Why do we have emotional difficulties?

Similar to physical vulnerability, each person has an emotional or psychological vulnerability.  People are not born with this vulnerability, but they get it by learning beliefs or attitudes from interaction with others and from the effects of these interactions.  Emotional vulnerability relates to the development of personal beliefs such as:

  • “I must please everyone” /“Everybody should be happy with me”
  • “I should not bother anyone”
  • “Emotions must be controlled”
  • “If you express how you feel, you are vulnerable”
  • “It is unacceptable to make mistakes”
  • “I must be 100% sure in order to be able to go further, uncertainty paralyzes me”
  • “Other people are hostile and they are using you”,
  • “If others do not change, I can not feel good” etc…

We are not born with these beliefs or thinking patterns, but we learn them as a result of life experiences.

This emotional vulnerability when faced with psychosocial risk factors such as conflicts, time pressure, overwork, unexpected events, unpredictability, uncertainty, increase the likelihood of difficulties in normal personal functioning: the person can not concentrate, it is difficult for them to manage intense emotions, feelings of guilt appear, personal dissatisfaction, worries, irritability and aggressive behavior, pain, excessive drinking, smoking or eating, etc.  These issues relate to emotional or mental health of the person and the affected organ in this case is the brain.

There are two types of therapy for the treatment of emotional health problems (http://www.nice.org.uk/):drug therapy and psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy is a form of psychological therapy or verbal therapy that allows patients to change how they feel and to improve their quality of life.

The Science behind Psychotherapy

One thing that occurs naturally in people’s minds when it comes to psychotherapy is: How can talking help me?

A psychotherapist does more than talking and listening. A psychotherapist is somebody trained to perform the assessment of the emotional problem or behavioral problem of the patient, and to apply standard intervention methods to change dysfunctional behavior or beliefs. 

Psychologists who specialize in psychotherapy base their therapeutic process on theories, research and studies, and ensure that their clinical practice integrates the best evidence-based methods (evidence based practice). Human mind is very complex, and psychological theories and research reflect this complexity.

Human psychology can not be studied as a whole, just as the human body can not be studied as a whole.  If the digestive or circulatory system are studied in medicine in different specialized areas, likewise psychology has various specialized areas for different emotional and behavioral issues.  For example, the following areas of psychological research are important for psychotherapy: development psychology (how people progress throughout life and what characterizes each stage of development), learning and how the brain processes the information, family relationships, interpersonal relations and social behavior.  These fields of study are very useful because they identify common processes, rules and principles that describe how the mind / human brain works in different situations.

For example, psychotherapy changes problematic behavior (such as smoking, procrastination, avoidance) andthinking patterns (like blaming others, self-blaming, negative expectations) of patients by using the results of research of the processes by which learning occurs.

Research on how people respond to their negative thoughts, when they occur, offers effective psychotherapy methods by which people can be taught how to manage and reduce possible negative thoughts associated with emotional discomfort.

Psychological research is ongoing and it seeks to develop specific intervention protocols that make psychotherapy an effective intervention tool in the treatment of emotional or mental health problems. 

What we need to know about psychotherapy?

1. Since some of the problems we may have are not caused by medical dysfunctions, they can not be treated by a physician. Some of the problems that we may have are caused by psychological factors.  In order to find out if this is the case, psychological assessment and diagnosis is needed. In this situation, psychotherapy is an important treatment method.

2. A psychotherapist does not give advice, but he/she is a health professional trained to identify and treat non-medical causes of patients’ problems.

3. Psychotherapy sessions take place regularly at average intervals of 1-2 weeks.  The number of sessions required varies, depending on the severity of the problem and on the patient’s personal resources for change. The average number of sessions is between 10-12 sessions, during 3-4 months. The therapy sessions refer to:

  • Psychological assessment of patient problems: finding the resources and personal vulnerabilities;
  • Formulating goals for change;
  • Development of an action plan and requirements for implementing the change that the patient needs;
  • Monitoring changes and problem status to improve the patient’s progress;
  • Follow-up.

4. Psychotherapy is confidential.  Information provided by the patient during psychotherapy is confidential, in order to ensure patient safety and comfort.  In exceptional circumstances, where the safety of the patient or of other persons is endangered, the psychotherapist will communicate to the patient the need to convey information to the family doctor, psychiatrist or other person involved in the patient’s life. The information that the psychotherapist has is never made available to others without observing the data protection protocol and without informing the patient about the data that needs to be disclosed.

5. Psychotherapy is an effective treatment for problems such as panic attacks, anxiety, depression, insomnia, somatization, chronic fatigue, couple problems, quitting smoking, weight loss or weight control, etc.

Selective Bibliography: 

Burnett, P., C. & Meacham, D., 2002, Learning Journals as Counseling Strategy, Journal of Counseling and Development, 80, 4, 410-416. 

Jongsma, A., E. & Peterson, L., M., 2003, The Complete Psychotherapy Adult Treatment Planner, John Willey & Sons INC., New Jersey. 

M. Jones,    Edwards I.    Gifford L. (2002) Implementing Conceptual Model or biopsychosocial theory in clinical practice, T herapy Handbook , vol 7, p. 2-9.