What is Psychotherapy 

Psychotherapy is both a way of understanding human behavior and of helping people with their emotional difficulties and personal problems. Psychotherapy typically starts with an assessment of problematic symptoms and maladaptive behaviors that often intrude into a person’s social life, personal relationships, school or work activities, and physical health. Specific psychotherapeutic strategies may be employed to alleviate specific problems causing distress such as depression, anxiety or relationship problems. Self-knowledge is seen as an important key to changing attitudes and behavior. 

Psychotherapy may involve the development of insight as to how our physical health may be compromised in many ways by emotional and relationship issues. Therapy is designed to help clients of all ages understand how their feelings and thoughts affect the ways they act, react, and relate to others. Whether or not therapy works depends a great deal on the client’s willingness and ability to experience all relationships deeply, especially the therapeutic relationship. Each client has a unique opportunity to view themselves more accurately, and to make connections between past and current conflicts that illuminate the way one relates to oneself and to others.

 Choosing the Right Therapist

At some point in our lives, we all run into problems that seem too big or too persistent to handle alone. Yet our pride and fears can get in the way of asking for help. Making the decision to find help is a sign of strength and courage. And help is available. In fact, it can make the difference between feeling that things are spinning out of control and gaining new tools to turn life around in positive ways.

Having taken that crucial first step to seek help, you may have some questions about therapy. 

Therapy is a collaborative process, so finding the right match - someone with whom you have a sense of rapport - is critical. You may have to shop around before you find someone you are comfortable with. After you find someone, keep in mind that therapy is work and sometimes can be painful. But it also can be rewarding and life changing.

Types of Therapy

Mental health professionals use a variety of approaches to give people new tools to deal with ingrained, troublesome patterns of behavior and to help them manage symptoms of mental illness. The best therapists will work with you to determine a treatment plan that will be most effective for you. Some therapy approaches may include (but not limited to):

  • Individual therapy. Individual therapy explores negative thoughts and feelings, as well as the harmful or self-destructive behaviors that might accompany them. Individual therapy may delve into the underlying causes of current problems (such as unhealthy relationship patterns or a traumatic experience from your past), but the primary focus is on making positive changes in the here and now.
  • Family therapy. Family therapy involves treating more than one member of the family at the same time to help the family resolve conflicts and improve interaction. It is often based on the premise that families are a system. If one role in the family changes all are affected and need to change their behaviors as well.
  • Couples therapy (marriage counseling). Couples therapy involves the two people in a committed relationship. People go to couples therapy to learn how to work through their differences, communicate better and problem-solve challenges in the relationship.

What to Expect in Therapy  

Every therapist is different, but there are usually some similarities to how therapy is structured. Normally, sessions will last 45-50 minutes, and often be about once a week, although for more intensive therapy they maybe more often.  

  • Expect a good fit between you and your therapist. Don't settle for bad fit. You may need to see one or more therapists until you experience feeling understood and accepted.
  • Therapy is a partnership. Both you and your therapist contribute to the healing process. You're not expected to do the work of recovery all by yourself, but your therapist can’t do it for you either. Therapy should feel like a collaboration.
  • Therapy will not always feel pleasant. Painful memories, frustrations or feelings might surface. This is a normal part of therapy and your therapist will guide you through this process. Be sure to communicate with your therapist about how you are feeling.
  • Therapy should be a safe place. While there will be times when you’ll feel challenged or when you’re facing unpleasant feelings, you should always feel safe. If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed or you’re dreading your therapy sessions, talk to your therapist.

Duration of Therapy 

Everyone’s treatment is different. How long therapy lasts depends on many factors. 

  • You may have complicated issues, or a relatively straightforward problem that you want to address.
  • Some therapy treatment types are short term, while others may be longer.
  • Practically, you might also be limited by your insurance coverage. 

However, discussing the length of therapy is important to bring up with your therapist at the beginning. This will give you an idea of starting goals to work towards and what you want to accomplish. Don’t be afraid to revisit this issue at any time as therapy progresses, as goals often are modified or changed during treatment. 

Making the Most of Therapy  

To make the most of therapy, you need to put what you’re learning in your sessions into practice in your real life. 50 minutes in therapy each week is not going to fix you; it’s how you use what you’ve learned with the rest of your time. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your therapy:

  • Make healthy lifestyle changes. There are many things you can do in your daily life to support your mood and improve your emotional health. Reach out to others for support. Get plenty of exercise and sleep. Eat well. Make time for relaxation and play. The list goes on…
  • Don’t expect the therapist to tell you what to do. You and your therapists are partners in your recovery. Your therapist can help guide you and make suggestions for treatment, but only you can make the changes you need to move forward.
  • Make a commitment to your treatment. Don’t skip sessions unless you absolutely have to. If your therapist gives you homework in between sessions, be sure to do it. If you find yourself skipping sessions or are reluctant to go, ask yourself why. Are you avoiding painful discussion? Did last session touch a nerve? Talk about your reluctance with your therapist.
  • Share what you are feeling. You will get the most out of therapy if you are open and honest with your therapist about your feelings. If you feel embarrassed or ashamed, or something is too painful to talk about, don’t be afraid to tell your therapist. Slowly, you can work together to get at the issues.

Barbara V. Rivas, LCSW, ACSW, QCSW, DCSW

Diplomate in Clinical Social Work

832-286-1539 (phone)

832-286-1581 (fax)


5629 FM 1960 West

Suite 311

Houston, Texas 77069

"All Sessions by Appointment Only"

Some Evening and Weekend Appointments Available