Demystifying Psychotherapy: What Is Psychotherapy and Why Try It?

Over the next few weeks, we will share articles with the aim to demystify psychotherapy. As therapists, we often hear our clients say that the hardest step for them was reaching out, scheduling the initial appointment, and sitting with uncertainties such as what will happen once they meet with the therapist and how will therapy help. We hope that our Demystifying Psychotherapy series puts those of you who are wondering about psychotherapy or feeling unclear about whether it is for you at greater ease.

We start with the most fundamental of questions, namely:

What is psychotherapy and why try it?

Ask ten therapists to define psychotherapy and you will hear a number of commonalities in their responses but also notice differences. The latter stem from the fact that there are multiple pathways to health and healing and a great diversity of psychotherapy traditions and modalities. This reflects the awe-inspiring complexity of the human experience and the thousands of years of effort to understand how people think, feel, and experience themselves, others, and their world.

In other words, there are many routes psychotherapists might take to guide their clients towards the nearly universal set of goals that bring clients to this process in the first place. What are those goals? People pursue psychotherapy because they want to lead connected, meaningful, and happy lives. It is worth noting that the decision to devote time and energy to making that possible is fundamentally a very healthy one. It is fascinating how our pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps culture has for some managed to twist this meaning, turning the sane and healthy decision to make a concerted effort to improve one’s life into a sign of weakness. If you are someone who judges themselves as weak for deciding to seek the help of a mental health professional, rest assured that your therapist will work with you on dismantling that belief as quickly as possible.

Psychotherapy is a collaborative process unfolding between the therapist and the client which entails the ongoing exploration of pathways and directions that are likely to be most effective in helping the client achieve their goals and the actual work and effort of taking the many steps involved. This may include increasing your understanding of yourself, accepting difficult parts of your past or present experience, learning how to alleviate your emotional distress, and making concrete changes that reflect your desires and aspirations. Importantly, the therapist is not the one doing all that – you are. It is, after all, your journey, and you are the first and foremost expert on your life. The therapist brings their professional knowledge, experience and presence to help you examine yourself, acquire new tools and insights, and to motivate and guide you when you feel lost or stuck.

This brings us to the central aspect of psychotherapy that mental health professionals tend to agree on, irrespective of their chosen theoretical orientation: the importance of a solid relationship between the therapist and the client. Stepping outside of your comfort zone to make meaningful changes in your life is risky emotional business. It will make you feel uneasy, raw and vulnerable at times – there can be no overcoming of our struggles without facing them head-on. This is why having a therapist who makes you feel comfortable and accepted, and who is genuinely committed to you and the effort you are making, is critical. Decades of research confirm that a strong alliance between the therapist and the client is one of the most important, if not the most important factor, in positive psychotherapy outcomes. This is why psychotherapy is not just a set of cookie-cutter techniques and insights, but a dynamic, authentic and caring collaboration between the professional and the client that is brought to life and animated by the client’s hopes and goals.

So why try it? Because it is a highly effective means of improving your mental health and overall wellbeing; because it is likely to make you a better human being – and thus a better partner, son or daughter, friend, and parent; because the pain you are in right now may be too much and something needs to change; because it fosters accountability and will help you not just make but also sustain positive changes in your life; because having a therapist in your life whose main mission is to help you achieve your personal goals and who believes in you can just feel just really wonderful. Find your own “because” and see for yourself if it is worth it.

In one of the next Demystifying Psychotherapy articles we will talk about having realistic expectations about the process; something you will learn if you decide to enter psychotherapy is that like with most meaningful efforts in life, this too requires patience and commitment. We will also talk about how to make the best use of psychotherapy.


About Aga Grabowski, LCSW, PMH-C, CST (she/her)

I am a co-founder of Wildflower, a psychotherapist, a presenter and a consultant in the area of perinatal and reproductive mental health.  Many other aspects of my personal identity shape my clinical work: chief among them is the family and immigrant background which has informed my attunement to the psychological upheaval that accompanies major life transitions and to the many sociocultural forces that impact our lived experience.

In my clinical work, I am focused on helping people thrive and cope during periods of significant change, and particularly during journeys towards and through parenthood which may involve infertility, losses, depression, anxiety, and conflict.  I work with people from all walks in life. Clients I work with are some of the strongest, most resilient folks I know. They don’t always feel this way, and they come to therapy feeling raw, maybe lost, and certainly quite vulnerable. It takes courage to confront your pain and struggle. I view psychotherapy as a deeply collaborative process that aims to help you discover and tap into your strengths and resources.  You already have what it takes to feel better, be happier, face challenges – good psychotherapy basically helps you access all that. This can only happen if your therapist genuinely cares about and respects you and is invested in their own ongoing professional development and personal growth.

I have extensive training in perinatal and reproductive mental health, evidence-based treatment of mood and anxiety disorders, sex therapy, and trauma.  I earned my bachelor’s degree in international studies at the University of Chicago and obtained my master’s degree in clinical social work at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration.  I often present on topics related to mental health. I am an AASECT-certified sex therapist and a certified perinatal mental health clinician. My most valuable learning experiences come from my clients: their experience, wisdom and perspective have shaped my clinical practice the most, something I am deeply grateful for.

LCSW License Number:149016046
Type 1 NPI Number: 1841631132
Accepts: BCBS PPO and BlueChoice plans, Lyra, self-pay and out of network clients


Selected training and affiliation
AASECT-Certified Sex Therapist
Certified Perinatal Mental Health Clinician
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Training
Bringing Baby Home Educator Training, Gottman Institute
Circle of Security Parent Educator
Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions (SPACE) training
Gottman Method Level 1 training
Dialectical Behavior Therapy Training

Key beliefs
People are stronger and more resilient than they often realize.
Our culture teaches us to be fiercely independent. To thrive, we need to embrace being interdependent -- deep connection with others is essential for happiness.

More about me
I love the outdoors and hiking, camping, kayaking.
I can’t live without chocolate.
I feel grateful every day for getting to do the work I love.