NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Starting Psychotherapy: Developing a Sense of Psychological Mindedness

What is Psychological Mindedness?
Often, for people who are starting psychotherapy for the first time, there is a misconception that the client comes to see the psychotherapist, explains the problem, and the therapist gives the client "the answer" about what to do. This is what's meant by the client who seeks the "quick fix."

Starting Psychotherapy: Developing a Sense of Psychological Mindedness

Aside from certain specific problems. like coming for clinical hypnosis for smoking cessation, generally, there are no "quick fixes" in psychotherapy. There are certain types of psychotherapy that tend to be faster and more effective than regular talk therapy, like EMDR and clinical hypnosis, for certain problems.

But, generally, psychotherapists don't tell their clients what to do. Unlike counseling, where counselors often give advice, in most cases, psychotherapy involves a self exploration of your internal emotional world. And in order to engage in this self exploration of your internal emotional world, you need to begin with a sense of curiosity that allows you to develop psychological mindedness.

When you develop a sense of psychological mindedness, you're more open and curious about your emotional world. Rather than passively waiting for the therapist to tell you what to do, you become actively involved in your own internal process. I emphasize the word "process" because this is not a one-time event. It's a process that usually unfolds over time.

Developing psychological mindedness involves more than just coming to vent about your problems or "report" on what happened in the last week. When you develop a sense of psychological mindedness, you develop an awareness of your thoughts, feelings and behavior.

If you're working with a psychotherapist who emphasizes the mind-body connection, as I do, you also become more aware of where you feel your feelings in your body. Learning to recognize where you feel your feelings in your body can be very powerful. It helps you to develop emotional insight and not just intellectual insight.

The difference between emotional insight and intellectual insight is that when you have emotional insight, you feel it in your "gut." You have a deeper sense of knowing than you would when you only have intellectual insight and it's just ideas in your head.

When you're psychologically minded, your emotional world as well as your external world around you, opens up for you in a new way. You begin to become more aware and make psychological connections in your life that you wouldn't have made if you remained passively waiting for a therapist (or anyone else) to tell you what to do. Generally, you begin to see more readily what you're doing that's not working for you. You also often see what triggers your behavior, whether it's unresolved issues from the past or something that is going on in the here-and-now.

Being psychologically minded and making psychological connections about your internal world and how you interact with others allows you to start making changes, if you're ready and willing to make those changes.

You might wonder why I would say "if you're ready and willing." After all, if you're coming to see a psychotherapist, doesn't that imply that you're having problems and you want to change? Well, not necessarily.

Often, people begin psychotherapy because the discomfort of having certain emotional problems has become overwhelming. They know that they're emotionally overwhelmed and they don't want to feel that way. They want the emotional pain to stop or the problems to end. But actually going through the psychological process of developing curiosity and awareness so they can make changes in their life is not always what they bargained for.

Once again, the desire for the "quick fix" can be strong, and it might be hard to understand why coming to psychotherapy is different than going for a one-time visit to your medical doctor where your doctor diagnoses the problem, tells you what it is, and gives you a pill or an injection to solve it.

Psychological problems are more complex than most regular medical problems. There are often multiple layers of meaning to your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. So, when your therapist listens to the problems that you bring into your session, he or she is not just listening for a list of symptoms and connecting it to a particular illness that can be readily resolved with a prescription.

Developing Psychological Mindedness as a First Step in Psychotherapy:
So, becoming curious and open to your thoughts and feelings as well as your behavior, and learning to make psychological connections between them is the beginning of developing psychological mindedness. It's a much richer and more rewarding process than if someone just tells you what to do (even if there were someone who actually knew what was best for you). It's the beginning of your psychological process in psychotherapy.

Developing a Sense of Psychological Mindedness in Therapy

Why do I say developing psychological mindedness is just the beginning? The answer is that, in order to make changes, in most cases, you need to take action. Most of the time, it's not enough to just be psychologically minded, understand the problems and stop there. Depending upon the problem, you often need to actually do something to make a change.

Getting Stuck After Developing Psychological Understanding and Before Taking Action:
Many clients in psychotherapy get stuck at the point where they need to take action. Developing a psychological understanding of the problem, while being essential, is not the be-all and end-all of the process. Getting stuck before taking action is common obstacle, but it doesn't need to be a permanent state. It can be a stage in the process that needs to be overcome and clients often do overcome these obstacles if they're willing to stick with the process.

Once again, psychological mindedness can help clients to understand why they get stuck before they take action to change their problems. It can be that they're really not ready yet to make the changes they need to make. It can also be a fear of what it might be like to change and have things be different. There can be so many other factors involved.

A skilled psychotherapist can often help clients to translate emotional insight and psychological understanding into action, but the therapist can't do it for them. When a client gets stuck, patience on the part of the client and the therapist is usually helpful. There might be other underlying issues, possibly trauma, that might not be immediately apparent at first to the client or even to the therapist.

If you're seeing a thearpist who is trained in different forms of psychotherapy, it might be necessary to switch from one form of psychotherapy, like regular talk therapy, to EMDR or clinical hypnosis to overcome the particular obstacles or trauma that have arisen which prevent the client from making the change. But that's a different blog post (see my earlier posts that describe EMDR and clinical hypnosis and how they're different from regular talk therapy).

Learning to be a Psychotherapy Client:
Most clients who begin psychotherapy learn how to be psychotherapy clients as they go along with the help of their therapist. Learning to be a psychotherapy client is a learning process in itself because participating in psychotherapy is different from most anything else that you've ever done before. You might have seen movies or TV programs of people in psychotherapy and, even if it's an accurate portrayal of psychotherapy (and it's often not), when it's your personal psychotherapy, you experience it on a very different level.

When you begin psychotherapy, developing a sense of psychological mindedness can be a challenge. But it's often an experience that allows you to know yourself in a deeper and more fulfilling way. Developing a psychological understanding of yourself involves more than just brief treatment. It involves dedication and patience that develops over time.

As I mentioned earlier, there are certain problems (like smoking cessation) that can be overcome in 3-5 sessions. But for most complex problems, even problems are amenable to EMDR and clinical hypnosis, developing psychological understanding is a process that takes time.

About Me
I am a licensed psychotherapist, hypnotherapist and EMDR therapist in NYC.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during regular business hours or email me.