Frequently Asked Questions

If you have not previously participated in psychotherapy (also called “therapy”), you may have questions about what it is, how it works, or when and whom it can help. You may have heard that therapy is for people who are “crazy”, “mentally ill”, or “unbalanced” in some way. In truth, therapy can be useful for anyone, at the right time. Hopefully, some of the following questions and responses will help you determine if therapy could be helpful for you at this time. If so, please give me a call if you would like to schedule a free telephone interview.

Frequently Asked Questions about Therapy

Frequently Asked Questions about EMDR

What is psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is a process of growth, change, and healing.  It takes place within a relationship where clients can express their entire selves,  perspectives and feelings; learn to understand, and possibly change their emotional and behavioral responses; and/or increase their self-awareness. Psychotherapy can also help relieve emotional distress. Therapy produces changes in one’s life, but not because of advice the psychotherapist gives. Instead, this change occurs because of time together exploring emotions and thoughts; time spent candidly talking without judgment; and exchanging ideas about how to make things better.  It is not a magic pill or a quick fix for problems.  It can be a place for support and for finding new ways through life’s challenges, especially when the old familiar ways have failed to bring comfort or achieve the goals you desire.

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How Does it Work?

Therapy takes place within the context of a unique relationship.  Within limits as proscribed by California law, everything that takes place within a therapy relationship is confidential.

In therapy, your interests, needs, and welfare always come first. The therapist’s role is to help focus on understanding you; and only brings his or her own feelings and experiences into the situation when it serves the client’s goals. In this way and others, therapy is more structured and less mutual than a friendship.  The structure usually includes a regular weekly meeting time that is uninterrupted and devoted only to matters concerning your psychological health and adjustment.

An adult client usually talks in therapy, but may also use art, sand work or other medium to express him- or herself.  Therapy with children uses their language of play.  Whatever the medium, therapy is a combination of art and science.  The science is the therapist’s application of training, to help the client identify what factors may be contributing to the problem or discomfort they are experiencing, and to help identify possible alternatives or solutions.  The art includes the therapist’s application of compassion and thoroughness, to understand and honor the inner world of each client, applying both intuitive skills and wisdom appropriately during this process.

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Is therapy for me?

Therapy can be helpful when life presents unique challenges, such as loss of a partner, spouse, parent, or job.  It can also help when stresses have accumulated over time, and days seem colored by grief, sadness, indecision, isolation, hopelessness, or fear.   Many people also use psychotherapy to help deal with problems that may be caused by alcohol or drug use; or by chronic conditions.  If you have tried what you know to deal with some issue or situation in your life, and are not achieving the results that you want, then therapy can be a place to get support.  It can also provide a fresh perspective, and new directions to pursue on your situation.

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When’s the Right Time for Therapy?

Therapy can help at times when life presents challenges; to improve one’s satisfaction in life; to reduce or end emotional suffering; to resolve dilemmas; and to improve the quality of relationships with others.  Effective psychotherapy is an excellent tool for improving one’s quality of life.

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How Do I find a Therapist?

It is important to find a therapist whose background, skills, and style are a match for your needs.  For therapy to be effective, you need to feel understood, safe, and comfortable with the therapist you choose. It’s important to take the time to find someone you feel you can trust and with whom you are relatively at ease.

Many therapists treat an initial session as an assessment, to determine if your needs are within their scope of competence (areas in which they have the necessary training, experience, and skill); and within their scope of practice (areas in which they are legally licensed to practice).   It is important that both you and the therapist be comfortable with the areas for which you are seeking support, in order for the therapy to be effective.

Getting referrals from friends and people you trust is a great place to start searching for a therapist.  Referrals from local professional organizations may also be helpful, especially ones that focus on your areas of concern.  Web-based research can also be helpful to find resources that are appropriate for you.  Nothing can replace a telephone call or an in-person interview to assess your comfort level with the therapists you are considering.  It is normal to feel a bit anxious when talking to a stranger about personal matters that are usually private.  A first session can give you a sense of how comfortable you feel with each therapist you interview, as well as how each one helps you deal with that anxiety and what ideas they have for how therapy might help you cope with the concerns you describe.

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If I do EMDR, how does that work?  Is it different than regular therapy?

EMDR is an eight-phased integrated therapeutic approach. For individuals dealing only with trauma, it may be the only type of work required; for most people, it is a part of the therapy process.  The sessions in some of the EMDR phases are similar to standard 50-minute talk therapy sessions.  One phase of EMDR involves bilateral stimulation (BLS); the BLS sessions generally last 80 minutes instead of 50, and are more directed than other type sessions.  EMDR can be used as a stand-alone treatment to address a particular trauma, or interwoven with ongoing treatment as necessary.

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Is EMDR useful for situations that do not involve trauma?

EMDR was developed specifically to address trauma, but recent search has shown it can be effective to address other issues as well.  Mood disorders and performance issues may be impacted by using EMDR.  In addition, EMDR is effective whether you remember a specific traumatic event or not.  If you suffer the effects of PTSD, or have only a vague sense of things that seemed to indicate a level of neglect, abuse, or harm, then EMDR may be helpful.

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Will EMDR effect my memories?

EMDR directly effects how the brain has stored memories of traumatic events, by stimulating the brain’s natural resolution and integration process (similar to what occurs in REM sleep cycles).  Because of this, it may leave you with memories that are less emotionally charged than before, or with some details less clear.  For many people this is a relief, but if you have legal action pending or for other reasons need to retain the charge around certain memories, clearly assess your needs before pursuing EMDR.

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Can EMDR help with nightmares?

Nightmares with a recurrent theme are a common symptom of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).  Many people who have undergone EMDR treatment report that they no longer experience such nightmares.

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The description of EMDR sounds similar to hypnosis; is it the same thing?

EMDR is not hypnosis.  It is a focused process which stimulates the brain’s inherent ability to transform the way memories are stored, from a sensory experience to a narrative one.  It does this through bilateral stimulation (BLS), which is believed to cause the brain to react in a way similar to the way it processes in REM sleep cycles.  This is similar to the processing that occurs when we dream, but in a focused way that is not interrupted by waking up or environmental factors.

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What’s a good book that can give me a sense of how EMDR works?

For anyone considering EMDR, I recommend reading EMDR: The Breakthrough Therapy for Overcoming Anxiety, Stress, and Trauma by Francine Shapiro and Margot Silk Forrest.  It provides an excellent overview of the process, and includes several chapters relating stories of specific clients and how EMDR helped address their symptoms.  Many clients have indicated they found elements in the story that they could relate to, and that it gave them a clearer understanding of the approach.

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