Psychotherapy is a type of treatment for mental health conditions that is carried out by trained professionals. During psychotherapy, therapists establish a professional relationship with a client who is experiencing a particular problem. A good therapist will be empathic, non-judgemental, and listen openly to your concerns. In addition to providing a safe and supportive environment, therapists use a specific approach or theoretical orientation to guide the therapy. There are several different types of psychotherapy approaches.
Why do people go to psychotherapy?
Clients may seek psychotherapy for a number of different reasons. Many people who present for therapy are suffering from a mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They may have tried to cope with their mental illness on their own, but have found that they need additional help. Other clients may already be receiving some form of help, like seeing a psychiatrist for medication, but feel that they need more support.
Some people may choose to enter psychotherapy to deal with a particular life problem, such as marital conflict, grief, or adjustment to parenthood. They may or may not meet criteria for a mental health disorder. Psychotherapy can be useful for anyone who is having a difficult time coping with their mental health or a life stressor.
What is the goal of psychotherapy?
In general the aim of psychotherapy is to help people live healthier, happier lives. This may involve helping people establish more satisfying relationships, reduce negative emotions, and change unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. Psychotherapy can help you solve your past and current problems and also teach you tools to deal with future challenges. Overall, the goals of therapy are unique to each person and will depend upon your presenting problem, hopes, and expectations.
What is confidentiality?
Licensed mental health professionals are required by law to keep the information that you share with them private. However, there are select cases when they are required to break confidentiality, such as if you are at risk of harming yourself or someone else or in some cases of abuse. When it comes to minors under 18 years old, therapists may also communicate with parents if it is in the best interest of the child. If you need your therapist to share information with another party, you can ask him or her to do so and sign a consent form.
It’s important that you feel comfortable openly speaking with your therapist. If you have any questions about confidentiality and what it entails, don’t hesitate to ask your provider directly. He or she will be able to explain, based on state law and ethics, what information is kept confidential and in what specific cases confidentiality can be broken.
Different Types of Psychotherapy
There are several different ways that a therapist might approach helping you. In fact, there are so many that they cannot all be listed here. Below are some of the most common approaches that a therapist might utilize.
Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapy focus on helping people change by identifying their unconscious thoughts and feelings. They also look at how the relationship between patient and therapist may resemble other relationships in a person’s life. By exploring this relationship, patients can learn about themselves and develop healthier behaviors with others.
This type of therapy is common when working with people with anxiety disorders. Therapists using this type of approach examine what happens before, during, and after a person’s behavior and then use specific interventions to change that behavior. Exposure therapy is one type of behavior therapy where a therapist exposes a person to something anxiety-provoking (such as an escalator in the case of a phobia of heights). When a person is experiencing anxiety, the therapist helps him or her cope using relaxation techniques. Exposure therapy can be done in a number of different ways, such as gradually, all at once (flooding), using imagination (imaginal exposure), or in real life (in vivo).
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT was developed from behavior therapy and focuses on changing dysfunctional thoughts and beliefs. CBT assumes that thoughts lead to emotions which leads to behaviors, and you can change people’s emotions and behaviors by changing their thoughts. This type of therapy is effective for treating a number of different conditions, including anxiety, depression, and addiction.
There are several different approaches to therapy that fall within the category of humanistic, including person-centered, existential, and gestalt. These therapies all share the common goal of self-actualization, which means helping people realize their full potential. Person-centered therapy encourages each person’s unique capacity for change by developing a positive therapeutic relationship. Therapists practice unconditional positive regard (non-judgement), empathy, and congruence (therapists are transparent and viewed as fellow humans, rather than experts). Many other forms of therapy, like CBT, use principles of person-centered therapy. Existential therapy assumes that all humans struggle with death, meaning, isolation, and freedom. This approach promotes self-awareness and growth. Gestalt therapy focuses on the present and encourages people to re-enact experiences in-session, rather than simply talk about them.
How can I find a therapist?
Once you’ve decided that you would like to try therapy, you can begin the process of finding a therapist that may be a good match. You can start by:
- Asking family and friends for recommendations.
- Asking your physician or OBGYN for a referral.
- Consulting national or local professional associations, such as the American Psychological Association, which offers an online Psychologist Locator.
- Conducting an online search for local community mental health centers, treatment facilities, and psychotherapists that specialize in the issues you are experiencing.
Psychotherapy is a process of self-growth and healing that unfolds when you have a safe, positive, and professional relationship with a therapist. Making the decision to go to psychotherapy is a step on the road to recovery. For more information about what therapy entails and how to find a therapist, see the American Psychological Association.
American Psychological Association. (2019). Different approaches to psychotherapy.
American Psychological Association. (2019). Protecting your privacy: Understanding confidentiality.
American Psychological Association. (2019). Understanding psychotherapy and how it works.