More often than not, I am asked about what psychotherapy really is. How does talking and listening to someone in an hour help them to resolve their mental health issues and change their lives?

There are a lot of preconceived ideas around what a typical therapy session looks like. Well, for starters, here is an attempt to explain what therapy is, and I must put the disclaimer that this is an oversimplification of a very complex process.

Psychotherapy or counselling as it is commonly called, is still relatively new and emerging in Pakistan. I would say that in the last decade or so, more and more people are gaining awareness of the significance of mental health and are choosing to take it seriously.

Earlier and even now, the doctor model is trusted and psychiatrists and clinical psychologists are the go-to professionals for mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and so on. Mental health is seen in the realm of treatment and the aforementioned professionals, both eligible to offer medicines, ‘treat’ mental health as an ‘illness’ heavily focused on medicines, along with offering an abbreviated version of therapy.

Therapy or the ‘talking cure’ as called by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, is the third arm of this triad and focuses on addressing mental health issues through an ‘exchange of words’, to oversimplify it.

So, what is psychotherapy? How does therapy work? We are all wounded beings and have a story that revolves mostly around our primary relationships and some adult ones. We might have been raised by a critical father or an over gratifying mother or had gone through childhood trauma like sexual abuse. We cope with all these experiences to the best of our ability and it becomes a habitual way of being in the world and part of our character structure.

As we enter adulthood, at any stage, we are most likely to find a conflict within us between this ‘habitual self’ and a ‘real self’ that we have not met within ourselves as yet. We have a fantasy of this real self, sometimes in our conscious awareness and sometimes in the unconsciousness but we do not know how to connect to it.

Through the therapeutic relationship, we gain awareness of not only how the habitual self was created that was ideal for the world we live in, but we also learn how to start discovering our real self, the self that we were always meant to live by.

Through therapy we learn about the conscious thoughts, feelings, behaviours, and life decisions we have made as well as our blind spots and unconscious motivations and drives. A therapist via empathy, congruence, and promising utmost confidentiality, aims at creating a safe space to explore all of it.

We all have had our share of troubled relationships since we are born and they all drive us towards our personality development. The therapeutic relationship offers the possibility of a new way of relating and hope for healing and transformation. It takes a new relationship to heal the wounds of an old relationship.

In this case, a therapist is someone who works hard at his own authentic relating to himself and the others and becomes a mirror to the client that shows him his ‘real self.’

The key to therapy is showing up and being regular. Like any other relationship, for good therapy to happen, you must be steadfast to the process and embark on this journey with commitment.

I would also like to add that therapy is not only a space for working on our mental health and we don’t have to wait for a mental or emotional problem to emerge to sign up for therapy.

It is also a powerful space to learn about ourselves and gain self-awareness. And unlike people in our lives who give us feedback mostly rooted in their own unresolved issues and subjective perception, a therapist is a trained professional whose input will offer you more containment and possibility of self-actualisation and integration.

So how about you take a risk and sign up for at least one session to find out what the therapeutic process really is.