General Question

eadinad's avatar

What exactly do therapists do?

Asked by eadinad (1278points) October 7th, 2009

What kinds of problems would someone go to a therapist for? What kinds of questions do they ask and what are peoples’ goals for going to someone like a therapist?

What is the difference between a therapist, counselor, psychologist, etc? Which of the above can write prescriptions for anti-depressants or anti-anxiety meds?

Any other information? I’m considering going to one but actually unsure of their function.

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30 Answers

kibaxcheza's avatar

i went a few times for anger management. they just ask you random questions and try to analyze your psyche. it supposed to help, but all it did was piss me off so i stopped going.

TheIncomparableBenziniBrothers's avatar

They’re like the cool Mom you never had. They just listen, ask questions and advise.

Tink's avatar

I got to a psychologist, because I have some problems. She asks me questions about how am I doing, and tries to find a “logical” reason for why I do what I do in the first place. At first I hated that place, but now I kind of like it.

MissAnthrope's avatar

Phew.. your question begs a really, really long and involved answer. The truth is, therapists handle a lot of different issues. PTSD, OCD, depression, anxiety, couples counseling, sexual issues… really, anything that is a problem that affects your quality of life.

If the first therapist you meet doesn’t feel like a fit, it’s just not a fit. It took me a long time to find the right one, but once I did, the wait was totally worth it. She has experience with OCD and anxiety, which is very helpful to me, plus she’s incredibly sharp, affirming, perceptive, and she tells it like it is.

What I like about it is that she has seen a lot of people with all sorts of problems, so she’s completely nonjudgmental. That makes it easier to talk about embarrassing or personal things. The benefit of a therapist is that you get someone able to give you an unbiased third-party view of a situation because they are not involved in your life.

There are loads of different methods and schools of thought, so different therapists may take different approaches, hence the questions they ask may not be the same.

eadinad's avatar

Can you see a therapist without having a concrete issue to “solve,” if instead you’d just like to talk about general problems and craft plans for your life?

MissAnthrope's avatar


scamp's avatar

When you see a therapist for the first time, ask a lot of questions. Ask them what types of problems they can help you with, and if there are areas that are ‘sensitve” to them. many times, people go into therapy as an occupation feeling that they can somehow ‘fix” themselves by fixing others vicariously, and you don’t want your mental well being riding on the shoulders of one of those people.

You should feel like you can trust your therapist with anything you want to talk about, and feel like they have the skills to help you find a solution to your problems. if you don’t feel that way after say the first few visits, I’d advise you to look for someone you feel more confident with.

Once you find a therapist who you are comfortable with, he or she should be able to help you find your own solutions to your problems, by talking with you. they help- you realize things form a different persective, and kind of step “outside and look in” to see things in a different way, which is very helpfull.

They pretty much “help you help yourself”, which teaches you how to do this later on without their help.

drdoombot's avatar

The best thing my therapist did for me was show me a different perspective on the things I discussed with her. Sometimes we’re so wrapped up in our own thoughts and ways of looking at things that we can’t see things from someone else’s shoes. My therapist asked me pointed questions about why I thought about certain things in the way I did. She also asked me to consider how things would seem from a different point of view, or how an objective person would analyze a situation.

All of these things don’t seem like much, but it takes a certain type of skill to get someone to examine themselves. Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living, and if you don’t know how to examine your own life, a therapist can show you how to do it.

Also, there are skills that not everyone picks up naturally, like how to deal with stress and anxiety, and a therapist can teach you these vital skills.

dpworkin's avatar

This question requires a very long answer in order to cover your concerns adequately; let me try to skim the high points.

A psychiatrist is an MD who specializes in mental illness, and has the ability to prescribe medication. Nowadays most psychiatrists to not conduct talk therapy. Instead, they consult with a psychotherapist, and supply pharmacological assistance if it is needed.

In some states, anyone who wants to can call him or herself a therapist can do so, but in order to be licensed by the state, a person has to pass a rigorous examination.

The people who usually conduct actual talk (or other kinds) of therapy are generally PhDs or SciDs in psychology (although a PhD is more likely to be a researcher, and a SicD more likely to be a clinician.

Also Social Workers who have completed clinical training and passed a certification examination may practice psychotherapy as LCSWs or Licensed Certified Social Workers. This is most commonly what you would nowadays find as the usual therapist.

As for what goes on inside the room, generally the thrust is to help you learn to change both your behavior and your way of thinking about things in order to help you feel less distress about any number of issues from phobias to depression.

filmfann's avatar

I have been in therapy a few times. They guide you, and help you reexamine problems and choices, and monitor you should things go really bad. Mine did a world of good for me.

LuhvKiller's avatar

Get paid to tell you that you’re different from everyone else lol

DominicX's avatar

Am I the only one who hasn’t ever seen a therapist? Sometimes I feel like an outcast…

Tink's avatar

@DominicX Consider yourself lucky.

girlofscience's avatar

@pdworkin: Do you mean PsyD?

dpworkin's avatar

yes, thanks. i need an editor.

filmfann's avatar

@DominicX How does that make you feel?

Darwin's avatar

They generally seem to ask leading questions to get you to the point that you come up with the answer you need on your own. However, you wouldn’t have done that if they weren’t there to ask the questions.

My son’s two therapists both try to pick one specific behavior at a time to work on, and then separately make suggestions to me on how to handle the process.

Iclamae's avatar

I went to my college counselor just to talk. I made it clear to him I don’t want advice or random input, just observations. So I made weekly visits to just go and talk about what’s been on my mind or what’s bothering me about my friends. Since I couldn’t go to my friends about it and my mom presents a very biased opinion about my life events, I found going to a counselor very refreshing for noticing trends in my problems and then if I did have questions about what to do in some situations, he would answer those too. Just nice to get all of my thoughts off my chest. Most of my questions were related to how to handle my suicidal roommate though. I didn’t/don’t understand how people come to that point and needed help talking it out.

I think it depends on what you need. And you can make it clear to these people what you’re looking for. If they aren’t willing to provide it, you can just go to a different one. It’s a matter of what makes you comfortable and helps you come to terms with whatever is on your mind.

Iclamae's avatar

I actually didn’t read the above answers but yeah, my counselor would often ask me questions that would make me think about my problems a little bit more and lead me to the course of action I was looking for.

Jeruba's avatar

You might want to consider a licensed marriage and family therapist rather than a psychotherapist—an M.A. rather than a Ph.D. or M.D.

rooeytoo's avatar

A good counselor is like you would want your best friend to be. They will always listen to what you have to say, rarely interrupt, be on your side (unless you are totally off base) and always show up for your appointment!

They help you to figure out how you came to be what you are and help you find ways to change your behaviors if you decide you want to.

It’s a pretty good thing the whole way around.

filmfann's avatar

@Iclamae welcome to fluther. Lurve.

wundayatta's avatar

A psychiatrist can diagnose and write scrips for meds. However, your regular doctor can do that, too. The psychiatrist has more training with mental illness, however.

Psychiatrists also can provide therapy. They are usually more expensive than other therapists. Whether you see a psychologist, a social worker, or any of a number of other titles, you can be helped. The help depends on the fit between you and the therapist, and you may have to visit several to find one you feel comfortable working with.

If you think you have anxiety, a therapist can help you decide to go get diagnosed, but they can’t diagnose you. If you start with a psychiatrist, you can get any organic conditions diagnosed more quickly. You can decide what kind of therapist you want to see after that.

If you are among the “worried well,” you can go to a therapist right away, and discuss the problems you want to work on. Most therapists, these days, are focused on faster problem solving, instead of keeping you for years. This generally has to do with insurance. Some people see a therapist intensively for a while, and then go back periodically, as needed, for a “tune-up.”

Therapists will help you work through the issues you want to work on, but they will often need to get to know you and find out much more about your history and background before you will start to experience any benefit. This could take months.

Therapy is nothing to be ashamed of. A lot of people think it is a kind of failure to solve your problems on your own, but that’s pretty much bullshit. You can hammer a nail with a rock, a hammer, or a nail gun. You choice about the tool. You can choose to be trained in the use of the tool, or not.

The rock is pretty inaccurate and less effective. The nail gun is more efficient, but requires more training.

You can solve your problems on your own, but it will take longer and you’ll make more mistakes. Therapy is a tool, and you have to learn how to use it well. It’s worth learning, especially if you think you need it.

RedPowerLady's avatar

I think you have got really good answers so far so there is no need for me to answer again. But do you have any more questions or need some clarification on something?

Therapy can be a very positive experience if you find the right therapist (and make sure you do).

Iclamae's avatar

Also, don’t let one bad experience with a counselor completely put you off it. Sometimes you just have to find the right one. I have a lot of friends who would have been better off if they hadn’t given up.

@filmfann :) thanks much

SecondHandStoke's avatar

They prompt you to ask yourself the questions that need to be asked but might not have occurred to you.

pittfan20's avatar

I would just like to start this answer off by telling you that I am A trained mental health therapist and I am trained in various aspects like mental health first aid.What I do is offer A open ear to listen and A shoulder to cry on and I also give my clients advice.I create goals with my clients such as “Eric will reduce angry outbursts to 3 times a day” or something like that.

pittfan20's avatar

what kind of issues are u having if u dont mind shareing them. My email address is if you want to voice your concerns to me in private.

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