For many of us, stress is a significant and inevitable aspect of our lives. Sometimes, stress can be good and force us to grow, adapt, and change for the better. This type of stress is called Eustress, which makes a person feel motivated and good in general. For example, if you train for your first 5k race and you feel a bit of jitters at the starting line, that stress is likely to help you by giving you a positive burst of adrenaline throughout the run. This type of stress is eustress, and it does not cause damage to our bodies and minds. Even physical exercise is eustress, because it challenges the body and improves it. Learning a new language or skill is eustress, because while you may feel a small sense of panic, the task at hand feels manageable and you know you’ll improve from the experience. Eustress is associated with positive change.
The opposite of eustress is the type of stress we tend to identify with most: distress. This is the type of feeling we experience when we’re facing a looming deadline at work, or we feel harrassed by someone, or we can’t keep up with the bills. The result is that we feel panicked, and instead of rising to the challenge, we can tend to feel hopeless. The result of long-term chronic distress is feeling burned out, depression or anxiety, feelings of overwhelm, and sometimes, physical illness.
If you’re feeling any of the above effects of distress, it is a wonderful idea to seek the help of a registered psychotherapist.
Psychotherapists specialize in talk therapy. They can help you work through feelings of sadness, worry, anger, regret, resentment, and a host of other negative emotions that can cause us to feel unwell. Psychotherapists can give their clients the tools to adapt better to stressful situations, such as loss and grief. A psychotherapist can improve your life by helping to address thought patterns that cause you mental or emotional distress; they can help you improve your behaviours, thought processes and relationships.
Psychotherapists are registered health care professionals with the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario.
Some extended health care plan cover services by a registered psychotherapist. Other plans may cover treatment from a social worker or psychologist. Please check with your extended health benefits provider to determine what type of coverage you have.
What to Expect
A psychotherapy appointment is not simply lying on a sofa while someone listens to your uninterrupted thoughts. Instead, psychotherapy asks you to be an active participant in re-wiring the maladaptive thought patterns that cause emotional suffering.
Over the course of working with a psychotherapist, a patient can expect the following:
- As always, informed consent should always be discussed. You should only tell your therapist about things you feel comfortable sharing, and feel a sense of trust in your therapist and their process. You should be made aware of the risks, benefits, and expectations involved, and you and your therapist should agree on the outcome and goal of treatment.
- In order to help you to achieve your goals in therapy, your psychotherapist will develop a therapeutic plan, including the different types of psychotherapy techniques they will use. You should understand what is involved in these techniques before proceeding.
- Most importantly, the therapist has a good understanding of therapeutic boundaries.
What Types of Conditions Benefit from Psychotherapy?
If you’ve been diagnosed with, or feel as if you’re experiencing the following conditions
- Depression – whether you’re suffering major depression or mild to moderate depression, counselling or psychotherapy is first-line treatment for this condition. If you have major depression, however, you will likely be co-managed by your family doctor or psychiatrist, who will prescribe medications to help you manage.
- Anxiety – this condition can come in many forms, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or specific phobias. Your psychotherapist will work to get to the bottom of this condition and help you develop strategies to calm your nervous system in times of panic.
- Bipolar disorder – this condition is hallmarked by periods of mania, during which someone may have abundant and unrealistic energy and confidence to the point where they choose risky behaviours and avoid sleeping, and is then followed by periods of depression where someone’s energy is low, they have feelings of low self worth and sadness, and they may sleep excessively. This condition is also often medicated in addition to using psychotherapy.
- Addictions – There are many factors that are involved with the development of a substance use disorder, such as genetics, family dynamics, and the existence of other mental health conditions such as anxiety, PTSD, or depression. Addiction may be managed in a treatment centre, but then someone will likely need ongoing counselling in order to continue to address the factors that caused them to drink, use drugs, overeat, gamble, or engage in risky sexual behaviour.
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder – sometimes, an event happens in our lives that is so devastating that it affects our mental health long-term. People with PTSD may experience nightmares, hyper-vigilance, anxiety or depression, and a significant change in their relationships. While trauma often happens to first responders (fire, police, paramedics) and military, traumatic situations can happen to anyone.
- Psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia – these conditions can be severe and should be co-managed by a prescribing professional.
- Borderline Personality disorder – in this condition, people have severe difficulty regulating their emotions and can have a lot of trouble coming back to baseline after an emotionally taxing event. People with this condition struggle with relationships of all kinds due to this condition. Dilalectical behavioural therapy can be useful for this condition.
What Kinds of Psychotherapy are Used?
Psychotherapy can branch into many different subcategories, as there are many different methods to help someone’s thoughts, beliefs and emotions. Many therapists will train in a variety of methods and practice in their own unique style that is a product of the various trainings and techniques they have practiced. Below are a few different types of therapies that are commonly used by psychotherapists today. All of the following types of therapy are effective and research-based methods for approaching someone’s problem, but certain techniques work better for some people than others.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
This is a well-known psychotherapy technique. Known as CBT, cognitive behavioural therapy analyzes your thoughts and behaviours through the lens of a person’s past history and helps them to change problematic thoughts that are causing them to suffer or that no longer serve their best interest. A positive thought can be as true as a negative thought in any situation, for example, and the therapist’s job is to help the client find the positive thought. A therapist will help their client challenge their negative thoughts as they arise and create positive thoughts that can promote healthier, more productive attitudes and behaviours.
Dialectical Behavioural Therapy
This type of therapy has a strong mindfulness component. Dialectical behavioural therapy addresses cognitive and behavioural patterns, but is based in part by the fact that some people will be much more intensely affected by emotional disturbances than others. DBT can help people deal with these strong emotions, and is often helpful for people who were not taught healthy ways to regulate their own emotions.
Solution-Focused Brief Therapy
Instead of focusing on the pain of the past, this type of therapy focuses on a person’s strengths and positive attributes, helping someone to set goals that take advantage of these strengths, and achieving these goals. This type of therapy can yield results very quickly in as little as a few sessions.
In German, gestalt means whole or pattern. By focusing on a patient’s feelings and thoughts in the present situation, and paying attention to one’s surroundings, people can find peace and a better perspective in current situations. During gestalt therapy, a psychotherapist may ask their client to act out specific scenarios, instead of simply talking about them, and dreams will be discussed. An important contrast is drawn between what is actually happening in someone’s life right now and what the client perceives to be happening at the moment.
Often called NLP, neurolinguistic programming is based on the fact that early experiences in life, even starting from birth, can program our thoughts and typical patterns. By analyzing these patterns and reflecting on the origins of their automatic responses, clients can recognize their unproductive responses and create more positive, self-affirming actions and patterns. NLP uses hypnotic techniques and is often used in conjunction with other psychotherapy approaches.
Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist vs. Psychotherapist: What is the Difference?
The biggest difference between these professions is scope of practice. While each of these professionals is licensed to provide counselling to their clients and patients, their qualifications and training differ.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor and has gone through full medical training with a residency in psychiatric medicine. This doctor can diagnose mental disorders and prescribe medications, in addition to listening to your story and helping you with counselling techniques. A psychiatrist will truly have an understanding of the biological mechanisms behind mental illness. Psychiatrists ensure their patients are on the right medication type and dosage for their concerns in conjunction with providing counselling. Unfortunately, the wait time to see a psychiatrist in Canada can be as long as one year.
A psychologist also counsels, but has a PhD in psychology, having studied and conducted research in the field of psychology. This professional is as academic, and may also diagnose mental health conditions, and often supervises therapists as well. Psychologists are excellent with using standardized assessments and focus a lot of their work on research; they will ensure that the treatment they recommend and use is based on scientific evidence. Unlike psychiatrists, psychologist services are not covered by OHIP.
Psychotherapists are licensed in the province of Ontario to practice psychotherapy. They are not doctors, but many of them can have masters degrees and all have received postgraduate training through an accredited program. The term “psychotherapist” is protected, meaning that only licensed psychotherapists can practice psychotherapy, which is a controlled act in Ontario, meaning that only people who have been licensed to perform this technique are allowed to do it. Other professions may call themselves counsellors, such as a career counsellor, and may charge for their services, but they are not allowed to treat someone’s mental-emotional concerns with psychotherapy methods. A psychotherapist may not prescribe medication or offer diagnosis, but they can help treat that diagnosis with a wide range of therapy techniques from art to music to cognitive behavioural therapy.
As always, we highly recommend that you speak to and learn as much about your potential therapist as possible so that you can judge whether or not they will be a good fit for you. While our psychotherapists are licensed, we recommend you always look in to your potential therapist’s qualifications.
You can book a free brief consult to see if you are a good fit for our psychotherapist here.