What is the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychotherapist?

Psychotherapists generally provide a holistic approach by using different techniques to access and work with the deeper emotional and psychological issues of the individual. Their main aim is to support the person to understand the roots of their difficulties, and how their adjustment to these life circumstances may be affecting the way that they view and respond to the world around them. Psychotherapists are usually highly trained in one particular type of therapy, however their practice could be informed by various models and therapies.  On the other hand a Psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has chosen Psychiatry as their specialization. Psychiatrists study how the chemical aspects of the brain may be predisposing the individual to develop difficulties in their health, often leading to mental health conditions such as Clinical depression, Obsessions etc.  In certain circumstances, Psychiatrists and Psychotherapists work together in order to provide the best support for individuals experiencing mental health difficulties. In some cases medication is used in order to stabilise the person enough so that he/she can then explore the roots of their emotional issues through Psychotherapy.

Can a Psychotherapist prescribe medicine?

A Psychotherapist is not qualified to prescribe medication.  If the Psychotherapist  deems necessary  that the client might benefit from medication after a thorough assessment, he/she can refer the individual attending therapy to a Psychiatrist. The Psychiatrist will conduct an assessment and prescribe medication if the need arises. Psychiatrists are the only mental health professionals who can prescribe medication.

What is the difference between counselling and psychotherapy?

There is a considerable overlap between counselling and psychotherapy. Both counselling and psychotherapy are about overcoming personal difficulties and facilitating change. "Counselling" generally focuses mostly on behaviour. It often targets a particular symptom or problematic situation and offers suggestions on how to deal with it. In general counselling refers to focused, time-limited work on particular issues. On the other hand” Psychotherapy" is focused on awareness. It is generally a longer term treatment which focuses more on gaining insight into emotional issues.  The focus is on the client’s thought processes and way of being in the world rather than on a specific problem.  In Psychotherapy there is a dialogue. It is often described as the open ended journey of exploration. Thus psychotherapy is a potentially open ended process, where it is the client’s responsibility to decide on how long he/she would like to commit themselves or the nature of the issues they would like to bring up in therapy.

Why or when do people seek psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is often more focused on finding and dealing with the root cause of difficulties such as psychological problems that have built up over a number of years. As such it can be used to treat mental health and emotional problems, as well as some psychiatric disorders.   Psychotherapy often includes techniques to increase awareness, or to enable the person to experiment with other choices of thought, feeling or action; to increase the sense of well-being and to better manage discomfort or distress. Psychotherapists employ a wide range of techniques based on experiential relationship building, dialogue, communication and behavior change, that are designed to aid the client in understanding and coping better with the problems of living. Psychotherapy can be of great help to people who may be going through particular emotional and psychological difficulties such as:

  • Identity Issues: Personal Growth, Self Discovery, Sexual Orientation, Self-esteem, Increasing Awareness
  • Existential Issues - finding meaning in life
  • Adjustment to stressful life circumstances (chronic or terminal illness; loss of job; separation; grief)
  • Developmental issues (adolescence, relationships, fertility, parenthood, mid-life crises)
  • Neurotic Symptoms: anxiety, phobias, panic attacks, control, obsessions, compulsions, self-consciousness
  • Stress management, Anger management

Long term (more deep) Psychotherapy is also effective in working with:

  • Personality Disorders
  • Mood Disorders
  • Abuse or Trauma (PTSD)
  • Eating Disorders
  • Sexual Dysfunctions
  • Addictions
  • Dissociation
  • Psychosomatic symptoms

For how long do I need to attend psychotherapy? (include information on contract)

As a client you are free to decide for how long you would like to invest in your Psychotherapy, and as such you can stop attending Psychotherapy whenever you want. Often after the first session you and your therapist will agree to meet over a period of time, e.g. for 4 or 6 sessions, after which you can review whether you need to attend more sessions or not. Sessions are normally hourly, each week or fortnight.  Often the length of Psychotherapy depends on the nature of the issues you’d want to explore. For example if you are more focused on a particular problem that you might be experiencing such as a relationship breakup, a decision you want to take, or a specific life-crises, you would benefit from short term work, and a few sessions may be enough to help you feel and cope better. If on the other hand you want to focus more on personality issues or other long-standing emotional difficulties, if you would like to work on past traumas, addictions, or specific Psychiatric conditions, it is likely that you would need more in-depth work, and your therapeutic journey may be a longer one. It is a good idea to discuss regularly with your therapist about how you feel on the progress of therapy. It is often advisable to work towards closure of the therapeutic journey over a number of sessions rather than stopping abruptly.

What should I expect during an individual Session?

Individual psychotherapy involves regularly scheduled sessions in which the therapist meets the individual in a quiet, private environment to discuss difficulties that the person feels are creating a problem in his/her life. The discussion between the person and the therapist is confidential. The first session is primarily an initial assessment. This initial assessment offers the opportunity for the individual and the therapist to explore the emerging needs. It also enables both to get to know each other and to decide if they can work together on the issues present. The option to return for further sessions is offered to the individual.  If the individual decides to work with the particular therapist, the next few sessions are usually devoted to discuss about the circumstances that have brought the person to   therapy. During this time the therapist might ask specific questions about the concerns or challenges causing the distress. After the initial assessment stage, the session will then be devoted to help the individual gain insight on particular issues. Each session of therapy lasts for an hour, and generally the individual meets the therapist once a week. However, such schedules are agreed upon by a therapeutic contract between the therapist and the individual.

Does anyone get to know what I discuss during the therapy session?

Since sensitive and deeply personal topics are often discussed during counselling and psychotherapy, therapists are expected, and usually legally bound, to respect client confidentiality. The only exceptions to this rule would be if the client is at risk of harming self or others, or if required by a court of law to give evidence (e.g., in criminal proceedings).

Do psychotherapist follow a professional code of ethics (accreditation, associations registration)?

A psychotherapist is a highly qualified individual, adequately trained and registered helping professional, who has received training in psychotherapy at an advanced, qualified and scientific level. Such training comprises a first degree in human sciences, medical or psychological studies from a recognised University, followed by four years post graduate studies in psychotherapy at a recognised University or Post-graduate institute. The European Certificate of Psychotherapy (ECP) would guarantee that the psychotherapist’s training meets the criteria specified by the European Association for Psychotherapy. Moreover Psychotherapists are also expected to follow the Association’s Code of Ethics and Professional Practice. The purpose of this code is twofold: 1) to define general values, principles and standards of professional conduct for therapists and training institutes, as well as: 2) to inform and protect those members of the public who seek their services. It is also meant to serve as a basis for good practice and to protect the therapist by establishing standards of conduct that clarify the boundaries of practice and accountability in the work setting. Your therapist should be able to provide you with a copy of this code should you want to read it. You can also download it from the EAP (European Association for Psychotherapy) website: www.europsyche.org

Does psychotherapy work?

Studies indicate that psychotherapy is an effective treatment for people suffering from emotional or mental problems. The research has not proven whether one therapy is better than the others, but individuals seem to do better when the person receiving the therapy chooses a therapist feel comfortable with, and whom they trust. Therapy needs time to work.  It is suggested that during therapy, enough time is given for the professional relationship between therapist and client to develop.  Open feedback should be constantly present so that a healthy dialogue can take place, and any issues that arise can be confronted openly.

Which schools of psychotherapy work best?

There is no straight forward answer to this question. Different schools of Psychotherapy may use different concepts and techniques, however the final aim is always that of supporting the individual to gain more insight and awareness and to find means of coping better with life and its difficulties. It is like taking different routes that lead to the same final destination. Research on effectiveness has also shown that often it is the (professional) relationship that is built between the client and the therapist that is the greatest determinant of the success of therapy and not the school of psychotherapy from which the therapist is coming from. Therapists are also expected to invest themselves in continuous professional development and as a result are often exposed to more than one single method. As the therapist becomes more experienced, he/she will start to adopt a more eclectic approach, which means that he/she will have had training and experience in a variety of methods/tools from various schools of Psychotherapy, and can therefore adapt his/her methods according to the client’s needs and presenting issues.

How are people chosen for group psychotherapy?

In order to ensure that the group fits the needs of the individual and that a balance is created within the group, each intereseted participant is interviewed by the therapist before the commencement of therapy.  During this time the participants have the opportunity to clarify their needs  and expactations  related to group therapy.

What does a typical group therapy session involve?

  • The sessions are confidential and participants are asked to commit for a certain number of sessions
  • In each session there will be about 8 to 12 participants, and a group is usually facilitated by one or two therapists.
  • Participants share their emotional and personal problems within the group however no one is coerced into participation. Each individual has the opportunity to open up at his or her pace as his / her confidence and trust in the group is slowly built up.
  • In response to the problems raised the other members may share their own personal experiences and provide feedback. The main aim is that participants become aware of their maladaptive behaviours and alter these to more healthy behaviours.

What are the techniques used in group psychotherapy ?

Various techniques can be used to solve problems in group psychotherapy. These include mostly verbal techniques based on dialogue or expression through drama, movement, art, projection exercises and other creative media.