What Makes Therapy Work?
In general, people come to therapy to work on their problems, and to do so in a safe, professional environment. There are several factors that impact how effective the therapy is for any given person, such as the type of therapy, where the person is currently in their lives, and their support system outside of treatment, just to name a few. But perhaps the most important component of successful treatment outcomes is the therapeutic alliance – the relationship you have with your therapist. More specifically, it is the bond you share with your therapist, plus your agreement on the goals of treatment and the tasks you will engage in to achieve those goals.
So, what makes for a strong therapeutic alliance? Some assume that liking your therapist is the same thing as having a positive therapeutic alliance. However, establishing a true alliance with your therapist goes beyond liking and depends heavily on the aforementioned pillars of the therapeutic alliance:
Relationship Quality: You and your therapist share a bond. You want to feel understood, connected, validated, supported, and you believe that your therapist is working with your best interests in mind. It is important to have a therapist that can accurately empathize with you and show up on a deep level to work towards changing thoughts and actions. This does not mean that you are necessarily similar or have shared life experiences, but it does mean that your therapist practices with empathy and instills a sense of trust that allows you to explore your emotions and history safely.
Shared Perspective and Goals: You and your therapist should have a mutual understanding of the goals and purpose of therapy. Having a shared conceptualization of your story and your character will strengthen the therapeutic alliance and process.
Agreement On the Means for Change: You and your therapist agree on the methods and modalities you will use to spur change. Being able to find the tools to bring thoughts, feelings, and emotions into action. At USP, we like to call it the “Power of Action.”
For many, therapy is difficult and can sometimes be a painful endeavor. Exploring distressing emotions and experiences may make you feel intensely vulnerable, scared, or even ashamed. By connecting with the right therapist who strives to work with empathy and compassion, you can begin opening up and creating a positive therapeutic relationship through which the healing process can take place.