How Could Talk Therapy EVER Possibly Help Me? #1
Talk’s proverbially cheap… so how could talk therapy — talking about the issues in my life — ever really benefit people in distress, seeking to find concrete help?
How can just talk — without drugs, surgery, electrical stimulation, etc. — have a positive effect on a person’s well-being? It seems that the answer lies in the kind of talk that goes on in talk therapy.
Here are some basic things to know about talk therapy — and why it works.
Human Beings are Hard-Wired to be Social
Evolution has made human beings a social species. Important parts of our brain are made to function specifically in social interactions. Deep in the unconscious parts of the brain we’re programmed to look for interaction and connection with others. In fact there are important centers of the brain that only “light up” when we are interacting socially. Because of the social nature of human beings, one of the best ways for us to process things in our inner life, often, is to talk about them in the right kind of supportive environment.
This doesn’t mean that we benefit from just any environment where idle social chitchat occurs. What works well for us is the specific type of environment found in “talk therapy” or as it is also known, psychodynamic therapy. Here, the individual is encouraged to talk openly and freely about his or her life in the presence of a supportive, attentive, non-judgemental listener, who is highly trained to identify patterns, both conscious and unconscious.
“Mirroring” is Essential
At the deepest level, individual human beings want and need to be “positively mirrored”. By this we mean that the individual wants and needs to see him or herself positively valued by another from the individual respects in values. The person wants to know that they are held up by the other, and guarded in a positive and and affirming light.
Although we have a strong need for this type of mirroring in the early stages of life, many of us do not get nearly enough of it. As a result we find ourselves incapable of valuing ourselves in the way that we otherwise would. And it is precisely here that we see one of the ways in which talk therapy shows that it is not merely about idle talk. Very often, talk therapy becomes the vehicle for receiving vital affirmation that is essential for the growth and development of the self. This is much more than navel gazing or the exchange of idle chit-chat.
Fundamentally, Talk Therapy Involves Insight
One of the fundamental characteristics of talk therapy, and one of the most characteristic things which distinguish it from idle chitchat, is that talk therapy is about gaining insight into oneself. Although other profound things occur in the course of talk therapy, at least some new insight is certainly needed if the process is to be meaningful.
What types of insight into the self are needed? In the slides below are some prominent examples:
Talk Therapy –Works!
The evidence is quite clear that talk therapy does work for people. U. of Colorado psychiatry professor Jonathan Shedler’s research review shows that effect sizes for psychodynamic case studies are as large as those reported for other therapies that have been actively promoted as “empirically supported” and “evidence based”. Some studies suggest the effect may even be larger. What’s more, the benefits of talk therapy can be shown to go on and even increase after the therapy is over.
Talk therapy can be shown to be an effective and genuinely helpful technique. We’ll examine its benefits more in the second part of this post.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst