October 19, 2023

How psychotherapy works

If you are considering starting therapy for the first time in your life, you may be wondering how it can help you. My honest answer is: it depends. It depends on you, your therapist, your personal circumstances, and your therapeutic goals. However, in this article I will try to explain how psychotherapy works in general.

Psychotherapy is a type of treatment that supports people with a variety of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and trauma. It can also help people cope better with major life events and one-off challenges, improve their relationships, and enhance their overall sense of wellbeing and connection.

How does psychotherapy work?

Talk therapy works by providing a safe and supportive space for individuals to talk about their thoughts, feelings, memories and experiences. A counsellor can help people understand their problems, identify and challenge unhelpful beliefs or thought patterns, and develop healthy coping skills. Once a person has enhanced self-awareness and access to appropriate resources, it is easier for them to make choices in their life that are more aligned to their true ‘Self’ and their needs.

Therapy modalities differ (e.g. humanistic, psychodynamic or cognitive-behavioural approaches), but they all share some common goals:

To help people gain insight and understand themselves better

To improve emotional awareness and regulation

To address challenges and help clients develop coping skills

To promote healthier relationships (including a relationship with ‘Self’)

To help clients make the positive changes that they desire

Some newer psychotherapy modalities such as Brainspotting (BSP) or EMDR engage subcortical brain by utilising client’s visual field.

As a certified BSP practitioner, I am aware that our brain and body are connected, and that we hold certain thoughts, feelings, and memories in certain places (‘brain spots’) in our visual field. Brainspotting is a therapeutic tool for the intentional locating and gazing at those spots to support processing and release of stuck emotions. In other words, BSP is a neurophysiological process that helps people transform triggers into memories that do not cause strong emotional reactions.

What to expect in psychotherapy.

A strong therapeutic relationship between the therapist and the client is essential for successful outcomes. In the first couple of sessions, we will get to know each other a little, we will talk about your symptoms, your history and your expectations. This helps me to learn more about you and your problems, and to develop an initial plan.

Once you are comfortable enough, we will dive in deeper into your thoughts, feelings, memories and life experience. In our exploration I will utilise a number of techniques and tools e.g. teaching grounding practices, active listening, asking questions, using worksheets or BSP.

How long does psychotherapy take?

Sessions typically last 50 minutes and are held once a week.

Psychotherapy is a powerful healing tool, but it is important to be patient and realistic about expectations. The length of therapy varies depending on individual needs, goals and the type of therapy. Some clients are very focused and driven and they benefit more from short-term therapy, while others may be better suited for a slower pace and they may need longer-term therapy. I believe clients know best when they have enough tools and resources to navigate challenges and, once they get to a comfortable place, together we can plan an ending.

A successful outcome depends on client’s commitment, time and effort, therapy is a collaboration between the therapist and the client. I encourage my clients to consider if the timing is right for them and if they truly are in a place in their life where they can invest time and energy in their mental health and wellbeing. If this is you, please feel free to book an initial video call – let’s talk soon!

*The information provided in this blog post is for general educational and informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical or mental health professional advice. If you are struggling with any of the issues described in this post, please seek appropriate professional help from a qualified professional.


Psychotherapy: A Handbook for Theory, Research and Practice by R. J. Corsini

The Efficacy of Psychotherapy by D. F. Shafran

The American Psychological Association Handbook of Psychotherapy by D. H. Barlow

Would you like to talk?

Please feel free to call me, email me or fill out this form to get in touch.

I will aim to respond within 24hrs Monday - Friday. For mental health emergencies please contact your local health centre.

In-person sessions are available by prior arrangement in central Lisbon:

Nearest Metro stations: Avenida and Marquês de Pombal.

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