By William Butler
When many people think of psychotherapy, they imagine Sigmund Freud sitting behind his clip board relating everything to your mother. The media and television seems to perpetuate these views by over emphasizing the amount of psychodynamic therapists. Another popular misconception is that therapists are often the last resort from a range of issues from psychological to legal problems. It’s almost as though psychologist and psychic are synonymous, both professions based on deviation and parlor tricks.
Thankfully, the real world is much more beneficial. Many people aren’t aware that there are actually many different types of therapists that all hold certain beliefs about human nature. Generally, they can be broken into two categories: psychologists (which emphasize talk-therapy and cannot prescribe medication) and psychiatrists (which adhere to a biomedical model and can prescribe medications.) Within both groups of professionals is even more diversity as not all mental health professionals have the same beliefs about human nature. Most that are listened by the state and received training at an accredited degree granting university advocate an eclectic approach (neutral views that can be adjusted to match individual expectations) which is shown to be very effective when working with patients.
Psychology, as an academic subject, is considered a science. Their practices and beliefs are normally shaped by research findings and it is their ethical code to keep an open-mind. In this scientific model, perhaps no other model of behavior is the belief that our thoughts influence our behavior. A very simple way to look at this interaction is the FAT model. FAT stands for Feelings, Actions, and Thoughts. That is, a change in any of those things will change the others. For instance, if I’m feeling bored it will impact my actions as I will be more prone to eat a candy bar. This influences my thoughts in the short term (“This was a great idea!”) to the long term (“I really regret eating that candy bar.”) But how can I use this information to my advantage? How can I use my knowledge to change this downward cycle? I can always try changing one of the interconnected components. For instance, instead of feeling bored, I can feel entertained by watching something on TV or going for a job. These things will make me feel better and I won’t regret my actions later on. Another example may include smoking. The addiction to smoking has both behavioral and cognitive components. For instance, changing the Action (smoking with your opposite hand) will influence your thoughts (“This is throwing me off.”)
This simple model will not solve all of your problems but it shows the power of psychoeducation. All three of these components are infinitely complex. Where the behavioral components of breaking a smoking habit are easy (dispose of cigarettes or associate it with an awkward feeling), the thought component can be the hardest part to break (“How can I stop these impulsive thoughts?”) Behavioral components can also be very complex. How can you manage the physical addiction to certain substances, for example? Both of these tasks require the professional working relationship with a medical specialist. Still, identifying the basic mechanisms of understanding ourselves can be enlightening and a step in the right direction of identifying triggers and changing the way we think.
William Butler is a psychology and pre-medical student at the University of Central Florida. He works as a receptionist for UCF Health Services at the College of Medicine in Lake Nona, Fl. He also volunteers for the MIT-2 lab, IMAlive suicide hotline, and UCF Counseling and Psychological Services Student Advisory Council. He is interested in neuroscience, music, and spending time with his friends and family. Despite his wide range of interests, William is NOT a medical or mental health professional and all attitudes expressed are opinions and are not intended to be used as medical advice.