The full potential of psychotherapy is healing. The healing work enabled through psychotherapy is holistic. This means that psychotherapeutic healing involves the biological, psychological and social aspect of the patient.
Psychotherapy is a complement to medical treatment
Unlike medical professionals who traditionally focus solely on the body while ignoring the social and mental state of the patient — that is now changing in, thankfully– psychotherapists pay attention to the entire person. Particularly true for chronic diseases like cardio-vascular heart disease, medicine and medical procedures only try to remove the symptoms. Psychotherapy helps the patient to work through stress that resulted in the symptoms in the first place, manage behavior to help maintain lifestyle changes, and work through coping with the depression and trauma of having been diagnosed.
Studies have been surfacing about the link between stress and chronic diseases. Read this article featuring a lecture by Gabor Maté : Denial of own emotional needs and its connection to chronic illness.
Psychotherapy is a more intensive form of counseling or psychiatry
Psychotherapy is a profession that is often confused with others, like counseling, psychology and even psychiatry. To really briefly describe the essential focus on each field of mental health I would say that counseling works on problems of daily existence, daily functioning at work and play, or problems created from behaviors that do not support daily function. Psychology is a broad field of work that researches human behavior and responses to situations. Psychiatry considers that which is emotional and behavioral to be biological, and deals with these issues with medicine or medical procedures.
The way to explain the gestalt therapy attitude towards healing is with this Chinese idiom:
“When cutting grass, the roots are not pulled out, when spring arrives, the grass grows back.”
We can see this in ourselves and in others. Our emotional problems, issues with relationships, problems with work, health problems tend to show repeating patterns. Sometimes we even see these patterns in our parents or in our children. Oftentimes we try to fix the problems. Often another problem of a similar nature surfaces. This is the metaphorical grass mentioned in the above idiom.
If you do go for psychotherapy, your attitude as a patient is to work towards identifying and removing the roots. It is not always painless, but a therapist who is well versed in the work can walk you through it.
The tool of Psychotherapy is dialogue
The term “talking cure” was coined by a patient of Breuer, Anna O, the first recognized patient of psychotherapy. Talking is not the right word. Rather I would used the word, dialogue. Gestalt psychotherapists like myself work with verbal and non-verbal communication. We can work with persons who do not talk or are not able to.
Psychotherapy works through affects and unconscious activity through dialogue and expression of these thoughts and emotions. The goal is to relief stress from painful emotions, by working through traumatic memories, painful thoughts, and difficult emotional experiences. Through working with the unconscious, awareness is formed and stress is relieved.
Relief of stress from psychotherapeutic treatment and health consequences
The relief of stress creates a change in the neuro-chemical balance in the brain. In turn, the hormonal system is readjusted. This changes and strengthens the immune system and cardio-vascular system. Balance in the immune system reduces risk of cancer and even aids in healing cancer, while reduced stress to the cardio-vascular system reduces blood pressure and heart attack & stroke risk.
Psychotherapy heals the body by causing a readjustment of the neuro-chemicals and hormones in the organs. Patients can feel this effect after an effective session of psychotherapy.
What one gets from Psychotherapy is a holistic benefit: empowerment to build relationships, energy for work, study and play, and inner peace.
Read also: The Neuroscience of Language Explains How and Why Psychotherapy Cures
What is the consequence of this relief of stress? Relief of stress as a result of dealing with the unconscious leads to physical healing and prevention of serious diseases. Medical problems are influenced by epigenetics rather than genetics. Unlike genetics, which we cannot change, epigenetics describe the expression of genes. Expression of genes is determined by environmental and situational factors that we face in our daily lives.
Healing in the psychotherapeutic session
I focus on the emotions and the connected thoughts that arise. The opposite is also important: memories and even fantasies are investigated to examine the underlying emotions. The integration of the person with his/her emotions and thoughts through dialogue and behavioral experimentation in the psychotherapeutic session leads to chemical change in the neurological system of the patient.
This is a case study of a patient who came to therapy because of experiencing stress at his workplace. He was often on sick leave for chronic migraine, hemorrhoids and even un-explainable occasional hearing loss. Close to losing his job, he attends therapy. Only after weeks of treatment, did he realize how he, as a young child, was affected by traumatic situations at kindergarten and later elementary school. His home country was governed by a communist regime during the time of his childhood in the 80s. He had survived his childhood years by forgetting how frightening and lonely the situation was, while secretly hoping that he would be sick so that he could skip school.
This client’s psychotherapy treatment was about working through the trauma. With time, we worked together integrating his memories with awareness of which emotions belonged to the past, and what is no longer needed in the present. One of these was the realization that he no longer needed to “get sick” to skip work. He took breaks, sometimes weeks of non-paid vacation. He learned to regulate his spending, so that he could breathe easy when he took those breaks. Talking about and expressing painful emotions allowed him to release energy that he had bottled up and forgotten all his young life. He became more aware of tension in his body, and started doing yoga. Soon after, he stopped taking medication for migraine. The patient realizes that his path to healing is life-long. Along the way, he was able to find love as well.
The Lasting Effect of Psychotherapy
Unlike taking a pill to regulate emotions, neurological changes brought about by psychotherapy are subtle and lasts the lifetime. With regular sessions, these changes snowball into observable physical improvement. Unlike medication, treatment with psychotherapy does not leave behind negative physical side-effects, as can be seen with antidepressants.
For reasons that Psychotherapy is chemical-free, it is a treatment much needed for children, teens, young adults, and people hoping to be parents.
Through working with the psyche, psychotherapy enables the patient to better function in work, play, sex and relationships. As the patient becomes more self aware, he/she also becomes more aware of his/her relationships. He/she ultimately functions better in life. The effect of psychotherapy achieves what one looks for in counseling, with the added benefit somatic healing.
Just as there exists many schools of psychotherapists, there are, of course, different opinions on this subject of healing. The article written reflects my own work.