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Does psychotherapy really work? Tips for having the best psychotherapy experience.

Updated: Sep 21, 2023

Does psychotherapy really work?
Does psychotherapy really work?

Many people wonder about this; let’s face it, psychotherapy can be expensive (both financially and emotionally), and before we lay our hearts on a stranger’s couch, it would be nice to have some reassurance that it will actually be worth it, right?

So, does psychotherapy really work? The answer is ‘it depends’.

It depends on you and your commitment to change. It depends on the competence of your therapist and the accuracy of any diagnoses being addressed. Studies have shown, over and over again, that the single most important factor in successful therapeutic interventions is the relationship between the therapist and client.

According to research, psychotherapy has been found to be effective for many people in treating a wide range of mental health issues including depression, anxiety, trauma, and personality disorders. The effectiveness of psychotherapy depends on various factors, such as the type of therapy used (modality), the skill and expertise of the therapist, the severity and duration of the problem, the motivation and willingness of the client, and the quality of the therapeutic relationship. It is important to remember that psychotherapy is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and the effectiveness may vary from person to person.

Who is psychotherapy most likely to help?

Does psychotherapy really work?
Does psychotherapy really work?

Psychotherapy can be effective for a wide range of people, including those who are experiencing mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, trauma, and personality disorders. It can also be helpful for folks who are struggling with relationship issues, stress, grief, or life transitions. Research has shown that psychotherapy can be particularly effective for people who are motivated to change and willing to engage in the therapeutic process. It is more likely to be effective for people who have a good relationship with their therapist and feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings.

What can I do to improve my chances of success in therapy?

There are a few ways to make psychotherapy more effective:

1. Be committed to the process: psychotherapy requires time, effort, and commitment. It is important to attend therapy sessions regularly and to be open and honest with your therapist.

2. Set specific goals: working with your therapist to set specific goals can help you track your progress and stay motivated. Goals should be realistic, achievable, and measurable.

3. Be open and honest: it is important to be open and honest with your therapist about your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. This can help your therapist understand your situation better and provide you with more effective treatment.

4. Practice outside of therapy: practicing what you learn in therapy outside of your sessions can help you make progress faster. This may include practicing relaxation techniques, mindfulness, or other coping skills.

5. Build a good relationship with your therapist: a good therapeutic relationship is essential for successful treatment. It is important to feel safe with your therapist, and to communicate openly and honestly.

6. Consider group therapy: group therapy can be an effective way to gain support and learn from others who are going through similar experiences. It can also provide a sense of community and belonging.

How to sabotage psychotherapy

Does psychotherapy really work?
Does psychotherapy really work?

There are some ways we see clients undermine their ability to find psychotherapy helpful:

1. Don’t hide important information: it is important to be honest with your therapist about your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Hiding important information may hinder your progress in therapy. Remember that what is said in therapy must be kept confidential except in very rare circumstances; in Ontario psychotherapists must maintain confidentiality unless it is revealed that a child is being harmed, that the client is at risk of harming themselves or someone else, or if they are ordered by a judge to testify about sessions. There is no reason to be afraid of being open and honest with your therapist, and if you find yourself unable to, perhaps you have chosen the wrong therapist.

2. Don’t be disrespectful: being respectful to your therapist is important for building a strong therapeutic relationship. Leave your racism, misogyny, and intolerance out of sessions; those have probably contributed to the problems you are trying to address in therapy, and hating on your therapist will not help anything. Disrespectful behaviour can be counterproductive and may hinder your progress in therapy.

3. Don’t be defensive: it is common to feel defensive during therapy, but it is important to be open and receptive to feedback. Defensiveness probably impacts you negatively outside of therapy, and it will also hinder your progress in therapy.

4. Don’t expect immediate results: psychotherapy is a process that takes time, effort, and commitment. It is important to have realistic expectations about the progress you can make and to be patient with yourself.

5. Don’t rely solely on medication: while medication can be effective for treating certain mental health conditions, it should not be relied on as the sole treatment. Psychotherapy can provide a more holistic approach to mental health treatment.

6. Don’t be afraid to ask questions: it is important to understand your treatment and the therapeutic process. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you are unsure about something.

How do I choose the right psychotherapist?

Does psychotherapy really work?
Does psychotherapy really work?

As mentioned previously, the single most important factor that determines the success of psychotherapy is the client-therapist relationship. Choosing the right therapist is an important decision and can greatly impact the success of your therapy. There are some steps you can take to determine if the therapist you are considering is right for you:

1. Determine your needs: before you start your search for a psychotherapist, it is important to determine what type of therapy you need. Be clear on whether you are looking for family therapy, individual therapy, or group therapy. Also be clear about what issues you want to address in therapy (depression, anxiety, trauma, relationship issues, etc.).

2. Research different therapists: once you have determined your needs, you can start researching different therapists. You can search online directories or ask for referrals from your doctor, family, or friends. You can also check with your insurance provider to see which therapists are covered under your plan (many EAP programs in Ontario will only provide coverage for services provided by a Registered Social Worker (RSW) or Master Social Worker (MSW).

3. Check the therapist’s credentials: it is important to ensure that the therapist you choose is properly licensed and has the necessary credentials to provide the therapy you want in the province you are in. Check with provincial licensing boards to confirm their credentials; in Ontario, Registered Psychotherapists are governed by College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario (CRPO -, while Social Workers who provide psychotherapy services are credentialled by the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (OCSWSSW -

4. Consider the therapist’s approach: different therapists use different approaches to therapy, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy, psychodynamic therapy, or humanistic therapy. You should consider which approaches you think might resonate the most with you and choose a therapist who specializes in those approaches.

5. Schedule a consultation: many therapists offer a free consultation or initial session. This is a good opportunity for you to ask questions and get a sense of whether you feel comfortable with the therapist.

6. Consider the therapist’s availability and location: you should consider the therapist’s availability and location when making your decision. Make sure that their schedule aligns with yours and that their location is convenient for you. Sitting in a therapy room for an hour every week is stressful enough. When you add a long commute to get there and hassles finding parking, therapy can add to, rather than alleviate, stress. It may be worth considering virtual or online therapists who can provide effective therapy over the internet while you are in the comfort and safety of your own home.

Ultimately, the most important factor in selecting the right psychotherapist is whether you feel comfortable and you trust them. Trust your instincts and choose the therapist who you feel is the best fit for you.

What if I start therapy and realize that I chose the wrong therapist?

Does psychotherapy really work?
Does psychotherapy really work?

Sometimes it just doesn’t work out and it becomes necessary to find a new therapist who better fits your needs. Here are some things to consider when firing your psychotherapist:

1. Be honest: when ending therapy, it is important to be honest about why. You don’t have to go into great detail, but it is important to give them some feedback so they can improve their services. This can also help you feel closure and move on.

2. Give notice: if you have an appointment scheduled with your therapist, let them know that you won’t be attending. This can be done in person, over the phone, or by email. Give them enough notice that they can schedule other clients in your time slot.

3. Pay any outstanding bills: if you owe your therapist aby outstanding bills, you should pay them before ending therapy. This is not only the ethical thing to do, but it also shows respect for their services.

4. Ask for referrals: if you are ending therapy because you are not satisfied with the progress you are making, your therapist probably will not be surprised. Ask for referrals to other therapists who may be a better fit for your needs. They may be able to recommend someone who can help you better.

5. Take care of yourself: ending therapy can be a stressful and emotional time. Make sure to take care of yourself and seek support from friends, family, and your new therapist if needed.

Always remember that it is your right to end therapy at any time if you feel that it is not working for you. Your therapist only wants the best for you and will support whatever serves to move your forward on your healing journey. Psychotherapy can be highly effective at resolving a wide variety of issues, but only if you and your therapist are able to engage in a strong, honest, and open therapeutic relationship. Take some time to find a therapist that resonates with you, and if you don’t choose right the first time, do not be afraid to find someone who suits you better.

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