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What is therapy?

A lot of people are understandably confused about the range of things called therapy, psychotherapy, or counseling. I'm a Clinical Psychologist, which means I have a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology (PsyD). I learned about human psychology and different kinds of therapy in Graduate School for 5 years. I learned about psychodynamic therapy, which stems from Freud and psychoanalysis, CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy, couples counseling and family therapy, group psychotherapy, humanistic and experiential therapy. I have a license from the California Board of Psychology, which is part of the Department of Consumer Affairs. In order to obtain my license, I had to complete at least 3000 hours of clinical experience as a therapist (or counselor) under supervision by a licensed therapist. In fact I did a lot more than that, because I started volunteering as a phone counselor on a suicide prevention crisis line before deciding to study clinical psychology, and continued working there for 7 years while I was in school and after. I did almost all of my optional credits by working at the school clinic, practicing therapy behind a one-way mirror with real clients including individual adults and couples, and with an observation team of students and a student supervisor as well as the student-therapist and the professor who was a licensed psychologist. In California, it's illegal to practice therapy (or psychotherapy) without a license, but anyone can do counseling or coaching, which is in practice often similar.

Therapy is a special kind of conversation in which one person, the therapist, dedicates time and attention to listening to the other person or people and helping them change how they feel, or how they relate with one another. Typically, this conversation takes place in a private office so that nobody can overhear it. The licensed therapist is legally bound to maintain confidentiality by keeping secret the content of these conversations and the identities of the clients, with a few exceptions to keep people safe from harm.

How does therapy work? Different people have different opinions about that. I think that we all have potential for greater wisdom, happiness, connection and meaning in our lives. Sometimes we get stuck in our own thoughts, or communication patterns, and it helps to say them out loud to someone else and get a related but different perspective in order to bring about change.

As your therapist, I will typically ask you about your goals for therapy and check in with you about them as we go along, unless you decide that you don't like working this way. Different people have very different goals. Some people want to be happy, less anxious, or more self-confident. Some people just want to have someone to talk to about their week, or their life. Others want to process a particular traumatic experience or relationship, in order to be able to move past it. Some people seek therapy to learn new coping skills and tools. Couples come in for different reasons, too. Sometimes in order to decide whether to stay together, sometimes to reduce conflict, and sometimes to reconnect with each other or learn new communication skills. Checking in about your goals allows you to see the progress you make in therapy.

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