A Beginners Guide To Therapy

Everything you need to know before you book your first session
A Beginners Guide To Therapy

Think it might be time to talk to someone, but aren’t sure who? Here’s the lowdown on what’s available…

According to the charity Mind, 40 per cent of all GP appointments are now about mental health. But how do you know what the right treatment for you looks like, especially when you’re in the midst of a dark cloud? There’s an abundance of choice out there, from hypnotherapy to group meetings, so we’ve decoded all that’s on offer before you make the leap or part with any hard-earned cash. Remember, no matter what route you take, therapists don’t have a magic wand and it’s important to approach the process with a willingness to work if you want to see the best results. Timing and motivation are also crucial. Go because you want to, not because someone else has told you that you should. Not sure where to start? Here’s what’s available…

1. HYPNOTHERAPY

What is it?

Forget swinging pocket watches. Sessions involve being guided into a relaxed state, imagining various scenarios (ranging from those that evoke an extreme response in you to you picturing a “safe place”) and listening to your hypnotherapist’s suggestions. You’ll remain in full control throughout. “Your hypnotherapist will ease you into focused concentration, similar to meditation, and though people talk of ‘going under’, you won’t be ‘under’ for the whole session,” explains Darren Marks, hypnotherapy instructor for the International Association Of Counselors & Therapists. “It has a wave-like quality – you’ll be deeply absorbed one minute, distracted the next".

Who should get it? Anybody hoping to quit smoking or conquer a phobia. The British Medical Association also once described it as the “treatment of choice” for dealing with anxiety and stress-related disorders. There have been trials suggesting it can help with physical issues like irritable bowel syndrome, too – with 71 per cent of patients responding positively in one study. It can also help with chronic pain and some sleep disorders. 

Best for? Breaking a bad habit.

Any downsides? By law, hypnotherapists aren’t required to have any specific training – so be sure to do your homework before booking in and look for someone with a healthcare background who’s accredited by the Professional Standards Authority. It’s also unsuitable for anybody suffering from psychosis or certain personality disorders.

How much and how many? Private Sessions start from Dhs500 and last up to 1 hour and 30 minutes; the number required varies from person to person. We recommend Illuminations Wellbeing Centre. illuminations.ae .

2. COGNITIVE BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY (CBT)

What is it?

“In CBT we look at how the way someone thinks and behaves may be causing or exacerbating a particular difficulty and how to change those patterns,” explains Dr Victoria Galbraith, a registered counselling psychologist. After your first consultation session, your therapist will set clear goals with you and work out the best way for you to achieve them by breaking problems down into: situations, thoughts, emotions, physical feelings and actions. You’ll learn a series of coping techniques and may be given worksheets to complete in your own time.

Who should get it? Anybody concerned with how they’re thinking and acting in the present day, including those experiencing an eating disorder, depression and panic attack sufferers - it's not for those attempting to resolve past issues. Exposure therapy is also a form of CBT, helpful for those with OCD and severe phobias, and involves you facing your fears in manageable ways (e.g. if your fear is spiders, your therapist may suggest you read about them, then later show you pictures). As CBT is structured around the individual’s targets, it can be completed in a relatively short time, so it may be a more suitable approach if you’re self-funding.

Best for? Stopping negative thought patterns and cycles. Some coping techniques you’ll learn could also be applied to other problems that arise in the future.

Any downsides? There’s homework – such as noting down your feelings in between sessions and practising techniques – so you need to really commit to see a change. It’s not always a long-term solution either, and you may need more sessions later on.

How much and how many? If you have one-on-one CBT, you’ll usually meet with a therapist between five and twenty times, with each session lasting up to an hour. Starts at Dhs500 at illuminations.ae.

3. GROUP THERAPY

What is it?

An umbrella term for working with a therapist with a group of people who are experiencing similar issues. While you’ll be encouraged to talk, there’s no requirement to. If you find the idea of a one-on-one session a bit intense this could be the right route for you. Plus, there’s the added bonus of potentially bonding with others facing parallel difficulties.

Best for? As well as anxiety and depression, group therapy can be especially good for people with quite specific problems, such as addiction. It may also be cheaper than individual private sessions.

Any downsides? The idea of sharing your problems with a host of unfamiliar faces might feel a bit daunting and intimidating at first, but the majority of participants open up after the first few sessions.

How much and how many? Costs vary depending on the group you’re joining. Your GP should be able to recommend local support groups for other issues.

4. COUNSELLING

What is it?

Not to be dismissed as a wishy-washy chat over a cuppa, counselling is one of the more common solutions offered at clinics. It’s a branch of talking therapy that involves finding ways to cope with emotional issues and better decipher your feelings by working with a trained therapist. Counselling is seen as short-term and deals with current situations. Psychotherapy (which works in a similar style) delves into your past, to figure out why you might behave in a certain way.

Who should get it? It’s recommended for difficult life events, such as divorce or bereavement, as well as work-related stress, and upsetting physical health conditions like infertility.

Best for? Evaluating traumas, emotional problems and tackling challenging life events.

Any downsides? Depending on where you’re based, waiting lists can be extremely long. Chemistry with your counsellor is important too and if you don’t gel, you’re well within your rights to raise your concerns with them during a session or look for another.

How much and how many? Roughly Dhs500 a session. And you may need it anywhere from a few weeks to a few years.

5. MENTAL-HEALTH APPS

What are they?

There are multiple new apps that claim to help with everything from learning breathing techniques to mindfulness (the practice of bringing awareness to the present and not allowing your thoughts to take over or spiral).

Who should get them? Those short on time or who live in remote areas making it difficult to access face-to-face treatments. Apps are also a good way of dipping your toe into therapy before committing to paid sessions.

Best for? Many apps focus on managing panic attacks (Beat Panic) or unhelpful thoughts (Chill Panda).

Any downsides? With so many apps out there, it can be hard to know which are worth your while.

How much and how many? Most are free (including Thrive, which uses games to track your mood and to teach methods of dealing with stress and anxiety), but some have in-app purchases or require a GP referral. Ieso, free in some areas, even allows you to confidentially instant-message mental-health therapists.