FAQs About Psychotherapy

By Jim Haggerty, M.D.

Can an individual and therapist have a relationship outside of therapy?

No. Therapy is a one-way street. The therapist knows a great deal about the patient but the patient does not know intimate details about the therapist. Because of this, the therapist often seems to have a greater power or influence over the individual, which could result in abuse or deception.

This does not mean that one cannot have any contact with the therapist outside of the therapy situation. This is especially true in small towns where social contact may be inevitable. However, it is generally not a good idea to seek therapy from someone you know personally or with whom you may have another relationship (e.g., business interest, friendship). In fact, the ethics of most professions prohibit their members from engaging in these types of relationships.

Does therapy involve physical touch?

The use of touch varies. Some therapists may pat or hug a patient as a sign of support or comfort. However, physical touch is powerful and should never be sexualized. Kissing, excessive touching and sexual activity have no place in therapy. While almost all therapists are ethical, a small minority exploits their patients. Any therapy involving inappropriate sexual behavior should be discontinued and the therapist should be reported to the stateÆs ethics board.

Is it okay for therapists and patients to date?

Dating or any sexual contact between a therapist and patient is inappropriate. This includes seeking therapy from someone with whom you have been involved, with whom you had an intimate relationship with in the past, dating during therapy or starting a relationship after therapy has ended. Many states have specific statutes regarding this behavior.

Will my therapist be angry if I switch to another practitioner?

The answer to this question should be no. Therapists are professionals who should have the best interest of their patient at heart. Any decision to switch therapists should be explored with the therapist. If your therapist gets touchy or angry at your decision, you can take comfort in the fact that you have made the right decision.

Which is better, therapy or medication?

Both medication and therapy have been shown to be effective in treating mental illness. The type of treatment used depends on the nature of the problem. Generally, medication is often prescribed for conditions known to have strong biological components, such as major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or panic disorder.

Research suggests that use of medication and psychotherapy together may be the best approach, especially for more severe conditions. The medication offers relief from symptoms, and psychotherapy enables the individual to gain knowledge about her condition and how to handle it. This combined approach offers the fastest, longest-lasting treatment.

Should I see a male or female therapist?

Individuals often wonder if they would do better with a male or female therapist. Research on therapist traits and therapy outcome has failed to identify any relationship between the two. Factors such as warmth and empathy are much more related to outcome than therapist gender. However, the nature of your particular problem as well as your own preferences may lead you to seek out a male or female therapist. For example, a woman who was sexually abused by her father may feel more comfortable working with a woman therapist.

 

APA Reference
Haggerty, J. (2006). FAQs About Psychotherapy. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/faqs-about-psychotherapy/000117
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.