About Therapy

How do I know if therapy is the right choice for me?

Your relationship with your psychotherapist is unique and unlike any other in your life. Talking confidentially with a trained listener and compassionate witness enables you to move beyond the imprint of unsatisfying and painful experiences. Over time, you will begin to understand meanings, motivations and past patterns that are affecting your life now. This opens the door to feeling empowered to make better choices and desired improvements in your life.

Methods for healing emotional and mental problems have been practiced since ancient times, embedded in religious rituals and medical practices that classified many psychological, somatic and spiritual problems as pathological conditions. There are many ways to understand suffering and to find help and support when needed: You can seek help from friends or trusted members of your family, consult your doctor, speak with spiritual leaders, or connect with community and self-help groups, such as 12-Step programs. We can help you consider your options and make the best choice to resolve your problem or concern.

What is psychotherapy? Why not just talk with a trusted friend?

Psychotherapy is a collaborative relationship between a client, who requests the consultation, and a psychotherapist, who offers empathy, professional knowledge and technical skill. The immediate goal is to create a comfortable, accepting environment in which the client feels safe to speak frankly about any concern. While therapy can be supportive and comforting, it is neither advice nor reassurance.

The therapist’s role is to listen, understand, and awaken awareness in the service of growth and change. Psychotherapy and counseling are terms often used interchangeably to describe this unique, intentional, professional relationship initiated solely for the purpose of relieving distress and resolving problems according to goals determined by the client. Strict professional standards and scope of practice guidelines inform what is appropriate and therapeutic. Specialized listening, communication and problem-solving techniques differentiate the psychotherapy relationship from all other relationships in a client’s life. Psychotherapists adhere to a code of ethics and charge a fee for their professional services.

Why choose a feminist therapist?

Feminist therapists believe in the equal value and worth of all people and are attuned to inherent power differences between client and therapist as these arise in the therapy relationship. Each person’s right to conform or to be non-conforming, and to choose traditional or non-traditional identities, roles and families is acknowledged and respected.

Societal attitudes and biases can negatively influence a person’s self-esteem and limit opportunities, resulting in a sense of powerlessness, suffering and psychological symptoms. An important aspect of feminist psychotherapy work is defining core values that support a client’s self-esteem and growth through empowerment. This occurs in couple, family and group therapy work as well. As harmful beliefs and judgments are identified, and feelings of anger and disappointment are worked through, greater self-confidence, acceptance and satisfaction in life are experienced both personally and in relationships.

Feminist therapists recognize that a person can be exploited and abused when power and control are misused. Abuse and exploitation in any form is unacceptable. For this reason, many feminist therapists are also engaged in social activism to affect policies and structures outside of the therapy office in order to improve the quality of life for all citizens.

When should I make that call?

The best time to call for help from a psychotherapist is when relationship, work or personal problems interfere with a sense of well-being and your ability to cope. Symptoms may include anxiety, stress, self-doubt and worry; feeling depressed, feeling stuck and struggling with unmanageable situations and conflicts.

A consultation should also be considered when you are experiencing any of the following symptoms over an unusual or extended period of time: trouble sleeping, abnormal changes in appetite, mood or energy level; difficulty concentrating and getting things done; sexual problems; conflicts at home or at work; a loss of enjoyment in life. In more severe situations, a person may have suicidal thoughts or self- injuring behaviors. In these kinds of life threatening situations, crisis intervention and a psychotherapy consultation can really make a difference.

Today’s society is often stressful and extremely pressured. Sometimes clients find themselves in a period of rapid change and transition and need a safe, non-judgmental place to talk things out with an objective professional. Other clients call because they feel vaguely unhappy or uncertain about important challenges and decisions they are facing. Some clients recognize that past experiences and patterns are hampering self-esteem and success in love or work. And sometimes clients call because they fear losing an important relationship or job, and therapy feels like a “last resort.” Shame, guilt, fear and embarrassment may also be present at the time a client decides to call for a psychotherapy consultation.

Feminist Therapy Connection therapists understand that calling a therapist during difficult times can be challenging and uncomfortable. Our intention is to listen carefully, to help you clarify your therapy needs and goals, and then to assist you with your decision about whether or not psychotherapy can be helpful and if so, what approach and therapist would be the best match.

What can I do if I am feeling uncomfortable in therapy? What if my therapist isn't helping?

Psychotherapy work—like any good narrative– has a beginning, a middle and an ending. Each phase of therapy has a different purpose, meaning and challenge. In the initial stage of the work, client and therapist must forge a working relationship in which the therapist offers empathy and clinical skill to help the client identify and talk about problems and concerns in an open and honest manner.

Progress depends on the therapist’s ability to be respectful, non-judgmental, trustworthy and skillful. The client must be willing to speak freely, make a commitment to collaborate and reflect on internal and external factors that are contributing to problems. Motivation to make necessary changes toward meeting therapy needs and goals are important. The client must feel heard, understood and helped. The time and money spent for the psychotherapy must feel beneficial and worthwhile.

Discomfort and resistance at various points in the therapy are to be expected especially when sensitive material is revealed. Even in the best of therapeutic relationships, the therapist’s response may not meet with expectations and feel disappointing. Sometimes a client and therapist may feel stuck and that no progress is being made. The best way to manage these challenges, empathic failures and ruptures is to speak about them openly and honestly with your therapist. Quite often a door is opened that can prove very beneficial once the obstacles are better understood and managed. If these feelings of doubt and discomfort persist, either therapist, client or both may decide to seek an outside consultation to better understand what may be contributing.

Sometimes clients call us to discuss concerns about a current therapy experience and we have been able to help them define the problem, listening carefully to help clarify their thoughts and feelings so they can decide how best to manage the impasse with their therapist. We recommend speaking honestly and directly to your therapist about your thoughts and feelings. Your therapist has a professional responsibility to be helpful and take care of your best interests. Ultimately, the decision to continue or end therapy is a personal one belonging to the client.

 

Call us at 510-841-1261 to discuss any questions or concerns you may have about starting therapy and which psychotherapy approaches and practitioners would be most effective for you. We would be happy to help you with your decision.

You may also find practical information about psychotherapy treatment options in the following resources:

The Consumer’s Guide to Psychotherapy by Jack Engler and Daniel Goleman (1992)

Caring for the Mind: The Comprehensive Guide to Mental Health by Dianne Hales and Robert E. Hales (1996)