What Is Psychotherapy?

What is psychotherapy? How does it work? What- and who- is it for? There are so many ways to answer that question, so I asked a handful of colleagues to share their perspectives. Here is what they had to say.

Tiffany McLain, MFT:

Tiffany McLain, MFT, offers her response to the question, "What is Therapy?" Find out more about Tiffany and her work at http://www.sanfranciscotherapyservice.com/

Dawn Farber, PsyD, MFT:

“The Greek etymologies of “therapy” and of “psyche” provide illumination:
Psyche – the mind or heart of the individual, not in a bodily sense, but as the seat of the soul. The soul is the dynamic seed of aliveness in each of us, the source of our desires, our losses, our joy and our suffering through this earthly “vale of tears” : tears of joy, tears of sorrow, tears of laughter, tears of anger, tears of remorse, tears of excited anticipation….An alive soul is warm and wet, and invites communion with other warm souls.
Therapy - to pay attention to, to care for, to serve.
Psychotherapy is a relationship co-created by a therapist and a patient in which they attend to the soul of the patient.
A “patient” is, etymologically, a person who suffers and needs to learn to suffer better, I.e. to compost the inevitable suffering that is part of all human lives, for her own deepening into compassion, joy and love. Also, to relinquish needless and often self-inflicted suffering. A therapist is a person who by way of her own suffering and therapy, and her long and deep immersion in the healing paths that fit her soul, may serve the psyche of the patient, nurture its development.”

Stephanie King, PsyD:

"Even as a professional in the field of psychotherapy, this is a very difficult question to answer. I think the reason is because the answer is different for everyone. I think at it's best, psychotherapy is a process of self exploration with a trusted professional - but the trust isn't a given, it has be be developed over time. With care and attention to the uniqueness of each individual, psychotherapy has the potential to offer a place where one can be curious about who they are, why they are, and do they want to stay the same, or make changes? This type of supportive and collaborative relationship can become the foundation for transforming troubling relationship patterns or feelings into something more manageable and productive."

Aden Neumeister, PsyD:

“Moving inward is a revolutionary act in the face of capitalism, where we are taught to look from the outside in rather than the inside out. Peering inward we face our past and all of its consequences. In my work the prominent reasons for turning away from this is the experience of the emotions of shame and grief. It is only when we can tolerate these, can ponder them, can experience them, that we can move more freely. An analyst once told me that the main question that psychotherapy asks is "for the love of whom?" Meaning, who, internally or externally, is dictating our responses, feelings, actions... Whose love are we trying to achieve? The goal of therapy, I think, is for the answer to become...you."

And one final thought from Dawn Farber: