FAQs

What is a clinical psychologist?

Clinical Psychology is the branch of psychology concerned with the assessment and treatment of mental illness, abnormal behaviour and psychiatric problems.

A Clinical Psychologist usually undergoes 5 to 6 years of academic training, after which he/she completes an internship at an institution where they are trained to treat people with mental illness and psychiatric problems. They work with these individuals under supervision of trained psychologists. Some of these Clinical Psychologists will stay on at these institutions, some will become involved in research or academic training of students and some may end up in private practice.

Clinical Psychologists in private practice are trained to see patients with any form of psychopathology, but they also work with individuals who are experiencing general life crises, dealing with personal problems or difficult relationships, wanting to enrich their lives or deal with specific difficulties in their lives. It is not only people with psychiatric problems who consult a Clinical Psychologist, but also people who experience general difficulties in their lives.

A Clinical Psychologist is trained to deal with problems across the whole spectrum, throughout all the different life phases and usually makes use of psychotherapy, assessments and analysis to do so.

Who needs therapy?

In my opinion, anyone can benefit from attending therapy somewhere in their lives. Most people who attend therapy are people who are going through a personal crisis in their lives or in certain relationships. Sometimes patients get asked by a loved one to attend therapy and to sort out certain problematic behaviour. Often people who are confronted by a very difficult decision may seek psychological help. At other times people who exhibits any abnormal, pathological or self destructive behaviour may ask for psychological interventions. Often individuals (or couples/families) who want to enrich themselves or understand themselves better, attend therapy sessions. Sometimes people realize that an abusive or traumatic childhood could impact negatively on them or on the people closest to them and they seek therapy.

What happens in therapy sessions?

In the beginning phases of therapy I would want to build up a detailed picture of my patient’s life, including information about your employment and your family, possible past traumatic experiences and the impact thereof on your current thoughts, behaviour and feelings. A detailed history about the specific problem/symptom/choice will also be discussed. Counselling may take many forms, depending on what your problem is. For example, someone who comes for therapy after the death of a loved one may need help to come to terms with his/her feelings of loss and grief, while someone with feelings of anxiety may be taught relaxation techniques. The patient will be challenged on his/her problems, thought process, or dysfunctional relationship in many different ways. I often make use of the open chair technique, role reversals, letter writing, re-framing problems and revisiting certain places in your life story.

Will I have to lie on a couch while someone writes things down about me?

You will sit on a couch opposite the therapist who also sits on a coach. I do make notes during all the sessions, but in such a way that it does not interfere with the session. We may sometimes use empty chairs, or role reversals or a couple may be asked to sit opposite each other, in order to discuss a certain issue. I will, however, never sit behind you and you will always be able to see me.

Will the therapist hypnotise me or read my mind?

A therapist is not a mind reader and although I am trained to notice detail, be aware of non-verbal communication and to be attentive to the patient’s mood, I will usually comment on what I am seeing and ask the patient whether I am correct and what the specific behaviour means. The patient is seen as the expert on their own lives. It is therefore the responsibility of the patient to give detailed and relevant information, as the therapist can only work with the information (verbal and non-verbal) that the patients bring to the therapy context.
Hypnotherapy is merely a method that some psychologists use to work with information on a subconscious level. I will always make the patient aware of the intention of doing hypnotherapy during a therapy session. He/she will be briefed on what will be happening during hypnotherapy and he/she will be asked permission should the therapist ever decide to make use of this method. There is therefore a clear distinction between therapy and hypnotherapy and both the therapist and the patient will know when hypnotherapy is being used during the therapy session.

What is the point of talking about your problems?

Psychotherapy is often referred to as the “talking cure”. If you, however, attend therapy and it merely feels as if you are talking to a good friend, it is not therapy. It often helps to talk to someone who is a total stranger to you, as there are no “consequences” in that it does not matter what the person thinks, as he/she does not share a life with you. It is also beneficial that this person is a professional with the necessary training and experience. Therapy is also confidential and one therefore does not have to feel afraid that what is discussed in therapy will ever be told to anyone else.

Therapy does not only involve talking about your problems, but rather confronting your problems, fears, past, future, or a difficult or dysfunctional relationship. Different methods are used like role reversals, letter writing, open chair, reflection and re-framing. Therapy is most successful when people eventually reach their own solutions and feel empowered after the therapy process to deal with their lives, problems or relationships. This, however, does not imply a passive therapist who only asks “so how do you feel?” It is a complicated process which evolves over time.

Will I have to dig into my childhood?

During the first consultation the therapist will want to build up a detailed picture of your life, including information about your childhood, your family, your employment as well as the symptomatology of your problem, like when did it start, when does it become worse, etc. With some problems it will be important to return to your childhood, in order to understand the start or the context of the problem. Often people think certain problems are not related to their earlier experiences in life and are quite surprised when they gain insight into where problems or patterns started developing. People also tend to repeat certain patterns during their adult life, which may stem from their childhood, without them realizing it. Even in marriage counseling or family therapy it is of interest to “visit” previous generations and to interpret and understand current behavioural patterns. This does, however, not mean that we will delve into the past session after session. The idea is to resolve current problems in the here and now and to find constructive solutions to problems or changes in current behaviour and thoughts. The patient’s problem and need of therapy will determine how much time will be spent in the past.

Therapy does not only involve talking about your problems, but rather confronting your problems, fears, past, future, or a difficult or dysfunctional relationship. Different methods are used like role reversals, letter writing, open chair, reflection and re-framing. Therapy is most successful when people eventually reach their own solutions and feel empowered after the therapy process to deal with their lives, problems or relationships. This, however, does not imply a passive therapist who only asks “so how do you feel?” It is a complicated process which evolves over time.

Will there be long awkward silences?

The idea of therapy is to establish a workable therapeutic and trusting relationship. Long awkward silences usually do not enhance this. It is, however, possible that there may be silences, but that is usually for a reason, like when the patient becomes emotional or wants time to think about a certain question or remark from the therapist. It is not like in some social contexts where people feel all the silences need to be filled, or uncomfortable situations need to be fixed. It is rather to use silence therapeutically, so that the impact of something can really be felt and experienced.

How long does therapy take?

The length of a therapy session is usually one hour. Most people will start off attending therapy sessions once a week, for about 6 to 8 weeks. In some cases therapy is terminated after a few sessions, or sometimes people have the need to attend therapy over a longer period. They will start off with once a week and as soon as they feel more comfortable, they will start attending therapy once every two weeks and later on once a month.

The number of sessions a person needs often depends on the problem. Sometimes people come to therapy with a certain problem and the problem shifts and they want to address other difficult areas of their lives. At times people only attend one session, often when they have a burning issue, want an opinion, or just need some direction in their lives. More commonly people attend a course of therapy sessions where problems are discussed and they then go home with certain insights, new ideas, or tasks to complete. This gets discussed in the following therapy session. Some people also choose to attend therapy over an extended period of time, which can vary from a few months to a few years. If it is an extended time period that people attend therapy, they usually work on issues of self-knowledge, life enrichment, or trying to change certain destructive patterns in their lives.

Why should someone have therapy?

In today’s stressful lifestyle, more and more people are turning to therapy as a way of dealing with their problems, stress, personal history and ways of enriching their lives. The stigma of “crazy people” or “people who are not able to deal with their lives” that was previously associated with people who attended therapy is diminishing. I see people from various cultural backgrounds, both sexes and different age groups in my practice every single day.

I believe that everyone should consult a therapist somewhere in their lives, in order to understand themselves better, to empower themselves, enrich their lives, become aware of certain realities about themselves, what other people see that they are not aware of, to confront certain demons, hurt or trauma from their past, to escape old destructive patterns, to confront relationships that are hurtful or that keeps them stuck, to confront fears, to challenge themselves, to make peace with certain situations or personality qualities. People differ. Just as many differences that exist among people, just as many reasons exist to come to therapy. Everyone will have a different reason, but everyone will have a reason.

One of the many definitions of therapy is: “…the ability to re-story one’s life by co-creating meanings with others without constraint or limit, rather than the ability to bring to a relationship a clear story about one’s self (Weingarten, 1991). This implies that therapy creates a space to grow, to explore, to test the limits, to discover and to grow.

Therapy is, however, also a context of healing where people bring their vulnerabilities, where they come to in a time of crisis, of pain, of uncertainty and where they are able to eventually heal themselves and find purpose and relief again.

Contrary to what many people believe, counselling is not always a “soft option”. It can often be difficult to admit to certain feelings or thoughts you may be experiencing or to sometimes relive a past trauma. However, many people find that they feel an improvement once they have discussed these things and even feel empowered when they find solutions, or a change in attitude, or acceptance of certain events.

Does therapy actually work?

Like anything in life, therapy will only work if the therapist and the patient are committed and dedicated to the therapy process. Some people report that therapy has been a life changing experience, while others feel that it did not make any difference to their lives, or that they have not benefitted from the therapy process at all.

For therapy to work, it is important that there should be a fit between the therapist and the patient. If the patient does not feel comfortable with the therapist, it is important that he/she finds someone where they can feel comfortable, understood and accepted. This does, however, not mean that the therapist won’t sometimes say things that the patient may feel defensive or uncomfortable, or even angry about. Especially because the therapist needs to challenge the patient and needs to say things that are uncomfortable for the patient to hear, it is important that there is a strong and trusting relationship for the therapist to be able to be provocative.

Therapy is also not a “quick fix” and often people need a few sessions for change to be induced. It is not a case of the patient sitting back and waiting for the therapist to come up with a magical solution or “fix”, neither is it a process of the therapist merely listening and reflecting on the patient’s feelings. It is rather a collaborative process where the patient and therapist face a journey of confrontation, realizations, challenges and change together. It is not a matter of the patient sitting back and waiting for the therapist to come up with a magical solution or “fix”, neither is it a process of the therapist merely listening and reflecting on the patient’s feelings. It is rather a collaborative process where the patient and therapist face a journey of confrontation, realizations, challenges and change together. This process takes time and effort, which leads to growth and differentiation in the patient’s life. This process is often not predictable (although it can be if certain clear goals are set) and evolves over time.

How long before I start feeling better or seeing results?

Again, this is not predictable and depends on the person and the problem. Some people need one session in order to gain certain insights or an understanding of themselves or the problem in a certain context. Usually people attend between 6 and 8 sessions to look at all the different aspects of the problem and the impact thereof on certain aspects/relationships in their lives. There are also patients who attend therapy over a longer period of time (from a few months to a few years), in order to get to know themselves and to start realizing the possibilities of what they can become, in spite of certain past or current difficulties and circumstances.

It is important to note that people often feel different about therapy sessions. Some patients report a feeling of huge relief and were able to view the problem or issue in a completely different context. They report experiencing immediate changes in their lives. For others, therapy can at first be a very painful and emotional process and things may even feel worse than before they started attending therapy sessions. With time, they however start to put things into perspective and begin the path of healing.