Therapy can be a bit mysterious. We seek out the company of someone skilled with talk and enter into a fairly one-sided conversation. If all goes well we come to know ourselves better and suffer less.
How exactly does this happen?
There are a wide variety of therapeutic styles and real disagreement about which ones work best. Some therapists focus on thoughts, others emotion, others somatic experience. Therapists may work with dreams or they may talk about taking concrete steps towards your next goal. They might tell you that you are the true expert about your own life or teach you about neuroscience. They might consider what your developing relationship with them shows you about yourself.
What are all of these techniques after?
Some combination of healing, growth and change.
Put simply, growth incorporates new experiences and capacities, healing helps us come to terms with our hurts, both current and past. Change involves the sense that what we would like to be different about our lives can be different.
This is where the disagreement comes in. Not all human beings share the same ideas about what will help. Each person relates to change differently. They want different things from life. You might want to explore your dreams to understand how to be more effective in the world. You might want to learn neuroscience in order to have better relationships.
The longer I practice the more I believe that one of the most important factors is making it personal. Therapy works best when you can trust that your therapist does not have overly fixed ideas about growth, healing, and change but is genuinely interested in figuring out what will lead to these things for you specifically. This means attending to the fundamental importance of these ideas while being flexible in their understanding of what will bring them about in each individual therapeutic relationship.