In psychotherapy, it is essential to know specific therapeutic techniques to lead patients towards improvement or recovery, but it is also necessary to master other types of skills: those that allow to establish a correct link between the psychologist and the patient who goes to consult to express his or her concerns and fears.
In fact, these kinds of skills can hardly be learned if you have not worked as a psychologist, and this kind of “training” only occurs once you have passed the university Psychology course. So, to learn more about these relationship-based skills, we talked to members of the Center for Therapeutic Psychology at Alza.
Interview with Terapéutica en Alza: the importance of the therapeutic bond
On this occasion we spoke with Juan Fernández-Rodríguez Labordeta and Adrián Pino Bonacho , psychologists who make up the team at Terapéutica en Alza, a psychology centre located in Zaragoza. Throughout this interview they talk to us, from their perspective as professionals, about the therapist-patient relationship.
When you think about what it means to go to psychotherapy, many people think that they are going to the psychologist or to vent or get information about what to do. In other words, one-way processes. But the therapeutic link is fundamental, isn’t it?
The moment anyone comes to tell about their problem, they need to be and feel understood. In general, those who come to us for help are aware that they are sitting in front of a specialist, but deep down they are asking to be connected, to be listened to, which is what we do from the first moment. If we do not connect, it is difficult for us to be therapeutic references, and even less so for the patient to follow our indications.
What techniques does a psychologist use to make patients feel comfortable and able to talk about what really concerns or hurts them emotionally?
This part of the therapy does not consist of specific techniques. Bonding requires feeling in a more humane way. Therefore, it is very important how we position ourselves in the first sessions, that is, to have a receptive attitude, to listen, to ask and to keep on listening.
What we notice most that helps patients to express themselves is that they are not judged by what happens to them, but are treated and cared for. Before the end of the first session, our patients have understood that we have professional and experienced knowledge about what is happening to them, and when they feel they are with the right psychologist, the bond is strengthened.
And is there any technique or set of techniques of this type that defines the way your team members work?
Our entire therapeutic team has studied psychology at the UNED; we are registered, we are trained in Limited Time Psychotherapy both in Madrid and in the Basque Country with their respective Masters and we have also done EMDR courses in Madrid.
We know and use cognitive-behavioral, hypnotic, strategic and systemic therapy, reprocessing, NLP and associative techniques with a more creative character that, according to the state and needs of the patient, we apply to improve their welfare.
And how can a psychotherapy professional adapt to the patient’s emotional state throughout the session?
First, we recognize that the painful experiences they tell us in the session also make us feel. We are not oblivious to this and we take it seriously. Accepting our feelings and overcoming emotional pain confirms to the patient that he or she is in good hands.
Secondly, in addition to recognizing our emotion, we learn to regulate it. This means that when we are faced with an unpleasant feeling, we decrease its intensity and manage it, and even when we know that it is therapeutically appropriate, we also share it to encourage reflection.
Is there a case in which someone who came to your practice seeking professional help first said out loud a problem they had?
One of the last people who called us this week at Terapéutica en Alza admitted that it was the first time she had confessed to someone a problem she was hiding from everyone and didn’t know where to start. This person was very relieved when she was told that she had some OCD symptoms, in this case, and that this behavior was common. This also made sense to her.
We often meet people who are going to the psychologist for the first time and unfortunately it is difficult for them to ask for help, but we are aware of how difficult it can be to open up to a stranger and we have experience in making the situation more pleasant and simple.
How can we, as professionals, connect empathetically with patients, both in the sad and the happy, and not get out of the role of the psychologist who is offering effective treatment?
Professionalism is not at odds with closeness, especially when dealing with people. On the contrary, it adds up to and makes the treatment more effective than if we only take a serious and distant stance.
All people have mirror neurons, which as their name suggests, act as mirrors that reflect the patient’s emotional state. These neurons help us to understand at a more emotional level what is happening to the patient, and at the same time, the patient helps to experience a possibility of change, because their mirror neurons also work when we manage our emotions.
In hindsight… Is there a specific case in which you have professionally assisted a patient and which particularly well represents the philosophy you work with? What was it like?
In general, we work well with all our patients. Anyone who needs help and requests it represents our work philosophy.
To put a case in point, of anxiety, a woman came to the consultation in the middle of a crisis because of her sentimental situation that was in real trouble. In spite of her fragile and altered emotional state, we were able to stabilize her in this first meeting so that, later on and in a more receptive way, she could talk about what was happening and what she could do to improve her situation.
The pace of treatment, the speed of healing was driven by her, and it was a slow journey, but the relationship of trust and confidence worked as a guarantee of success for the therapy. She felt understood and knew that she did not have to make sudden changes to improve the situation, and this took the strain off her. Little by little she redirected her problem and reached very satisfactory terms, being currently very happy with the way her life is developing. Obviously, the specifics of the case are confidential.
In Terapéutica en Alza, anxiety problems are worked on this way. We treat the bond, the altered emotional state, the lived history and the concrete symptoms. Only by considering the whole history of the patient do we anticipate and avoid possible relapses.