Psychotherapists, like all professionals, have a range of possible outcomes with the people they try to help. Seeing a therapist is not unlike visiting any doctor. There are three possible outcomes: You feel better, you feel worse, or you feel about the same as when you started treatment.
I suppose this is true of visiting accountants, financial planners and attorneys as well. In some instances, they can help to solve a problem, and in other cases, they can not do anything to ameliorate a person’s situation.
Perhaps the clients came too late to get help. Maybe, they have gotten into a dilemma which is not easily reparable.
Similarly, in therapy, sometimes we help people a great deal. Patients thank us and we see significant changes in how they behave, how they feel, what they have learned and how they interact with other people in their lives.
Other times, we are not very successful. People don’t seem to change at all and they leave therapy the same way they entered it.
Fortunately, it is rare for people to get worse in therapy. It is far more common for them to experience no change, small changes or to remain the same.
In other cases, we are not sure if we have helped people or not. I have had patients come back to see me after a few years and tell me that I was very helpful when I did not know if I was really helpful to them. Sometimes, one thing that we say or suggest has a larger impact on people than we might have realized it did.
Therapy, is part art and part science, so its effectiveness can sometimes be less concrete and harder to measure than is the efficacy of interventions in medicine, law or accounting.
Recently, I had an interesting experience with a man who asked me to help him with some anxiety that he was experiencing.
Alvin contacted me about eighteen months ago because he suffered from test anxiety and was about to take the GMAT and apply to business school. He was quite concerned about the exam, since he had done rather poorly on previous tests and he became very anxious even when he was taking practice tests.
Alvin is a highly motivated young man, but he tends to put a lot of pressure on himself. Consequently, he gets very up tight when he has to take a tough exam like the GMAT.
Alvin came to this country from Russia and is the son of working class parents. Getting into business school was very important to him.
After a few months of counseling, , I was able to teach Alvin how to stay relaxed, calm and focused during practice tests and during theactual exam. We also spent a fair amount of time going over his test taking strategy.
In addition, we developed a good working relationship with one another in spite of the fact that he lived a long distance from my office.
I was able to help him to do well enough on his entrance exams to get into two excellent graduate programs. Alvin was delighted and so was I. Here is a copy of the note that he was kind enough to send to me:
Dear Dr. Jay,
I just got my acceptance letters and wanted to thank you for being my doctor/uncle.
Wow it’s been a long road from when we first started. I can’t believe this part is finally over. Anyway, I hope you and your family have a great holiday season and you can know that your nephew scaled EVEREST.
Dr. Granat can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 800 3 FOR HELP.
Jay P. Granat, Ph.D. is a Psychotherapist in River Edge, NJ and the Founder of www.StayInTheZone.com