships. Emotions are normal, natural human responses that provide information about what is important to us and guide us toward what we may need or want in any situation. EFT helps clients become aware of, reflect on, express, and learn to embrace the full range of human emotions, because understanding emotions leads to acceptance of their adaptive nature, thus enhancing emotional regulation and transformation.
  • Humanistic/Client-centered therapy – Focuses on creating a relationship and atmosphere where the client is able to tap into their natural human potential and internal resources for self-understanding, personal growth, and change, believing that the client knows what is best for them and values personal responsibility. It recognizes that positive growth and change requires favorable conditions and believes those conditions include unconditional positive regard, empathy, and congruence or genuineness.
  • Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy – Focuses on combining the art of mindfulness meditation with skills of cognitive therapy designed to interrupt and change unhealthy thought patterns that lead to overwhelming emotions. MBCT teaches clients to purposefully pay attention to what is going on in the present moment, without judgment, including body sensations, thoughts, and feelings instead of reliving the past or worrying about the future, leading to increased personal awareness.
  • Play therapy – Focuses on the use of toys and games to build rapport between the therapist and clients, typically children. PT creates a safe space for the child to identify and express feelings and behaviors and learn a variety of ways to communicate with and relate to others appropriate for their developmental stage.
  • Psychodynamic therapy – Focuses on increasing a client’s self-awareness and understanding of how unconscious processes stemming from past relationship influences have manifested into patterns of current behaviors and interactions. It assists clients in identifying and exploring subconscious emotions, thoughts, early-life experiences, and beliefs to gain insight into what motivates and creates present-day challenges. Psychodynamic therapy believes that once painful feelings are identified and allowed expression, processed or integrated, the normal, natural human defense mechanisms such as denial or rationalization are no longer needed and the client becomes free to take more conscious steps to change past patterns in relationships.
  • Somatic-based therapy – Focuses on the deep connection between the mind and the body, with neuroscience more recently providing evidence of how the mind influences the body and the body influences the mind. It is a holistic approach to human development, growth, and healing that recognizes the wisdom of the body through its expression of sensations, feelings, and emotions originating in childhood. Somatic therapy believes that past traumas are held in the body and those traumas are reflected in our body language, posture, and expressions as well as in physical symptoms like pain, digestive issues, and other medical issues, including addictions.
  • Systemic therapy – Focuses on the impact that the family and community have on the health and well-being of its members. It understands problems in a contextual framework and believes that individuals cannot be fully understood without understanding the emotional relationships within the family unit. It views families and communities as groups of interdependent individuals in which each member has a role to play and rules to follow in order to maintain balance. When these systems are out of balance, it leads to dysfunction. Systemic therapy works to encourage family members to empathize, understand, and appreciate each other’s needs while building on existing family strengths.

Although the above listed types of therapy are several of the more commonly used approaches to psychotherapy, it does not cover all types and the brief descriptions do not cover every detail about that particular type of therapy. I encourage you to explore more about the various approaches by possibly talking with your primary care physician or scheduling a free consultation with a psychotherapist to discuss planning treatment that meets your needs.

In the state of California, anyone that provides psychotherapy or counseling must be licensed by the state. Such licensure provides consumers an avenue of recourse against the therapist or counselor should the consumer experience unprofessional conduct on the part of the therapist or counselor. For licensure, most mental health professionals are required to attain a minimum of a Master’s degree education, post-degree supervised clinical experience, and pass a comprehensive licensing exam assessing a basic level of knowledge, skill, and experience. Below is a list of licensed mental health providers and a brief description of the differences in level of education, focus of training, and services provided:

  • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
    • Licensed by: California Board of Behavioral Sciences
    • Level of education: Master’s degree
    • Focus of training: Psychotherapy and family systems with a view of client symptoms and interaction patterns within the context of their past and current environments
    • Services: LMFTs engage in psychotherapy predominantly with individuals and also offer couples, family, and group therapy and view treatment from a relationship perspective that incorporates family systems
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
    • Licensed by: California Board of Behavioral Sciences
    • Level of education: Master’s degree
    • Focus of training: Knowledge of social resources, human capabilities, and the role of unconscious motivation in behaviors
    • Services: LCSWs engage in psychotherapy with individuals, families, or groups and facilitate social services, including helping communities to organize, provide, and/or improve social or health services
  • Licensed Professional Clinical Counseling (LPCC)
    • Licensed by: California Board of Behavioral Sciences
    • Level of education: Master’s degree
    • Focus of training: General practice of counseling that usually focuses on a particular, present moment challenge and assists in identifying steps to solve it
    • Services: LPCCs engage in counseling with individuals, couples, families, groups, and organizations to address current challenges in identifying goals in areas such as mental/emotional wellness, personal growth, education, and career
  • Licensed Educational Psychologist
    • Licensed by: California Board of Behavioral Sciences
    • Level of education: Master’s degree
    • Focus of training: Specialty versed in both education and psychology and focused on youth, learning, and education
    • Services: Often researchers, LEPs identify strengths and challenges with learning and assist children in achievement efforts, while working with the schools and parents
  • Psychologist
    • Licensed by: California Board of Psychology
    • Level of education: Doctoral degree
      • Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
      • Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.)
    • Focus of training: Specialize in psychological testing
    • Services: In addition to providing psychotherapy, often these doctors are researchers and/or teachers
  • Psychiatrist
    • Licensed by: The Medical Board of California
    • Level of education: Medical degree (MD)
    • Focus of training: Specialize in mental health issues and uniquely trained in prescribing psychotropic medications
    • Services: Although licensed to provide psychotherapy, many limit services to performing psychiatric evaluations, prescribing medications, and performing medication management due to high demand and short supply of providers

You can access any complaints and/or disciplinary actions that may have been filed against a mental health provider through the corresponding licensing boards. To access the Board of Behavioral Sciences website, click here to view more information on the descriptions of the regulations defining the various scopes of practice for each license.

Beyond my integrated approach to healing that brings Eastern and Western philosophies and tools such as yoga, meditation, direct neurofeedback and psychotherapy together to facilitate transformation and wellbeing, I believe what makes me unique as a therapist is my level of presence, compassion, acceptance, and gratitude when working with my clients. I find myself captivated by the experiences of my clients, which continuously energizes my desire to relieve their suffering and help guide them toward their goals, while feeling honored and blessed to be able to create safe, sacred space for my clients to voice their greatest fears and explore their shadow side in order to work through those obstacles and integrate and accept all aspects of themselves. I am regularly reminded of the strength and resiliency of the human spirit when I deeply listen to my clients’ responses to life challenges, which is the source of all hope.

The most common place where psychotherapy has traditionally been provided is in the private office of the mental health practitioner. It can also take place in schools, hospitals, community agencies or centers, or churches. Some therapists might even come to your home. With the advancements in communication technologies, you can now even access psychotherapy online via the Internet.

Some of the main factors to consider when determining what location may be best for you include:

  • Safety
  • Comfort
  • Privacy to support maintaining your confidentiality

Most private office settings will have a waiting area, which provides an opportunity for you to transition from the external experience of the day to the inner sanctuary of therapist’s office. It is also a place where you may encounter other client’s arriving for and/or leaving sessions, especially if the therapist works with other mental health providers. The setup is typically similar to your primary care physician office, so you might find magazines to read or a water dispenser to get yourself a drink or make yourself a cup of tea.

After doing some initial research and locating a therapist that you feel might be a good fit for you, you will want to connect with them to ask any questions you might have and/or schedule an initial appointment. To ensure your confidentiality in the process, you may want to make a call, instead of sending an email, especially if you share an email account with anyone. Making the initial call may be the hardest part of the process, so being a little prepared might make this first step a bit easier.

It’s likely that you won’t connect directly with the therapist initially, as they will probably be in session with other clients, so anticipate that you will receive their answering machine. If the therapist is ‘worth their salt’, they will return your call within 24-hours. In leaving a voicemail, make sure to include your name and contact information and good times when the therapist might connect with you when returning your call

When you do connect with the therapist initially, in order to make sure the therapist is the right one for you, you can either plan to ask some questions on the phone and/or schedule an initial appointment to determine how you feel in the presence of the therapist after getting your questions answered. Recognizing the importance of the therapist-client relationship, many therapists offer a free initial meeting or consultation to provide an opportunity for you to experience the connection before making a commitment to work together. Some questions you might want to ask, either on the phone or at the time of the initial appointment include:

      • What are your qualifications, experience, and areas of focus?
      • What is your confidentiality policy?
      • What are your fees and fee policy?
      • What is your preferred approach to therapy – addressing immediate problems or focusing on deeper issues?
      • What are your strengths as a therapist?
      • Have you even been in therapy yourself?

Should you decide to make the initial appointment, be sure to ask any additional questions that will make you feel more comfortable about the location of the session or the time of your appointment, such as:

      • Are there any special directions to find your office?
      • What is the parking like?
      • What if I need to cancel or reschedule my appointment?
      • Will I need to fill out any paperwork in advance?

Before engaging in psychotherapy, the therapist will most likely ask you to read and complete some forms that will provide you with the expectations, risks, and benefits of therapy in order to obtain your consent to move forward with therapy. Some additional information that should be included is the fees and fee policies, scheduling appointments and cancellation policies, and limits of confidentiality. You will be asked to provide information to the therapist such as your name, address, telephone number(s), past medical history and medications, emergency contact information, family history and current family composition. This information assists the therapist in making an initial assessment and ensuring a good fit between your needs and the therapist’s ability to help.

Once in session, the therapist will initially ask additional questions, such as:

  • Have you ever sought therapy before and, if yes, what did you find helpful and not so helpful?
  • What is bringing you to therapy now?
  • What symptoms might you be experiencing?
  • How will you know therapy is working?

The purpose of the questions is to better understand you and what it is you want to get out of therapy. So be open and honest when answering the therapist’s questions to ensure your needs will be met.

And while it is important for the therapist to ask such questions of you, it is also just as important for you to feel as though you have an opportunity to ask questions of the therapist. Therapy is a collaborative effort, so the more you understand about how therapy works and what approach the therapist takes, the more comfortable you will be in making a decision about which therapist to work with and participating in the healing process.

Below is a list of some steps to take to feel better prepared for your first meeting with the therapist:

  • Consider writing down the reasons you are thinking about embarking on a journey of healing through psychotherapy
    • Being prepared in this way will help you to express what it is you want to get out of therapy
  • Research the various types of psychotherapy and narrow down the types that might work best for you
  • Come with a list of questions for the therapist, such as:
    • What are your qualifications, experience, and areas of focus?
    • What is your confidentiality policy?
    • What are your fees and fee policy?
    • What is your preferred approach to therapy – addressing immediate problems or focusing on deeper issues?
    • What are your strengths as a therapist?
    • Have you even been in therapy yourself?
  • Manage your expectations for the first meeting as therapy is a process that takes a strong therapist-client relationship and time for you to implement the changes you desire

After the first session and before making another appointment, take some time to reflect on your experience, what you thought and felt in session and afterwards, and let your reactions and feelings guide you in taking the next step – whether it is to make another appointment with the same therapist or to schedule another initial consultation with another therapist. It is your choice and it is important to take as much time as you need to feel confident in and comfortable with your decision.

Typical sessions are around 45-50 minutes long, with longer sessions being offered for couples, family and group sessions, and best practice seems to suggest weekly sessions for the bulk of therapy. As it becomes clear that goals are being met, sessions may be spaced out to once every-other-week, to make sure the preferred changes have been integrated and to prevent setbacks in the progress made.

You might be wondering why sessions are time-limited to just 45-50? Here are some thoughts to consider:

  • The journey of exploration traveled in session is often mentally and emotionally challenging; therefore, it is best to limit the amount of time so as to not overwhelm the mind-body connection and optimize the processing and integration of new experiences and insights gained
  • A predictable length of time for sessions establishes safety as the therapist holds sacred space for you to experience powerful emotions and then assists you in containing them before leaving the session
  • Having an anticipated, planned stopping time to sessions also seems to have created a session phenomenon where clients bring up important concerns at the very end of session, maybe as a way ‘to get it out there’ while not being quite ready to delve any deeper into it in that present moment
  • Some time is needed after each session for the therapist to complete required documentation and prepare for the next client session

You might also be wondering why weekly sessions are considered best practice? Here are some thoughts to consider:

  • A healthy balance is needed between processing what comes up in session and time to integrate new insights without overwhelming the mind-body connection and/or losing traction in progress by having too much time in between sessions
  • A rhythm needs to be created that facilitates a manageable commitment to change while maintaining continuity from one session to the next
  • Less frequent sessions tend to hinder the process and progress by keeping the therapist-client connection superficial and not creating the safe, sacred space needed to explore long held beliefs, emotions, and thoughts
  • Predictable sessions help clients to work therapy into their busy calendars
  • A practical balance of cost and effectiveness is established

Sometime therapists will recommend more frequent sessions, depending upon client needs and/or the therapist’s orientation, such as:

  • When you might be experiencing intense emotional or life experiences that make it difficult for you to stay centered and more frequent sessions are needed to assist you in learning and implementing healthier coping skills
  • When working with a Psychoanalyst, who is a therapist that specializes in a long-term type of therapy that focuses on a full-life history and designed to change the basic personality, you may meet with the therapist 3-5 times per week.

This is an excellent question with no simple answer! Many factors must be taken into consideration, including, but not limited to:

  • What goals do you want to work on
  • Are you seeking therapy under the medical, disease model or wellness model
  • How ready are you for change
  • The number and intensity of the symptoms you are experiencing
  • The history of your symptoms
  • How actively engaged you are in the process
  • The type of psychotherapy or approach to healing utilized by the therapist
  • The number, types, and timing of traumas you may have experienced*

*If you experienced a traumatizing childhood, whether through ongoing neglect or conflict, repeated abuse, and/or other shaming interactions, without the loving and nurturing support of significant adults in your life, therapy may be needed for several years or more. When children live through such soul-wounding attachment traumas, the healing process cannot be rushed. The therapist must move at your pace to create safety and ensure a consistently trustworthy relationship is developed over time. Then through this newly found and felt trusting relationship you can begin to explore more healthy ways of being in the world.

Just as the experience of growth, change, and healing in the human body is unique for each person, so is the experience of growth, change, healing, and transformation in the human mind, heart and spirit. Each of us has very lived very different lives, even if we grew up in the same family. The healing process of psychotherapy will be different for each person and thus the timeframe.

If you approach your health care from the wellness or preventive model, then therapy might be a life-long commitment to improving your life, preventing conflicts in the future, and expanding the peace in, and meaning and purpose of, your life over your life span.