What Is Supportive Therapy?

Updated October 3, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Many people who are living with a mental illness or emotional problems may face challenges getting through everyday life stressors. It can be difficult to continue moving forward when your mental health is not in a good place. For this reason, many people need to have the help of reassuring mental health professionals. This can be especially true for patients who do not have a strong external emotional support system in place. Supportive therapy rooted in empathy, also called supportive psychotherapy, can be helpful.

Not everyone has family or friends that they can turn to consistently when they are going through a difficult time. This can make it especially hard to recover from bouts of depression or other types of emotional turmoil. Thankfully, there is a type of therapy that is designed to help people to heal while supporting them. This is supportive therapy.

Learn How To Navigate Life With Mental Illness

If you have not heard of supportive therapy or supportive psychotherapy before, then this is an excellent chance to learn more about what it entails. This therapy method has proven to be essential for helping many people to maintain good mental health, treat and prevent anxiety, and find encouragement to achieve their goals. It involves many different therapy techniques and support methods, but above all it prioritizes creating a safe space where clients can express their emotions and explore their behavior with a therapist in a fluid conversational style. Take a look at what supportive therapy is all about so that you can see if you or someone that you know could make use of this therapy method.

What Does Supportive Therapy Involve?

To put it simply, supportive therapy helps people navigate their problems with  comfort, compassion, and empathy. Many people experience extreme emotional distress at certain times. This can make it difficult for them to get through their everyday lives. A supportive therapist is able to be there for a patient to offer them comfort.

During supportive therapy sessions, a therapist will listen to what a patient has to say and can then offer some important advice on how to deal with the situation. This type of therapy is very sympathetic and is designed to be encouraging. The idea is to provide emotional support for patients who are going through a tough time. Supporting the client’s self-esteem is considered important. In supportive therapy, a patient’s self esteem may improve as they begin feeling more secure and supported. The therapist shows support throughout the patient’s steps towards strengthening self esteem.

Showing compassion for the patient’s belief in therapy, the patient’s history, and the patient’s concerns are also supportive measures. Giving advice is done compassionately. Like a good parent, a supportive therapist will reinforce accomplishments, and limit setting will be gentle and appropriate. 

This type of therapy gives patients the ability to express their reality and what is going on in their lives during a session with a mental health provider. They will have an outlet where they can speak about their grievances and will be able to gain clarity and hopefully come to terms with what is challenging them. A supportive therapist may want just to listen sometimes to gain more insight into your circumstances and feelings about them. The advice that a therapist can offer is also going to be important for helping patients to move through these circumstances too.

The environment for therapy can be important. When supportive therapy takes place in a primary care office of a therapist, it may be a comforting space. Relaxation techniques may be utilized to help clients feel calm. When the patient sees therapy sessions, the therapy space, and the psychotherapy provided as safe and supportive, their thoughts and feelings can benefit.

In therapy, a supportive therapeutic alliance can be an especially important element. The therapeutic alliance is the cooperative working relationship between the client and therapist. Most types of psychotherapy rely on a positive therapeutic alliance. In fact, the American Psychiatric Press points out that a true therapeutic alliance is vital to supportive psychotherapy and all psychotherapy. In supportive therapy, the therapeutic alliance is considered one of the most important elements. When a client feels a good therapeutic alliance with the therapist, they may let go some of their defense mechanisms so that they can work honestly and openly to make progress. Therapists and clients build a trust as people interacting, not as abstract entities.

Supportive Therapy vs. Insight Therapy

Many therapists will make a distinction between supportive therapy or supportive psychotherapy and insight therapy. Supportive therapy is more about active listening to what the patient has to say and supporting them. Generally speaking, in traditional forms of therapy, a therapist may be more inclined to interpretation of what a client says or experiences, or try to correct certain behaviors or to guide a patient toward healthier thoughts or behaviors. Some therapists may focus on identifying unconscious conflicts and challenges. This is not always the case during supportive therapy sessions.

The idea behind supportive therapy is to give patients an outlet where they can express themselves and their frustrations, sorrows, joys, and hopes. The therapist listens and is in tune with the patient’s feelings. Some patients just need to have someone on their side to get through certain life problems to gain awareness and move past their issues. Having a dedicated therapist who is willing to listen and be there is often enough to make a big difference in a patient's life. That is why therapists who are practicing supportive therapy often think carefully before deciding to interject with some advice of their own.

Therapy styles that are about advising the patient can be considered insight therapy. Sometimes psychologists or psychiatrists may insight therapy and supportive therapies in tandem. This is not always the case, though. It is possible that a patient may simply need to receive emotional support to help them get through a particular issue. In this case, the insight may not be a necessary element.

There are many benefits to insight therapy. Therapists and clinical social workers know how to help guide patients down a more desirable, healthy, or sustainable path. The advice that a therapist can give a patient may lead to them managing their negative symptoms better in everyday life. The therapist may take more direct measures to help the client develop adaptive skills, whereas less direct measures may be taken in supportive therapy.

Helping Patients To Manage Symptoms

Supportive therapy is also about helping patients to manage their symptoms. Some patients may go through episodes such as panic attacks, and this can prevent them from being able to live their lives without pain. Some supportive therapists are going to be available to their patients more often than traditional therapists. There may be some cases where a patient will need more support than normal, so they will need to reach out often to get that support. A supportive therapist is a great option for them.

Patients who are going through a tough time and just need help temporarily will not necessarily fit the bill for a supportive therapist. Either way, the supportive therapists are going to do their best to help patients to manage their symptoms. If the patient is experiencing severe anxiety, then they may interject to teach them methods for helping to bring this under control. Likewise, those going through depression can benefit from certain coping mechanisms. It can also be helpful to simply work on making improvements and changes to your life circumstances.

Some therapists may suggest significant life changes in an attempt to help the patient move forward. Examples of big life changes can be alterations to the patient's diet and a recommendation to exercise more frequently. Even activities such as sports can be a great way to improve most clients’ mood, and it can give them something happy to look forward to. A therapist may also guide a patient toward doing things that could open up the possibility for them to bring a new people into their lives, (a few people who are positive can make a big impact on a person’s life.) Activities and behaviors that promote self-esteem are also encouraged.

As a client feels more secure, confident, and supported in their capacity for change, they might benefit from concrete services like behavior rehearsal, graded exposure intervention, role playing, learning problem solving skills, building self-sufficiency, and developing adaptive capacities. These strategies can bring about positive changes in specific behaviors. People may learn to see themselves in a different light and approach their behaviors from a different angle. For instance, they may move from a pessimistic view of seeing “only problems” to an optimistic view of seeing positives and opportunities and feeling resilient and strong.

One of the reasons why people seek out supportive therapy is due to not having enough supportive or consistent people in their lives. For this reason, a patient may be encouraged to make new friends. Supportive therapy groups where a client feels comfortable may also be beneficial. A client may also be encouraged to try out new hobbies and do new things to have fun. Promoting positivity and happiness is a very important part of supportive therapy. It can lead to improvements in the social life of the patient, and this can aid many of the patient's problems.

Do I Need Supportive Therapy?

Determining whether or not you need supportive therapy or other type of psychotherapies is fairly simple. If you are struggling with mental health issues (such as anxiety or depression) that are negatively impacting your life, then you would likely benefit from therapy. Those who do not have others to rely on for emotional support may need to get more support than usual from a therapist, so a supportive therapist may be the right choice for you. Many traditional therapy methods use a few supportive therapy techniques to help patients.

It is not unusual for a therapist to combine traditional therapy methods with supportive treatment techniques when a patient needs them. Therapists are very observant and empathetic. They will conduct an assessment that will allow them to tell many things about a patient and can use their instincts to make the best possible decisions for your betterment. If you feel like you need therapy, or have an interest in supportive therapy, then it may be helpful to research some of the options available to you.

Learn How To Navigate Life With Mental Illness

Whether you need supportive therapy or more traditional types of therapy can be determined after you get started. You can feel good knowing that no matter the type of therapy, therapists strive to provide the support that clients need. They want to help each client reach his, their, or her goals. The important thing is to simply know that you are not alone and that you can make improvements. Life may not be everything that you want it to be right now. That doesn't mean that it cannot get better. Don't be afraid to reach out to a professional therapist today to get the help that you deserve. If you are concerned about mental illnesses, please reach out for help. Compassionate treatment is available and can be very effective.

Consider Contacting An Online Therapist

You can also consider contacting an online therapist. Online therapy is a great option for most people to consider when their looking for effective treatment and professional support. It is somewhat more practical than most traditional therapy methods. The schedule is going to be more flexible, and you will be able to enjoy high-quality therapy sessions.

It is possible to get help for many different types of problems when you seek out online therapy, too. Whether you are dealing with extreme depression or if you have an anxiety disorder, you will benefit from speaking to an online therapist. Studies have shown that online cognitive behavioral therapy is actually more effective for treating anxiety and depression than a doctor’s primary care.

Supportive therapy is available online, so you can receive help without having to leave the comfort of your own home. Help no longer requires a drive to an office or a waiting period before someone can see you. This can be great for those seeking help under a tighter timeframe. You can quickly start receiving support and will always be able to reach out if you are having a tough time with your thoughts and feelings. You can hear from other individuals who have used BetterHelp to get started with a supportive therapist.

“Julie has been my lifeline and support during some extremely difficult times and issues. She is extremely supportive, and has helped me process through the fog.”

“Julie has been my lifeline and support during some extremely difficult times and issues. She is extremely supportive, and has helped me process through the fog.”

“Cynthia is an empathetic listener. She allows for a supportive, back-and-forth communication. Never leaving me to feel like I'm talking to a wall or in a position where I don't know what else to say. She always gives me the guidance and space I need to discuss whatever I need to at the moment. Her advice is rooted in experience. She's always more than willing to point me to additional resources and worksheets that help me along my journey. This is part of why I chose to go back to her when I returned to the platform. Also, she has a great, friendly, disarming personality. Great sense of humor!”

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