How does therapy work?

Every therapist works differently.  This is how I help people.

There are two main things I focus on as a therapist:

  1. What direction do you want your life to go?
  2. What obstacles are getting in the way?

I believe that the most important question we can ask ourselves in life is this first question.  The problem, however, is that we all experience particularly difficult thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories, and situations that can take over our lives.

People often come to therapy because these painful inner experiences have started to take over.  This could look like anxiety, depression, or many other issues.  Often, life has become unworkable in some area such as relationships, work, school, or health.

My job as a therapist is to help you look at your inner obstacles and practice relating to them differently.

There are six main skills I help people learn:

  1. Acceptance.  I help people stop fighting with themselves and let go of trying to control their inner obstacles.  We know that the more you try to fight with yourself, the worse things often get.  Acceptance helps you let go of your struggles so you have more freedom in your life.
  2. Detach from your thinking.  Often we get so caught up in our heads that we believe everything our mind tells us. I help people take a step back from their thoughts and see them as just advice your mind is telling you – you can choose to believe the advice or not.
  3. Be present.  Our minds often take us far into the future or continually thinking of the past.  I help people practice coming back to the present moment and to their experience.  When we are able to be present in our lives – with the people we value, or doing the things we love, we enjoy life and find fulfillment.
  4. Know and observe yourself.  One thing that causes us much suffering is that we cannot take perspective on a problem.  We get so caught up in our situation and our struggle that we lose sight of what is really going on.  In therapy, I help people look at their problem from multiple perspectives and understand what is going on within them.
  5. Know your values.  Often people go through life feeling like they are just living for someone else or not sure what their purpose is.  This leads to depression and feelings of hopelessness.  In therapy, I help people clarify what is really important to them and what kind of person they want to be in the world.
  6. Take action on your values.  Once your know your values, it’s time to take action on them.  Often, taking action can bring up a lot of fears and worries for people.  I help people let go of these fears and create action plans for doing the things that are important to them in their life.

Practicing these skills may look like: guided meditations, asking curious questions about your experience, providing perspective on your issue, experiential exercises, creating actions plans, and other interventions.

I do not have a specific planned out session schedule for people I work with.  I don’t believe manualized treatment plans are very effective.  This is because it is important to be flexible and present with each person I help and meet them exactly where they are each week.

That being said, the general structure of therapy looks like:

First session:

  • Fill out paperwork
  • Get a good sense of the issue you are facing
  • Set goals for therapy going forward.

Subsequent sessions:

  • Discuss progress on your goals
  • Look at what obstacles have gotten in the way of the goals
  • Practice the six skills above.

Working with a therapist can also help because it is a transformative relationship.  For some of us, our greatest wounds have occurred in unhealthy relationships.  In therapy, I provide a safe, confidential space for you to discuss whatever issue you are facing.  My intention is to be warm, accepting, attentive, and present with you.  Feeling deeply understood by another person can be very healing.

For some people, the healing space of the relationship is the greatest contributor to making progress.  For others, learning the six skills is their greatest take away.  For some, it’s both.

Everyone has a different experience in therapy and I cannot guarantee a specific result in a specific time.  However, I do make it my goal to be the best therapist I can and support you in the time we have together.

I hope this has given you a better understanding of how I work as a therapist and how therapy may be able to benefit you.  Whether it is by working with me, or some other way, I encourage you to invest in your own mental well-being.


Ellis Edmunds, Psy.D.