In the Psychiatric Times, Dr. Stephen B. Levine wrote a beautiful piece that captures the complexities and nuances of the place of psychotherapy in the medical profession. Many professionals in the community routinely conflate terms such as “disorder” and “illness”. The synonymous usage of such jargon, while not inherently wrong, still confines it to the field of medical and surgical science. In truth, psychotherapy is much more than that. We must work together to correct our verbiage, so that new mental health professionals can deal with patients more accurately and with proper care. Psychotherapy is a multi-dimensional field. One does not simply “ask for psychotherapy” and receive the same measure of treatment. Each doctor is specialized in a particular field about which they are truly passionate.
One of the more beautiful aspects of psychotherapy is the emphasis it places on listening. A therapist doesn’t interrupt or paint the patient’s narrative for them. At heart, it’s a wonderfully intimate interaction between two human beings: one who acknowledges and desires help, and another who can provide that safe space for improvement and personal growth. However, it’s a two way street. As a therapist, we are working to earn the trust of the patient. Levine likens this aspect of the relationship to an audition. From the moment they walk through the door, they’re sizing you up, determining if they want to let you into their lives. Discerning whether or not you can be trusted as a guide through life’s sometimes barely navigable waters.
Unlike surgery and general practice, the relationship between psychotherapy and the rest of the medical world isn’t as open and shut. Research cannot empirically evaluate treatment and therapy methods as easily as it can do with a new pill or vaccine. Which means we are constantly learning. Not just about the patient, but about the bounds within which we can help. It’s a constantly changing field, and patient and therapist are on the journey together.