Psychotherapy and Well-Being
Are you happy?
People usually come to psychotherapy because something doesn’t feel right. It could be a barely discernible niggling feeling that things could be better, or it could be a full-blown war zone just to get through the day. Sometimes people feel that they should be “normal” and certainly don’t need to “get help,” yet notice over time, perhaps years or decades that certain patterns in their lives recur in ways that leave them short of fulfillment and satisfaction. Unmet goals and unfulfilled potentials don’t stop life from moving forward, but it can leave individuals longing for more—and unaware of how to get it.
When Should I Seek Individual Counseling?
Psychotherapy may be helpful whenever someone feels that some aspect of their life is not what they want it to be. It could be unrealized career goals, expectations in relationships, or personal ambitions that are causing internal conflict. It could be difficulty navigating a life transition, overcoming a traumatic event, or dealing with anxiety and depression. There are almost unlimited valid reasons for psychotherapy, including:
- Noticing patterns of conflict. or difficulties with relationships at work / personal life
- Striving for peak performance and feeling something is holding you back
- Grieving a loss, or coping with a divorce or other life transition
- Feeling like an imposter despite external signs of success
- Too much stress
- Feeling blocked in your creative efforts
- Trouble with confidence, self-worth or purpose
- Managing difficult feelings such as anger or depression
- Working on a reset for a more wholesome lifestyle, or breaking free from habits
Professional counseling can help
Therapy can help people learn the skills to navigate life’s challenges, help them to cope, or gain greater awareness and understanding of who they are. Sometimes it’s as simple as yearning to be happier, more successful and respected, and more at peace with themselves.
Striving To Improve
It is the fact of human nature to strive to figure out how best to live our lives—how to be better, happier or more successful people, to solve our problems and be the most effective people we can be. The challenge is in understanding what gets in the way of that—and untangling ourselves from the early patterns and programming that keep us stuck.
We live in an age where self-improvement is a priority; one in which it is recognized that the better you function as a person, the more you can offer at work, in your relationships, and in your personal creativity.
But we also live in an age that emphasizes self-sufficiency. Many of us are taught to act as though we have all the answers or shamed for not knowing how to solve a problem. But the fact is, we’re not born with these abilities—we learn them. And when it comes to overcoming adverse childhood experiences, coping with negative self-perceptions, or forging an identity in the distorting reality of social media, our culture doesn’t exactly provide a road map. The result is that some people cope by minimizing their problems or denying them—hoping things will work themselves out.
Fortunately, when people commit to positive change, it is quite possible to gain the ability and skills to overcome challenges and improve the quality of their lives.
How Does Therapy Work?
The success of psychotherapy depends strongly on the quality of the relationship between the therapist and patient.
A positive therapeutic relationship allows the patient to talk about what is troubling them more openly, without fear of judgment and with genuine curiosity. Therapy is a collaboration that builds trust and facilitates mutual feedback that can better inform the healing process. This process allows us to explore who you are—to discover and learn to accept the full range of emotions and what goes on in your inner life, including what may not yet be conscious.
Personal counseling can help you develop skills for being more open-minded, curious and interested, compassionate, and less judgmental and self-critical. The reward for these skills can be a sense of inner self-confidence and freedom, greater authenticity and feelings of joy.
Goals of Psychotherapy
The goal of psychotherapy is to help people function better, have better relationships, and to feel more alive, whole, and happy. These goals are attained by bringing attention and presence to the space of psychotherapy, by paying attention to what is going on in the here and now. Such attention itself has a healing quality. Working collaboratively with presence and awareness has the power to transform how the brain is wired.
Other aspects of the therapy process include:
- Understanding habits of mind, persistent emotions, behaviors, and ways of relating to people
- Investigating connections to formative relationships and your personal background
- Making the unconscious conscious so it better informs your thoughts and actions
- Improving your ability to tolerate and regulate difficult emotions or states of mind
- Turning negatively-oriented thoughts and feelings into positive ones
- Focusing on making decisions instead of being paralyzed by indecision
What Is Dr. Wu’s theory behind psychotherapy?
Part of my healing philosophy rests on the core assumption that a person’s mind and personality are strongly influenced by relationships during both their present and formative years. Rather than working explicitly with aspects of the conscious mind, my approach to healing also considers aspects of the unconscious mind—emotional behaviors or reactions that are automatic, much like the operating system on a computer. These factors can include habits of interactions and ways of relating to people, persistent or recurring emotional states, as well as self-esteem issues and responses to them.
This approach helps people understand themselves at a deeper level, and identify persistent difficulties or unsatisfying patterns in life and relationships.
Which approaches to therapy does Dr. Wu practice?
Depending on your situation and needs, I practice psychodynamic psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Mindfulness-Based Therapies (MBT), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (MBCT) and Emotionally-Focused Therapy (EFT). My work is also strongly informed by attachment theory, neuro-developmental research, and somatic, body-mind approaches such as Somatic Experiencing.
This form of healing work is the most holistic and potentially deep work. You are taking care of the foundational structures of personality—not just tweaking apps and updating versions—but working on the Operating System. It should not be undertaken by anyone who hasn’t been rigorously trained and certified. Read more about psychodynamic psychotherapy and psychoanalysis here.
In contrast to psychodynamic psychotherapy, which has a strong focus on emotions, psychology, and patterns of behavior and relationships, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focuses primarily on cognition, or thoughts. It presumes that emotions follow thoughts, and by changing thoughts, emotions can be changed as well. Pessimistic thoughts can lead to feelings of worry and gloom, while blaming thoughts can lead to anger and resentment. This approach can be quite powerful, because by raising awareness of how thoughts and emotions are entrenched in an interactive system, the system can be carefully tweaked toward change.
The role of mindfulness in MBCT is powerful because, first, awareness can be strengthened, like a muscle, and second, it changes the dynamics of the “system,” like illumination lighting up a darkened room. For its success, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy depends on the quality of positive intention and compassion that is part and parcel of mindfulness; and on the quality of quiet, nonjudgmental awareness which loosens the grip of identification to thoughts and feelings.
The behavioral part of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy means that as a method, it closely tracks how these tweaks to the system play out in real life and rely on an underlying positive reinforcement approach to encourage change.
What are Dr. Wu’s qualifications?
Dr. Wu has practiced psychotherapy for over two decades and has consulted and treated thousands of patients—adults and children—in her private practice office in Boston, and in major medical center hospitals, such as the Massachusetts General Hospital and Northwestern University’s Institute of Psychiatry. She is a qualified psychoanalyst and has taught generations of physicians training to become psychiatrists at Harvard and Tufts Medical Schools. In addition to her core training as a psychoanalyst, she integrates and blends elements of other modalities according to each patient’s specific needs.
Can therapy help me?
Whether you are navigating a difficult life transition, dealing with relationship issues, or coping with a mental health concern, change is possible. The human brain has the ability to change and grow even in adulthood. Psychotherapy, therefore, can be viewed as an opportunity to “rewire” the brain by learning and developing new psychological, emotional, and relationship skills. It may not be easy or fast, but the good news is that it is very much possible to change your life for the better.
I am considering individual counseling but still have some concerns.
My problem isn’t that serious. I think I can get through this on my own
Admittedly, a great deal of personal growth occurs in the “school of life” where we learn to overcome adversity through self-reflection or the support of family and friends. However, if you are stuck or the scope and depth of what you are dealing with are greater than the resources you have, it could be helpful to seek professional counseling services. Working with a professional therapist can equip you with the perspective, skills, and expertise needed to work through even the toughest issues.
I don’t want anyone to know I’m in therapy
Therapists are bound by confidentiality and cannot tell anyone you are in therapy, even if asked directly by, say, a family member. Also, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a heavily enforced federal mandate demanding that confidential medical information, including electronic information, be regarded with the highest level of secrecy.
I would like to be in therapy but I can’t afford it
How to finance therapy is an important consideration when you start therapy, so that you can settle into the work without interruptions. If you’re planning on using your insurance, be sure to find out their terms of coverage and how you can get reimbursed. However, the first question should be, Why do you want to make this investment? Effective therapy can be likened to going to school and getting an education. Not all of our schooling corresponds to an added value in our lives, but the right education, the right amount, at the right time, can change the course of a person’s future. Similarly, an effective therapy can be life-altering.
In addition, there is a limited but definite range of sliding scale options, especially in cities. Some clinics and agencies have alternative funding to support a sliding scale. Training hospitals and schools that train quality therapists often offer treatment opportunities at a reduced cost as part of the credentialing process.