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The Importance of the Therapeutic Relationship

As humans, we not only desire relationships with others, but need them. Research indicates that social support increases our odds of survival by 50%. So, if we need supportive relationships to survive, it makes sense that we also need a strong relationship with our therapist for treatment to be effective. My blog post today will focus on aspects of the client-therapist relationship that contribute to better outcomes in psychotherapy.

The therapist-client relationship (often referred to as “therapeutic alliance”) has been studied extensively, with data indicating it is a consistent predictor of therapy outcomes. Individuals who have a strong relationship with their therapist are more likely to comply with therapy, experience greater symptom relief, and report a greater satisfaction with the therapy process.

What are some of the therapist characteristics that promote a strong therapeutic alliance?

  • A collaborative approach to therapy, as opposed to an authoritative or direct approach.
  • An ongoing communication of hope regarding the outcomes of therapy.
  • A warm, genuine, and friendly demeanor.
  • Objectivity and honesty (even if sometimes you don’t like it!).
  • The use of plain, straightforward language as opposed to jargon.
  • A flexible treatment plan.

Not all of these qualities are immediately evident when first meeting someone, so what should you be looking for when deciding on a therapist? First, you should look for a therapist who specialize in approaches that fit with your personality and preferences (e.g., does a cognitive-based approach resonate with you, or do you feel a humanistic approach is more your style?). Second, take some time to talk with a potential therapist and ask questions before scheduling a session. While relationships take time to develop, research also suggests our initial impressions of kindness, trust, and compassion are pretty accurate. Don’t be afraid to trust your gut!

Given the importance of the therapeutic relationship, I offer a free 15-minute phone consultation prior to scheduling my first session with any Austin-area client. This gives us an opportunity to learn more about each other, and you a chance to decide if I seem like a good fit for you. If we determine that we aren’t a good fit to work together, I’m always more than happy to help you find someone else in the area better aligned to your personality and therapy goals.

Please reach out to me at 512-521-1531 or laura@drlaurawahlstrom.com if you would like to discuss your situation and see if I may be able to help you!

What IS a Psychologist?

Finding and reaching out for help can be overwhelming. You may already be struggling with low energy, little motivation, and difficulties making decisions, which makes that process feel like you are embarking on a drive from South Austin to Round Rock, on I-35, during rush hour. Then, once you start looking for help, how do you figure out what type of mental health provider to reach out to? My blog post today will explain the education and qualifications required to be deemed a ‘psychologist,’ and the specific ways in which a psychologist’s training sets them apart from other types of mental health providers.

A psychologist has a doctoral degree (PsyD or PhD) in either clinical, counseling, or school psychology. Graduate training is typically between 5-7 years, and includes rigorous coursework in a variety of areas of psychology, research (though less of an emphasis for PsyD), training in assessment and treatment of psychological disorders, and completion of a year-long, full-time clinical internship. Following completion of the doctoral degree, post-doctoral supervised experience is required (typically 1-year) prior to becoming licensed to practice independently.

The licensure process differs by state, but Texas requires an individual possess the necessary degree, training, and clinical hours, as well as pass the Examination for Practice in Professional Psychology (EPPP) and a Jurisprudence exam (a test of state laws and rules psychologists must follow). They also previously required an oral exam, but did away with this requirement in 2017. After licensure, psychologists are required to complete a certain number of continuing education hours each year to help them stay current on issues related to treatment, ethics, and cultural diversity in the field.

Does this sound like a long process? Well, that’s because it is! While the type and quality of training a psychologist receives can vary greatly, there are a few things that you can expect when working with a psychologist.

First, the primary thing that sets a psychologist apart from other types of mental health practitioners is training in assessment. This includes intelligence, cognitive, and personality testing, that is often used along with a clinical interview and self-report measures to establish diagnoses and make recommendations.

Second, psychologists are trained to diagnose psychiatric disorders. During graduate school, they take courses on the diagnostic criteria and interviewing skills. These areas are then put into practice during their practicum, where they see clients under the supervision of a licensed psychologist.

Lastly, psychologists are trained in psychotherapy. This includes ways to connect with clients and develop a strong relationship, as well as specific treatment approaches for different problems.

I’ve provided a link below that further explains the different types of mental health professionals. If the type of training a psychologist has sounds like a good fit for your needs and you live in the Austin area, please give me a call at 512-521-1531 or email me at laura@drlaurawahlstrom.com to discuss your situation and see if I may be able to help you.

Types of Mental Health Professionals

A Primer on Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Is it just me or does it feel like it has been raining forever in Austin? We’ve had fewer opportunities to spend outside, we are seeing much less of that beautiful Texas sunshine, and our already terrible traffic has been worse than usual. Maybe you were already struggling with feelings of depression or anxiety, and the weather has sent those feelings into overdrive. You’re at a point that it feels like too much to deal with on your own and you are considering psychotherapy. My blog post today will give you a primer on cognitive-behavioral therapy, a treatment that my clients and I have found highly effective and helping to overcome a variety of problems.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is based on the notion that our thoughts (i.e., running commentary in our heads), feelings (i.e., emotions), and behaviors (i.e., things we “do”) are all related to and influence each other. Let’s take a look at an example:

Lindsey was scheduled to meet Justine for lunch at 12:00 p.m. It is now 12:30 and Justine has not shown up for lunch. Lindsey has the thought “she blew me off – what a terrible friend!” This thought leads to her feeling angry (emotion) and ignoring Justine (behavior). However, what if instead she had the thought “something bad must have happened!” This thought would lead to her feeling worried (emotion) and calling Justine to see if she is okay (behavior). Depending on the thought that Lindsey has, the same scenario can lead to very different emotions and behaviors.

So, if we can change the way we think and what we do, we can change the way we feel! Psychotherapy can provide you with step-by-step instructions on how to do that. Some strategies that are used in CBT include modifying things you are doing (and may not be aware of!) that are contributing to your symptoms, learning new ways to cope with distressing feelings, and identifying and changing thoughts that are irrational and/or not helpful to you.

Does this sound too simple or good to be true? The proof is in the pudding! Over 1,000 research studies have examined CBT, and it has consistently been found effective for a variety of problems, including, but not limited to, depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anger, stress, and chronic pain. Due to this wealth of support, CBT has been identified as an “evidence-based therapy.” The National Institute of Mental Health strongly supports the use of evidence-based therapies (including CBT) for many reasons, with one of the most compelling being to prevent a situation where you spend months or years in psychotherapy and don’t feel like you are getting any better!

If cognitive-behavioral therapy sounds like something you are interested in trying or learning more about, I’ve included some helpful links below. If you are in the Austin area, feel free to give me a call at 512-521-1531 or email me at laura@drlaurawahlstrom.com to discuss your situation and see if I may be able to help you.

Psychology Today Find a Therapist Tool

Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies

Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy

Mayo Clinic