What is Psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy, sometimes called talk therapy, is a treatment that involves a therapeutic relationship between a therapist and patient. It can be used to treat a broad variety of mental disorders and emotional difficulties.
Psychotherapy is a generic label for a large and growing number of interventions, which share certain and defining characteristics, such as being intended to be therapeutic, being based on psychological principles and their derivative treatment methods, and being delivered by trained professionals.
There are many forms of psychotherapy. Psychotherapy can be done individually, as a couple, with a family, or in a group. Specific psychotherapies include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Therapy (IPT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) , Dynamic Psychotherapy and others.
The goal of psychotherapy is to eliminate or control disabling or troubling symptoms so the patient can function better.
Psychotherapy can help patients change their behaviors or thought patterns, or explore the effect of past relationships and experiences on present behaviors.
Psychotherapy can be tailored to help solve other problems in specific ways.
Studies have found psychotherapy to be effective at improving symptoms in a wide array of mental illnesses, making it both a popular and versatile treatment. It can also be used for families, couples or groups. Best practice for treating many mental health conditions includes a combination of medication and therapy.
Psychotherapy can be short-term (a few sessions), dealing with immediate issues, or long-term (months or years), dealing with longstanding and complex issues. The goals of treatment and arrangements for how often and how long to meet are planned jointly by the patient and therapist.
Psychotherapy and Medication
Psychotherapy is often used in combination with medication to treat mental health conditions.
In some circumstances, medication may be clearly useful, and in others psychotherapy may be the best option.
For many people combined medication and psychotherapy treatment is better than either alone.
Does Psychotherapy Work?
Research shows that most people who receive psychotherapy experience symptom relief and are better able to function in their lives. About 75% of people who enter psychotherapy show some benefit from it. Psychotherapy has been shown to improve emotions and behaviors and to be linked with positive changes in the brain and body. The benefits also include fewer sick days, less disability, fewer medical problems, and increased work satisfaction.
With the use of brain imaging techniques researchers have been able to see changes in the brain after a person has undergone psychotherapy. Numerous studies have identified brain changes in people with mental illness (including depression, panic disorder, PTSD and other conditions) as a result of undergoing psychotherapy. In most cases the brain changes resulting from psychotherapy were similar to changes resulting from medication, but more robust.
To help get the most out of psychotherapy, approach the therapy as a collaborative effort, be open and honest, and follow your agreed upon plan for treatment. Follow through with any assignments between sessions, such as writing in a journal or practicing what you’ve talked about.
Types of Psychotherapy
Therapists use several types of therapy. The choice of therapy type depends on the patient’s particular illness and circumstances and his/her preference. Therapists may combine elements from different approaches to best meet the needs of the person receiving treatment.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
helps people identify and change thinking and behavior patterns that are harmful or ineffective, replacing them with more accurate thoughts and functional behaviors. It can help a person focus on current problems and how to solve them. It often involves practicing new skills in the “real world.”
- Interpersonal therapy (IPT)
is a short-term form of treatment. It helps patients understand underlying interpersonal issues that are troublesome, like unresolved grief, changes in social or work roles, conflicts with significant others, and problems relating to others. It can help people learn healthy ways to express emotions and ways to improve communication and how they relate to others. It is most often used to treat depression.
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
is a specific type of CBT that helps regulate emotions. It is often used to treat people with chronic suicidal thoughts and people with borderline personality disorder, eating disorders and PTSD. It teaches new skills to help people take personal responsibility to change unhealthy or disruptive behavior. It involves both individual and group therapy.
- Creative arts therapy – use of art, drama, music and poetry therapies
- Play therapy – to help children identify and talk about their emotions and feelings
- Psychodynamic therapy
is based on the idea that behavior and mental well-being are influenced by childhood experiences and inappropriate repetitive thoughts or feelings that are unconscious (outside of the person’s awareness). A person works with the therapist to improve self-awareness and to change old patterns so he/she can more fully take charge of his/her life.
is a more intensive form of psychodynamic therapy. Sessions are typically conducted three or more times a week.
- Supportive psychotherapy
uses guidance and encouragement to help patients develop their own resources. It helps build self-esteem, reduce anxiety, strengthen coping mechanisms, and improve social and community functioning. Supportive psychotherapy helps patients deal with issues related to their mental health conditions which in turn affect the rest of their lives.
- Eye Movement Desensitization And Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR)
is used to treat PTSD. A number of studies have shown it can reduce the emotional distress resulting from traumatic memories. EMDR replaces negative emotional reactions to difficult memories with less-charged or positive reactions or beliefs. Performing a series of back and forth, repetitive eye movements for 20-30 seconds can help individuals change these emotional reactions.
Other Psychosocial Treatments
There are other psychosocial treatments that aim to provide support, education and guidance to people with mental health conditions and their families. These include:
Psychoeducation teaches people about their condition and treatment options. It also includes education for family and friends on topics like coping strategies, problem-solving skills and how to recognize the signs of relapse.
Family psycho-education can often help ease tensions at home, which can help the person experiencing the mental illness to recover.
Self-help and support groups can help address feelings of isolation and help people gain insight into their mental health condition.
Members of support groups may share frustrations, successes, referrals for specialists, where to find the best community resources and tips on what works best when trying to recover.
They also form friendships with other members of the group and help each other on the road to recovery.
As with psycho-education, families and friends may also benefit from support groups of their own.
These treatments aim to support families and other carers by fostering calm and constructive family relationships where a member of the family has a psychotic illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
Family intervention sessions typically focus on education about mental illness, solving of problems encountered as a result of the illness, and improving communication and relationships where these are strained or stressful.
Family interventions can reduce relapse rates for people with psychotic illness while also supporting everyone involved.
Psychosocial rehabilitation helps people develop the social, emotional and intellectual skills they need in order to live happily with the smallest amount of professional assistance they can manage. Psychosocial rehabilitation uses two strategies for intervention; learning coping skills to help handle stressful situations and environments, and developing resources that reduce future stressors.