Psychotherapy is a common treatment or method of support that can be used to address various concerns and help people move through their lives in a way that’s beneficial for their emotional, psychological, and social health. Individual, group, couples, and family therapy can be common psychotherapy formats, and popular therapy techniques can include cognitive reframing, roleplaying, behavioral experiments, and mindfulness activities. To discover which type of psychotherapy may be most beneficial for you, you may wish to consult with a licensed therapist, either in person or online.
Definition Of Psychotherapy
When an individual engages the services of a therapist, counselor, or psychologist to talk through and address psychological concerns, this is commonly defined as psychotherapy. It is typically thought of as a psychological treatment based on talking and is often referred to as "talk therapy" or simply "therapy." This form of therapy can be practiced both in person and online.
Psychotherapy is an umbrella term that can encompass a variety of methods and techniques designed to treat and improve mental health. Statistics from 2019 found that 9.5% of adults in the United States had received mental health treatment in the form of therapy over the prior year. Common concerns that one might address in therapy can include:
Coping with loss or change; grief
Substance use disorders*
Relationships or social problems
*Please contact the SAMHSA helpline at 1-(800)-662-4357 if you or someone else in your life is struggling with a substance use disorder or might be.
**If you or someone you know is or might be living with an eating disorder, please contact NEDA at 1-800-931-2237 or visit their website for information and resources.
Therapy can be used on its own or alongside medication. If a person working with their mental health provider wishes to take medication in conjunction with or independent of therapy, they may see a psychiatrist or their general physician for medication management. For some concerns, a combination of medication and therapy can be one of the most effective routes of treatment. Everyone is unique, and it’s important to note that different treatment options may be most effective for different people. Always consult with your doctor before you start, stop, or change a medication regimen.
Depending on the type of help an individual is seeking and what they want to address in sessions, psychotherapy can be conducted in a variety of formats. The therapist, along with the patient, may decide on the format best suited to the patient's needs.
In individual therapy, a patient usually receives one-on-one counseling with their therapist to address the concern(s) that they’re seeing the provider for, whether that’s stress, depression, substance use disorder, or something else.
It can be important to note that therapy and counseling aren't only used to treat mental illnesses; people often get professional help to cope with and move through grief, the end of a relationship, self-esteem issues, or any number of other matters that might occur in a person’s life.
Your therapist will likely get to know you deeply on a one-on-one basis, and what you say in therapy is typically confidential. Therapy can be a safe space to talk about the topics you might not want to discuss with other people. You and your psychotherapist might work and brainstorm together in a collaborative process with a high success rate. A strong client-therapist relationship (i.e., working with a therapist you trust and feel comfortable with) can be one of the biggest predictors of success in therapy.
Group therapy is generally conducted in a group setting. Individuals in the group may draw strength and alternate perspectives from each other's challenges and successes and know they are not alone in what they are experiencing.
Research shows that group therapy can be highly effective for many concerns, exceeding expectations for issues including, but not limited to, various eating disorders, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia (and related disorders), major depressive disorder, substance use disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more.
Couples therapy is mainly designed as a therapy modality for those who are in a relationship and may be experiencing conflict or want to prevent problems from arising in the future. Various types of couples therapy can be highly successful and may lead to better relationship outcomes, such as a higher likelihood of staying together, improved individual mental health, and enhanced coping methods.
Several different approaches can be used in family therapy, many of which are highly successful. This type of therapy can help with family conflict, communication, understanding one another, personal mental health conditions, and more.
Sometimes, a person may see more than one therapist and may attend therapy in more than one format. Therapy could be once a week, twice a week, once every two weeks, or of a different frequency, depending on a person’s needs.
For example, a person could see a therapist weekly for a period of time, then determine at a certain point that every other week would be a better fit. Alternatively, they could go through a patch where they have more to address or need extra support and decide to see their therapist more frequently.
Techniques Used In Psychotherapy
The techniques used in psychotherapy often depend largely on what modality or approach a therapist uses and what you are there to work on. While there can be a wide array of psychotherapy methods, among the most popular are cognitive therapy, interpersonal therapy, behavioral therapy, and psychodynamic therapy.
Some popular psychotherapy techniques used by mental health professionals are:
Cognitive reframing – This is a technique where you might take maladaptive, negative, or otherwise unsupportive thoughts and reframe them. It is frequently used in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
Roleplaying – Using this technique, the patient and therapist may act out future or past real-world scenarios as a way of working through various concerns. Therapeutic roleplaying can be used for phobias, social anxiety, and other mental health issues. The empty chair technique is often considered a widely used roleplay method.
Behavioral experiments – These are usually centered around gathering information to allow the patient to test their beliefs about themselves or things around them, get results, reflect on the outcome, and revisit their initial belief to assess its accuracy.
Mindfulness activities – Mindfulness can be used frequently in dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and other therapeutic modalities. Breathing exercises, body scanning, affirmations, radical acceptance, and meditation are all ways that a person might integrate mindfulness into their life.
Different techniques may work for different people, even when it comes to working through similar concerns. While the above practices are often used among psychotherapists, there are so many activities and techniques that can be used in psychotherapy that it’s nearly impossible to identify them all. A successful treatment or care regime will often come about because of a combination of various techniques and factors, including the client-therapist relationship, a strong external support system of family and friends, the individual's personal goals and motivations, and so on.
How Do You Know When It’s Time To Seek Treatment?
You might be aware that you're going through a rough patch or coping with some difficulties. Some people know when they’re going through a tough time or could benefit from someone to talk to, but many do not seek care. However, not seeking help when you need it can have negative consequences. It can be important to understand that even smaller concerns in your life can snowball over time into something bigger or even unmanageable.
Some signs that psychotherapy could be advantageous to you can include, but aren’t limited to:
Experiencing feelings of helplessness, sadness, or isolation from other people
Stress that is affecting your life, relationships, or mental or physical health
Symptoms of any mental health condition, whether diagnosed or suspected
Difficulty in familial, romantic, or friend relationships
Feeling a lack of interest in others or things you used to enjoy previously
Finding that you are having a hard time getting through your day or finishing tasks that used to come easily
Actions and/or emotions that are negatively impacting your relationship with others
Feelings of overwhelm
While these can be all common reasons to seek therapy, you can go to psychotherapy to talk about nearly anything. If there’s something that could make you more comfortable in a psychotherapy setting, such as a therapist with a specific area of expertise, it is something you may ask about or look for when seeking a provider to work with.
How To Get Started With Psychotherapy
Finding a psychotherapist to work with is often the first step to starting psychotherapy. While insurance can help cover the cost, having health insurance may not always be a requirement to see a therapist. There may be low-income services available near you, including on-campus resources if you are a student. You can find a therapist by:
Making an appointment with your medical doctor and requesting a referral to a mental health therapist.
If you have insurance, calling your insurance company and asking who they cover near you. Some health insurance companies will also have a website that lets you search for therapists or counselors with various search filters, such as proximity to your zip code or specific expertise.
Using an online therapist directory or directly searching the web for a provider in your area.
You could also sign up for an online therapy platform, which may allow you to match with and start seeing a psychotherapist quickly and easily. Many online therapy platforms offer affordable plans for psychotherapy, even without insurance, and use various formats, like individual and couples therapy. At the end of the day, what matters most may be finding the care that works best for you.
Accessible Psychotherapy Via Online Platforms
There are a few unique advantages to online therapy. Online therapy can encompass a variety of formats, such as CTB, DBT, couples therapy, eye-movement desensitization therapy for trauma and PTSD, and more.
Research has found that online therapy can be as effective as in-person therapy for treating a variety of conditions and concerns, including depression, PTSD, anxiety, and more. Part of its effectiveness, according to studies, is owed to removing some of the barriers that can be in place with traditional therapy. If you lack transportation, cannot leave your home, or don’t have health insurance, it can still be possible to get professional and affordable care from your home or wherever you have an internet connection.
Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, can be considered an umbrella term that encompasses a range of therapies and techniques, including individual therapy, CBT, family therapy, support therapy, and more. Whether you are experiencing anxiety, depression, grief, life changes, relationship troubles, trauma, or just about anything else, rest assured that there may be a therapist and therapy technique that can help. Important factors to consider may include your individual preferences in a therapist, the degree of comfortability and trust that you feel with them, their availability, and the types of therapy techniques that they offer. Online therapy may be an option for you if traditional therapy does not meet your needs or preferences.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What Are The Techniques Used In Psychotherapy?
There can be a number of different approaches to psychotherapy, but among the most prominent are typically psychoanalysis, behavior therapy, cognitive therapy, humanistic therapy, and holistic therapy.
What Is The Definition Of Psychotherapy?
The American Psychological Association (APA) definition of psychotherapy is “any psychological service provided by a trained professional that primarily uses forms of communication and interaction to assess, diagnose, and treat dysfunctional emotional reactions, ways of thinking, and behavior patterns.”
What Are The Four Main Types Of Therapy?
As far as therapy formats go, you may encounter individual, family, group, or couples therapy. For general types or approaches, most forms of psychotherapy exist under one of the following categories: psychodynamic therapy, humanistic therapy, cognitive or behavior therapy, and integrative therapy.
What Type Of Therapy Is Best For Anxiety?
In general, cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the most widely used and successful of the forms of psychotherapy for treating anxiety. Research by mental health professionals has shown CBT can be effective in treating those with panic disorders, phobias, social anxiety disorder, depression, as well as generalized anxiety disorder.
Evidence-based variants of cognitive-behavioral therapy, such as group therapy or dialectical behavior therapy, can also be effective at helping to treat certain conditions. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a form of therapy that often operates in the short term to help a person overcome challenging thoughts or situations, though it can be conducted on an extensive basis if beneficial or desired.
What Happens In A Psychotherapy Session?
Psychotherapy should typically feel like a safe environment. When you start therapy, you’ll usually go over your goals with the therapist and talk about why you’re there, what made you decide to start seeing them, and what you hope to change or address. Your therapist may ask questions and offer feedback, support, or suggestions when needed.
For example, if you attend psychotherapy for social anxiety, you might talk about an upcoming social event and work with your therapist to address the thoughts and symptoms that come up for you. During the next session, you might talk about how it went and how you feel about it. In time, you’ll likely discover what works for you and what doesn’t as far as things like coping skills and communication go, and because you’ll develop tools that work, symptoms can become more manageable. You can address any new concerns that might arise, too.
What Does A Psychotherapist Do?
A psychotherapist generally uses talk therapy to treat individuals for emotional issues, life challenges, mental health disorders, and mental health problems. Psychotherapists can be psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, mental health counselors, or social workers. The treatment plan and number of sessions an individual is to attend with a psychotherapist can depend on what the individual is looking to get out of the experience.
What Are Some Examples Of Psychotherapy?
There can be many different types of psychotherapy, including cognitive behavior therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, psychoanalysis, interpersonal psychotherapy, supportive psychotherapy, and acceptance and commitment therapy. The effectiveness of these types of psychotherapy may depend on how open and honest you are with the therapist as well as the type of therapist you are seeing. For example, family therapists will likely be more effective for familial issues than personal issues.
How Long Should Psychotherapy Last?
The length of time a person attends psychotherapy can vary significantly from person to person (or family to family, couple to couple, etc.). The type of psychotherapy a person attends can also matter. For example, CBT with a therapist might take less time when compared to other methods, depending on your symptoms and treatment plan. The therapeutic process is one that usually adapts to your individual needs and wants, and that applies to the length of therapy, too.
Providers will typically check in with you throughout the therapeutic process, allow you to define your progress and reassess your goals, and help you decide in what ways and how you want to move forward from there. Most of the time, any person or people can stop or start psychotherapy at any time. The exception tends to be if you are in mandated treatment for psychotherapy.
What Is The Success Rate Of Psychotherapy?
Studies on long-term effects of talk therapy have shown that it can be highly effective. Success rates found in research can vary based on factors such as the type of therapy, the psychologist's or therapist’s skill level, and the individual being treated.
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