What Is Therapy and What Makes It Work?

Chelsea Matson, LCMHC is a staff therapist at Matone Counseling that works with adults ages 18 and up

With varied depictions of therapy in the media and the reality that there are many different styles, it can be difficult to know what to expect out of trying therapy. That is part of what makes participating in therapy such a brave and vulnerable decision! The therapy setting provides a unique experience where you can unpack anything and everything about your life history, beliefs, and fears. It’s the place where you can be completely open without judgment, in the hopes that this process can bring about real change and healing in your life. To help bring some clarity on what to expect, I’ll share some aspects of my approach along with factors that I’ve found make therapy successful.

Some may imagine that working with a therapist is similar to seeing a medical doctor or physical therapist. When we experience illness, injuries, or discomfort, we seek out these professionals for solutions and treatments that bring about healing and increase vitality. Having more knowledge than we do on various aspects of physical health and wellness, they are often seen as experts on addressing problems we can’t solve ourselves. It is often comforting for us when these specialists offer clear answers and solutions.

So, when it comes to emotional, behavioral, or relational discomfort, it may make sense to hope that a therapist can provide clear remedies like most medical professionals do. Although this is sometimes the case, there are some key differences between therapy and other forms of healthcare. I believe a more accurate analogy would be to compare therapy to working with a personal trainer. Personal trainers work with you one on one to support you in reaching a fitness goal. After understanding your vision of what you want to achieve, they design a workout plan, help you modify your technique, and know when to push you harder or let you rest. They also have some wisdom on the pacing of the training that will be most sustainable and effective in helping you move toward your vision.

Here is where working with a personal trainer and a therapist align–Even if you work with the most dedicated and experienced professional, the real game-changer is you. You are the one who ultimately shows up to do the work, commit to the process, and decide how invested you are in bringing your vision to life. If this sounds empowering, great! If it feels like a lot of pressure, stay with me.

I operate from a strengths-based perspective with the belief that every client comes into my office with the capacity for healing and growth at their core. Life in its messiness has a way of disconnecting us from these qualities, often leading us to feel stuck and lost over time. I believe that the most effective therapists are those whose primary focus is on helping clients reconnect with their own internal power. I would much rather help you access your own strengths and sense of direction than offer insights that may have nothing to do with your values and priorities. As a therapist, I am here to help you get where you want to go in life.

Factors that contribute to successful therapy

Since I began working as a therapist in 2018, I have spent countless hours reflecting on which factors make therapy healing and transformational. I’ll share a few of those factors here:

Getting along with your therapist

The single factor that most often predicts success in therapy is the quality of the therapeutic relationship. This means that if there is mutual trust and respect between the client and therapist, you are better able to do the challenging inner work needed to reach therapy goals. This also includes feeling comfortable enough to give your therapist feedback or suggestions on how to help you more effectively.

Committing to a therapy model

Using a therapy model or integrative approach helps provide structure to the sessions, like a roadmap. A clear framework gives the client and therapist a sense of direction and shared language to keep them on the same page. This is not meant to add rigidity to the therapy process. Rather, it provides the structure that allows for creative exploration and discoveries to be made. To learn more about my therapy approach, click here.

Being curious!

We often come to therapy with distressing symptoms, and it’s easy to feel critical and exasperated with ourselves for struggling. Take advantage of the judgment-free zone of therapy and be curious about yourself. It’s amazing what can be discovered when we explore the root cause of a symptom or limiting belief.

Slowing things down

When beginning therapy, it’s tempting to want to work quickly toward solutions and move on with our lives. However, slowing things down in sessions provides an opportunity to figure out how things are actually working inside your mind, and this gives us the information to make lasting changes. Imagine you are beginning to work on a 1000 piece puzzle. It will be more effective if you observe what the completed image is supposed to look like, choose an area to work on, and then examine one piece at a time. In therapy, working with “one piece at a time” can give us the traction and focus needed to make therapy transformative in the long term!

Therapy is a space to identify and work through the barriers that keep you from living the life you truly love and value. Relieving suffering and healing from trauma can open up doors of potential that we never knew existed. Luckily, you don’t need to wait for life to become so easy that your pain or limiting beliefs never get triggered. You can build resilience and begin transforming into the best version of yourself now, with the right support.

Chelsea Matson, LCMHC

Chelsea Matson, LCMHC is a staff therapist at Matone Counseling that works with adults ages 18 and up