The questions “what is psychotherapy for?”, “what is the benefit of psychotherapy to the client?” “what should I expect from seeing a psychotherapist?” can be summarized as questions to seek out the goals of psychotherapy.
Setting Goals are Necessary in Therapy
Psychotherapy research has shown that goal setting on the onset of psychotherapy treatment is instrumental in the outcome of the therapy. This may seem the obvious course of action and “something all therapists and clients do”. However, if we think setting therapy goals is straight-forward, it could be that we are not setting the goals conscientiously enough.
Difference between Psychotherapeutic Diagnosis and Medical Diagnosis
Somewhat like a patient going to a doctor’s office, the client goes to a psychotherapist because he/she is facing discomfort and/or is suffering from symptoms. Unlike the doctor’s patient, the psychotherapeutic client’s symptoms are of a psychological nature. This is where we have to be more conscientious than the doctor.
Each Client is Unique
Psychological pain is multifaceted and is not realistically diagnosed on the spot. Therapists use questionnaires and their own observations as instruments for diagnosis, but we are also aware that what we see in the client is unique to the client. This is largely due to the understanding that psychological suffering has much to do with the client’s environmental situation (social, economic, historical, etc.) as well as the client physical state. Most of these factors cannot be tested using test kits. These get uncovered through therapist-client dialogues in the therapy session.
Goals in Psychotherapy that Benefit Clients
Goals made between client and therapists that go beyond merely “fixing symptoms” do more justice to, and offer more benefits to the client. This is especially important for client who have dependency or non-functioning behavioral issues.
McWIlliams (1999) writes quite clearly that the goals of psychotherapy extends beyond the disappearance or mitigation of symptoms of psychopathology. It extends also to
- * the development of in- sight, an increase in one’s sense of agency,
- * the securing or solidifying of a sense of identity,
- * an increase in realistically based self-esteem, an
- * improvement in the ability to recognize and handle feelings,
- * the enhancement of ego strength and self-cohesion,
- * an expansion of the capacity to love, to work, and to depend appropriately on others, and
- * an increase in the one’s experience of pleasure and serenity.
There is empirical evidence to prove that when these goals are worked on, positive changes happen, including better physical health and greater resistance to stress (p.12).
McWilliams, N. (1999). Psychoanalytic case formulation. Guilford Press.