Why Psychotherapy Works

Why does just talking to someone help us heal? Part of the reason is how the brain works.

When we store experiences in our brain the information is scattered throughout the brain in a wide variety of visual, auditory, motor and emotional centers. Anytime we remember something that happened to us, we access this information scattered throughout the brain and bring it forth into an image of the experience. Each time we do this the memory is influenced or changed by our current experience.

For example, if we are hurt by something our friend did to us yesterday but today we are no longer feeling hurt or angry, our current emotional state can be used to assist in calming the feelings that are attached to this memory. There is a catch however. If we want to change the emotional experience of a memory, we have to bring the memory (or a similar experience) back into our mind while being in a different mental state.

Psychotherapy Works Better than “Carrying On”

I am suggesting that simply saying “ I am ok” “I forgive you” is insufficient. Even when we believe we have forgiven our friend and everything is OK, if the emotional material of the memory is not changed, we will respond out of that hurt at a later time. One of the fundamental strengths of therapy is its ability to help people change the emotional material around hurtful experiences.

Psychotherapy Works Differently from Talking to a Friend

One of the therapist’s responsibilities is to assist us in bringing a different perspective or experience to help change the emotions of our memories. To do this we ask questions.

The questions may be about your friends intent (Was she trying to hurt you?), other questions may be about whether you understood her communication (Is there another way of understanding what she said?), other questions may clarify what happened (Is yours the only way of interpreting what she meant?), or sometimes it is not a change at all but rather allowing us to express our emotions about something that happened in our life (We may need to just cry or vent).

Each of these can alter the content of past experiences and move us towards a sense of increased health. As a psychotherapist our responsibility is to ask these questions to assist our clients in altering the emotional content and how they think about events in the past.

Psychotherapy Works with Specific Strategies Too!

As powerful as asking questions and listening can be, they are only a part of the toolbox therapists have available to them to assist in the healing process. We assist people in looking forward and acquiring the skills to handle life more effectively. We enhance ways of thinking and taking action to help deal with events in the present.

We use a wide variety of other tools such as imagery, biofeedback, EMDR, and relaxation exercises to assist in healing and growing into the person they would like to become.

Author Information

Allen Rader, LCSW – Allen is a therapist, entrepreneur and founder of ATS Wellness and Therapy: therapy and wellness strategies and occasionally writes for Indyatwork.com, a business blog for the Indianapolis community. He enjoys assisting people in transforming their lives rather than just learning to cope with the challenges of life.


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