Frequently asked questions

1. What's the difference between a psychologist and a psychotherapist?

A psychologist has majored in psychology, in general or with a specialization (clinical, social, educational, organizational, and so on). Their work field is broad: they can apply psychology tools for evaluation, intervention, prevention and diagnosis of several mental health issues; understanding and explaining human behavior through diverse theoretical models, carry out formative programs, between other functions.

The work field and expertise of a Psychologist will depend on previous formation during college, and most of all the experience acquired afterwards. A psychologist can specialize in a certain area in which he or she has developed, but not all psychologists do consulting or clinical work.

A Psychotherapist, on the other hand, is a psychologist, therefore has the same tools and studies, but has also received clinical formation that credits him or her as a specialist in providing psychotherapeutic services.

2. Is a Psychotherapist the same as a Counselor?

In most countries it is, both involve the same work and a have a similar formation.

3. What is psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is first of all a space of listening and dialogue. But it’s also a personalized and scientifically based process which main objective is wellbeing, personal growth, conflict resolution and the improvement of the person in his or her individual context, as well as familiar, love partner and socially. It seeks to support and guide people to achieve their desired changes focused to greater satisfaction and wellbeing.

The concept in which the base of psychotherapy is founded, independently of the theoretical model in which is based, is the capability of individuals and systems (couple, family, group, institution) of changing and improving.

4. How is psychotherapy performed?

In a practical way, a psychotherapy session (or consultation) lasts for about 50 to 60 minutes, in which the attending person shares the issues that are bothering him or her and how he or she is living them, while the therapist shows interest in listening, observing and identifying the conflicting aspects, as well as the strengths and abilities the patient/client counts with to achieve the desired changes. All in an open dialogue and judgment free zone.

5. How do I know if I need therapy?

You probably have already tried to cope with your problems by yourself or talking about them with your loved ones. You might even have tried different ways to find a solution, such as a book or a self-support group.

Frequently we know that we can benefit from professional help when nothing else has worked out, or simply when we feel anxious, uneasy or unsatisfied and we don’t really know why. Other times we seek support when we can’t live the day by day with a calm mind or when the same concern haunts us almost all the time. In other occasions, we have the necessity of being helped when we feel stuck in one or several aspects of our everyday life, or when we have a feeling of confusion, like being lost or simply because we want a new and professional perspective on our present or even past situation, like an important event of our youth.

Most of the times it helps to open up and share our problems to someone else from the outside, somebody with the ability of listening and understanding without judging.

Listening to other people that have attended therapy with a professional can also help to decide weather to arrange an appointment, and so, with the therapist, be able to determine if psychotherapy is indeed a viable way for us.

6. How long does a therapeutic process last? Can I know how long will mine be?

The psychotherapeutic process -know as well as psychotherapy- can last from one session, a few sessions (less than 12, known as brief therapy) or even a variety of sessions during many months or years; this last case is common when the therapy is psychoanalytical.

The session’s frequency uses to be weekly, although there’s times when people can attend twice or more per week, or even once every two weeks.

It can’t be determined beforehand how long will a therapeutic process last, it is rather settled through negotiation between both parts, as it has to be considered the disposition of the patient/client, and also the recommendations the therapist gives based on what he or she has identified about the person’s situation.

7. When does a therapeutic process end?

In general it can be said that psychotherapy ends when both parts -therapist and patient- agree that the goals established at the beginning and during the therapeutic process have been reached. Surpassed, in the best-case scenario, given that generally it’s common to solve dilemmas that were unknown and are discovered throughout the sessions.

8. How can I choose a good psychotherapist?

I recommend two ways: through someone’s recommendation, or by checking a reliable list of professionals in your area.

9. A person close to me has a lot of problems and I think is in need of a psychotherapist. How do I handle this?

To realize that someone we care has difficulties doesn’t imply that we know what are his or her needs. Even if this person expresses the wish for help, it doesn’t necessarily mean that she or he is ready for it.

I believe it’s very important to acknowledge that each person has his or her own times and ways and is free to decide if and when to set upon one. Psychotherapy, as such, is only an option for conflict solving and relief finding. Certainly a very good option, but it doesn’t mean that it is right for everyone.

First of all ask the person if he or she has considered this possibility. Then tell them that you know someone you trust, maybe share with them how do you know this someone, -either because you or somebody else has attended with this professional- or what does this person do, if you know exactly. Then offer this person’s phone number or business card, ad just say: “If you like, you can call to make an appointment”, or something similar. Nothing more.

It’s important to say that the person interested is the one that should make the phone call, and this also applies with teenagers.

I suggest avoiding all words like “you need” or “you must”, or any phrase involving us knowing what’s best for him or her. Do not insist or put any kind of pressure to him or her, since you will only get the opposite result.
Even though it’s hard sometimes, the best way to help a loved one in trouble is by listening and respecting that person.

10. Is therapy absolutely confidential?

Generally, due to professional ethics we must respect the patient’s/client’s confidentiality and whatever happens in session. All international ethic codes protect the confidentiality of all communication between a client and his or her therapist. However there are some exceptions to the rule. Such as:

Minors: In case of treating a patient/client who is under 18 years old, parents have the right to be informed about the nature of the therapy’s progress, even this doesn’t imply the therapist disclosure of what’s said during sessions.

  • Imminent risk of the client possibility of harming a third party.
  • Imminent risk of harming him or herself.
  • Written permission: In the case the client wishes to obtain information to be provided to a third party or an institution (school, work, etc.)
  • Child abuse or handicapped abuse: By law we are obligated to implement actions to stop this, even when these actions involve breaking confidentiality.
  • Court order: The therapist is obligated to reveal the necessary information in the case the client is in a legal process, and a judge gives the therapist a request.

11. What is thanatology and what does a thanatologist do?

Beyond the literal meaning of the term, thanatology refers to the support around losses experienced through life. These include from death or sickness of a loved one, our own health loss, a love separation, a divorce, a change of home, a job change, maternity, and so on.

Life is full of changes and losses and not always we have the tools to face them. A psychotherapist also specialized in thanatology can help a person face an imminent or past loss, and to overcome it, keeping the good memories and the teachings in the way to acceptation, leaving behind blame, resentment and suffering.

12. What is and how does a psychiatrist works?

A psychiatrist is a doctor specialized in psychiatry, which is a branch dedicated to the study of people with mental sickness or mental disorders. Psychiatrists having a medical education are more focused in possible physical problems (neurological and biochemical) that can be the base of disorders, and are focus in their dysfunctional behavioral manifestations.

Their objective is to prevent, evaluate, diagnose, treat, and rehabilitate people with mental disorders. They have as a fundamental element the diagnosis, and their treatment is based in drug prescription.

A psychiatrist can’t give psychotherapy unless he or she has a psychotherapist’s formation.