Interview with Todo es Mente: the psychotherapeutic process and change
Psychologist José Miguel Martín Vázquez talks to us about the process of evolution in therapy.
The reason why people go to a psychologist, regardless of their personal needs or day-to-day problems, can be summed up in a single term: change for the better driven through a therapeutic process.
In all cases it is an aspect of life in which there is something to learn, usually by adopting new habits and other ways of thinking and feeling.
But... How does this gradual change towards a better way of living take place, and how is it different from any other vital change that can take place without going to psychotherapy? To address this issue we spoke with the psychologist José Miguel Martín Vázquez, of Todo es Mente..
José Miguel Martín Vázquez: the therapeutic process and change
José Miguel Martín Vázquez is a psychologist specialized in online therapy through his psychological assistance center Todo es Mente. In this interview he talks to us about the way in which the therapeutic alliance between professional and patient can promote change in those who seek the psychologist's help.
What are the main ingredients for the therapeutic change desired by the patient to take place?
Within a general context of a positive therapeutic climate, there must be certain facilitating features, to a sufficient degree, on the part of both the client and the therapist. Common to both would be 10: self-criticism, communication, concentration, trust, flexibility, humility, intelligence, motivation, patience and sincerity.
A therapist should also possess high self-esteem, good self-knowledge (ideally having undergone psychotherapy himself) and an eclectic mentality (regardless of his basic therapeutic orientation).
It will be necessary for the client to achieve a knowledge of himself and his problems, which will lay the foundations for projecting and maintaining behavioral changes. The Unconscious has to unlearn and learn little by little, because we are always our past.
Putting words to the problem that generates discomfort to the patient is surely something complicated. How are the objectives of psychotherapy established in the first sessions with the psychologist?
Focusing on the client's personality is much more fundamental than focusing on a diagnosis. In the same sense that focusing the therapy on increasing the client's field of awareness is more important than the specific techniques we employ.
In a deep and resolving psychotherapy there are no "pills for a symptom"; we go beyond the "external" manifestations of the problem, to focus on the mental context that produces it.
Client and therapist decide what the goals of the psychotherapy are going to be (we usually do this in the framing session). I work by therapeutic processes. At a certain point in the therapy, we both know that we have reached the agreed goals. At that point we evaluate the process and the personality change, and we analyze it. We then either end the psychotherapy or open a new process, with new goals.
To what extent is it important to modify our habits in order to benefit from the effects of psychotherapy between sessions?
Psychotherapy begins at the first contact, and ends when the client decides it is over. Everything is psychotherapy. Therapy focused only on weekly sessions will not be the most productive. I advise clients to establish written exchanges between sessions in order to enhance and make the process more effective.
It is often very helpful to do a biographical review, with ongoing exchanges of ideas and perspectives between sessions, as well as exchanges on any relevant and current topic in the client's life. Behavioral change is important but, in order for it to be sustained and help in the resolution of the problem, it must be sufficiently "conscious", have an intimate meaning that is achieved with the knowledge of oneself and of the problem.
Many times people talk about the need to get out of the comfort zone in order to progress and enjoy a good quality of life. Do you agree with this?
Yes, in a gradual way, as the client becomes more aware and psychically stronger. It is common sense that if we keep thinking and doing the same things, with the usual level of emotional comfort, we are not progressing (we are doing the same thing).
Suffering, like daring, are ingredients of life as well as of psychotherapy. But there is "suffering without meaning" and "suffering with meaning". Personality change is equivalent to increasing coping capacity and, in order to achieve greater physical endurance, it is normal to have aches and pains.
In your professional experience, have you encountered many people who come to therapy with the idea that it is the psychologist who has to take care of their improvement throughout the treatment, without them having to invest any effort? What to do in these cases?
Cases of this type do occur. They are usually people with the mental scheme "Doctor/patient", who are not aware of the complexity of the mental and the responsibility we have in our psychological balance. A psychotherapy is a psychic work, and it will be necessary to have the disposition to "work". In this group of clients there is often a lack of knowledge, or even a greater or lesser denial, of the psychosomatic fact (the mind/body connection).
In the most favorable cases, we achieve greater awareness and the person becomes more conscious of what psychic change is; there are clients who are "blind" to psychosomatics, who discover a new world. In other cases, we both know that progress will not be possible.
Do you think that people are coming to psychotherapy more and more informed, and that this facilitates the process of change for the better for those people with problems?
It is one thing to be informed, and another to know. Intellectual knowledge is useful but insufficient, because experiential knowledge will tend to prevail. There are people who, because of their life experiences, are more prepared to benefit from therapy. They know, from experience, that "All is Mind"; they just need someone to accompany them in their process of inner growth.
Someone may have the good intention to do psychotherapy, because his doctor recommended it, but not understand that a psychotherapy is neither "going to the psychologist", nor "doing sessions with a psychologist". We all have our moment, depending on what aspect of life.
What can psychologists do to increase the positive impact their work has on society?
Do their job well. Serve others in the best way they know how and can. I call this attitude "Perfection in activity", and I consider it one of the 7 sources of secondary self-esteem (along with sincere affection from others, self-knowledge, secondary ethics, internal achievement, overcoming obstacles and transcendence). Others will not love us nor do we love ourselves.