Psychotherapy: A healing conversation
Psychotherapy provides an opportunity to understand who we are and how to make sense of our experiences and relationships with others. It is an effective choice to alleviate mental and emotional pain for depression, anxiety and the lasting effects of trauma and early stress. It is helpful in the case of loneliness, or emptiness, or because life is unfulfilling or relationships with others are difficult.
Psychotherapy is not usually a quick fix. It does not make promises of instant recovery, like many so-called ‘self-help’ books. It can take some time, but it is worth it.
Psychotherapists often refer to ‘the unconscious’. This is because we have a limited awareness of why we are the way we are. We simply do not know ourselves very well. We are attracted to the wrong things; we react in ways we wish we wouldn’t; we avoid things without really knowing why; our thoughts, behaviour or feelings get out of control. We run away, panic or become aggressive, we get too close too quickly or we cannot get close at all.
There are good reasons for all of that, but we are unconscious to them. Psychotherapy gives us access to that unconscious.
Therapy will bring back experiences or relationships encountered in early life when our expectations of people were being formed. We rediscover feelings, thoughts and physical reactions that belong to the past and are affecting our present feelings and behaviour. These old ways of being affect all our relationships, often without us being aware of it. The way this emerges in a relationship with a psychotherapist is called transference.
Many people have been hurt or restricted by bad or shaming experiences in families or other important relationships, especially when we were small and defenceless. There may have been a lot of stress in the family that affected us growing up.
A person with a depressed mother may joke every time a sad topic comes up. The child who was punished and criticised may expect that from others. Someone who had to take care of a weak parent may automatically try to control others to keep everything safe. In this way our feelings are drawing energy from a source long ago, and this will become clear in psychotherapy.
In therapy we have a chance to relive earlier stages of development, and to change our experience in the present. Now we can express need without shame, be properly angry or sad and have the freedom to feel and give expression to a range of emotions.
Psychotherapists are required to have therapy themselves as part of their training. This helps them understand and manage what the client brings.
Psychotherapy works by providing questions, interpretations, or prompts to our own emotional effort to understand and express ourselves. There is now a safe place where we can say whatever comes into our heads and we can begin to feel more acceptable. Memories, images, feelings and thoughts bubble up from the unconscious and can be understood and healed.
Ghosts of the past that are seen in daylight can be laid to rest.
More about psychotherapy
Psychotherapy practice in Aotearoa is informed by a wide range of modalities with their own philosophies, research and clinical papers.
- Articles written about psychotherapy theory and practice can be found here.
- A talk by the psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas on mental pain is available here.
- NZAP member Lynn Charlton, an Auckland psychotherapist, has written about the benefits of her own psychotherapeutic recovery from a teenage suicide attempt.
- Conversation between western-style and tangata whenua psychotherapists is developing a rich bicultural environment in which tīkanga and indigenous practice meet with imported and home-grown ideas about healing dialogue.
- The different benefits of psychiatry, CBT and psychotherapy are entertainingly explained by the School of Life.
Psychotherapists Board of Aotearoa New Zealand
The Psychotherapists Board of Aotearoa New Zealand (“the Board”) is the regulatory authority appointed under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003. The principal purpose of this Act is ‘to protect the health and safety of members of the public by providing for mechanisms to ensure that health practitioners are competent and fit to practice in their professions’.
The Board registers psychotherapists in New Zealand and carries responsibilities in the areas of standards, conduct and competence. Under the HPCA Act (2003) unless you are registered with the Board you cannot call yourself a psychotherapist or hold yourself out to be a psychotherapist.