Psychotherapy is sometimes called talk therapy because it’s based on conversations you have with a trained psychotherapist, psychiatrist, therapist, or counselor.
In a confidential setting, you and your therapist discuss parts of your life that you’d like to improve. But, talking is simply an avenue to discuss a large array of experiences, in an effort to be able to learn more from them.
Depending on your therapist, the type of therapy, and your own needs, you might talk about your:
- personal history
- thought patterns
- behaviors and habits
- goals and obstacles
Several different types of mental health professionals provide psychotherapy, including:
- licensed professional counselors
- social workers
- marriage and family therapists
- developmental or child psychologists
- psychiatrists or psychiatric nurses
The field of psychotherapy is constantly evolving, and now can be done either in person or online. There are also a variety of different types to choose from, in order to fit with your specific needs. These can include:
- individual therapy
- couples therapy
- group therapy
- family therapy
If you’re trying group therapy, expect to share speaking and listening space with several other people. Many groups are organized around a common experience, such as surviving domestic violence or substance use.
In most cases, you’ll have something in common with the other people in the group. Group therapy also requires confidentiality, so you won’t be able to discuss what you hear in the session once you leave.
Different psychotherapies can be available to both children and adults, and sessions can range from a few weeks to a few years depending on your personal goals.
Your therapist may use methods or techniques from different approaches to tailor therapy to your needs. In addition, some therapists specialize in certain modalities, such as art, play, or animal therapies. These psychotherapy techniques may include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is to identify and change patterns you have that may be harmful, or simply unhelpful to you. By identifying these patterns or behaviors, you and your therapist will work together in order to create more effective and helpful ones.
This type of psychotherapy can be beneficial for those who struggle with depression, anxiety, or trauma-related disorders. Through CBT, it may be easier for you to recognize current problems that exist for you, as well as give you the tools to deal with them in an appropriate and effective way.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
A type of CBT, this therapy technique is most commonly used for those with suicidal thoughts, borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It’s meant to help you process and regulate your emotions, a method that’s not as emphasized in traditional CBT.
The goal is to tackle these emotions and teach new skills that will help each person take responsibility for unhealthy and negative behavior. It’s often done through individual and group therapy.
Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)
This form of psychotherapy focuses on helping you with underlying personal issues that may be affecting your social, personal, or professional life. In some cases, this can pertain to unresolved grief, sudden changes in your everyday life, or conflicts with loved ones and peers.
The goal of this therapy is to create healthy communication skills and learn how you can relate them to resolving burdens and conflicts. It’s one of the most common therapy methods in treating depression.
This therapy technique attempts to draw on past events, such as from your childhood, to see how they might be influencing negative behaviors or patterns you exhibit today in both physical and mental health.
Through this technique, you’ll work with your therapist to become more self-aware of these patterns and change them.
The goal is to let go of the influence of your past and take more control over your current life.
Based on the theories of Sigmund Freud, this therapy examines your subconscious motivations or desires and how they may be influencing your relationships, actions, or thoughts.
By examining these subconscious ideas, your therapist will help you become more self-aware of them and change them to promote healthy functioning and healing.
This is typically thought of as a more intensive form of psychodynamic therapy, and sessions are usually conducted a few times a week.
This technique aims to help you develop your own resources through encouragement and guidance. It’s helpful in increasing self-esteem, bolstering coping mechanisms, reducing anxiety, and improving social functioning.
Psychotherapy is effective for treating a wide variety of mental health and behavioral issues, including:
- substance use disorders
- eating disorders
- trauma recovery, including PTSD
- grief or loss
- relationship problems
- low self-esteem
- major life transitions (change in personal life or career)
- mental health disorders
Psychotherapy works best when you’re open to sharing your thoughts and feelings with a therapist. It’s key that there’s trust between you and your therapist. However, the most important thing to keep in mind is that psychotherapy takes time.
Forming a bond with your therapist won’t happen overnight, and changing the thoughts and behaviors that aren’t working for you is a gradual process.
Some mental health issues may be best treated with medication. If you’re considering psychotherapy, talk with a healthcare professional to see if a blended approach, including medication and talk therapy, will benefit you most.
When starting psychotherapy, there are a few steps to the process.
During your first visit, your therapist will likely talk with you about your background and what brought you to therapy. This way, you and your therapist will be able to get to know each other a little better and possibly start to build some trust. However, this can be a lengthy process for some people.
Therapy sessions are confidential, so your therapist won’t be able to discuss what you share, except in strictly limited legal situations or to protect your life or someone else’s life.
In later sessions, you’ll typically discuss what you want to accomplish with therapy. From there, once some trust is built, you’ll begin discussing deeper issues — the ones that you’re holding back, holding you back from functioning, or causing you pain.
Your therapist may suggest some homework for you to complete between sessions. And you may learn strategies to use to improve your mood, communication skills, thought patterns, or behaviors.
How long your therapy continues can depend on both your personal needs as well as the specific therapy technique.
In some cases of IPT, it may be shorter-term as long as you and your therapist both believe you’ve been able to understand the underlying issues that have been causing problems.
In cases of psychoanalysis, sessions are typically more intensive and sessions can be conducted three or more times a week for an extended period of time.
For some people, the relationship with a therapist is supportive, and they continue in therapy for months or years. For others, it’s important to target a problem and resolve it as soon as possible. Ultimately, the decision for how long you continue therapy can be a personal decision.
Decades of research have shown that evidence-based psychotherapy can be an effective way to treat a wide variety of concerns, including depression, anxiety, grief, addiction, and trauma recovery.
A 2018 study found that veterans with PTSD benefited greatly in recovery by going through techniques, such as trauma-focused CBT. In some cases, it may be recommended as first-line treatment for PTSD.
It’s also effective in changing unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors, including those that lead to substance use disorders. A 2021 study found that CBT was an impressive treatment option in helping those with internet addiction become aware of their patterns, change them, and better their lifestyle and mental health as a result.
The best way to get the most out of psychotherapy and see good results is to be fully open to the process and be ready to open up. Some things you can do to make therapy as effective as possible is:
- Trust your therapist.
- Be open about your current problems.
- Do any homework that’s assigned to you.
- Be patient through the process.
- Focus on goals you’d like to achieve.