Types of Psychotherapy

Woman in hijab holding a therapy session with a female client


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Psychotherapy or talk therapy is a major form of mental health care. This treatment is made up of a number of interventions that relieve psychological, behavioral, and sometimes even physical conditions that affect mental wellbeing.

In most cases, talk therapy takes place in meetings between a patient and a mental health professional who may be a psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, or another certified expert. These meetings usually employ a number of techniques and approaches in an attempt to improve the patient’s quality of life.

Types of Therapy

To achieve the ultimate goal of improving the psychological, emotional, and social wellbeing of patients, therapists can choose different formats when holding their sessions. These formats include:

Individual therapy

These are one-on-one sessions where the therapist and patient navigate and hash out whatever issues may be affecting the individual.

Group therapy

This form of therapy involves one to more therapists who oversee a session of between two to 15 patients. These groups usually target a specific problem that is commonly shared by the members, although they can also focus on more general emotional issues. Group therapy not only offers support, but also provides the opportunity to learn strategies to manage problems from the group leaders as well as the other members of the group. To help with managing the issue, this form of therapy usually takes the form of a support group for its members.

Marital therapy

Couples therapy helps spouses and significant others resolve conflicts within their relationship in a healthy manner. This form of therapy also helps to improve communication within the relationship, as well as to enhance other areas of the union that may require refinement.

Family therapy

With this therapy, healthy interactions within the family unit are encouraged. This form of therapy may also be helpful for families that have experienced major changes such as the loss of a member, or a sibling, parent, etc who may require additional care due to an illness. Family therapy looks to encourage healthy understanding and communication between members.

Therapy Techniques

With nearly one in five adults in the United States living with a mental illness, specific types of talk therapy may be required to manage and cater to their unique problems. The approach used may depend on the condition being treated, as well as the expertise of the mental health professional. The American Psychological Association classifies these approaches into five broad categories:

Psychodynamic therapy

This approach to therapy looks to help clients understand more about themselves by examining the unconscious meanings of actions they engage in.

Psychodynamic therapy often uses the therapeutic relations as a way to explore and change patient's problematic ways of reasoning, feeling, or behaving.

Behavioral therapy

Behavioral therapy adopts a number of techniques to help with identifying and changing negative or self-destructive behaviors in patients. This form of therapy is problem focused, and focuses on the influence of different types of learning and conditioning on a patient's behaviors.

Cognitive therapy

This form of therapy emphasizes an examination of patient's thought patterns.

Cognitive therapy looks to change negative and dysfunctional ways of thinking to avoid negative and dysfunctional ways of acting. By modifying these thoughts, patients can change how they feel and act in healthier ways. It is often combine with behavioral approaches in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Humanistic therapy

At the core of humanistic therapy is the idea that people have the capacity to reach their full potential through proper nurturing. This form of therapy may focus on a patient's search for a sense of meaning in life, and may be an approach to take when searching for self-actualization.

Integrative therapy

Because therapists are ultimately interested in producing the best results for their clients, they may sometimes merge different approaches to psychotherapy. This is usually to produce a tailor-made technique for tackling whatever difficulty a client may be facing.

Integrative or eclectic therapy takes the required elements of different therapeutic techniques, and combines them into a holistic approach for the client.

What Psychotherapy Can Help With

Combined with medication, or as a solo treatment, psychotherapy is often recommended as an effective way to manage and improve the symptoms of mental health conditions such as:

Psychotherapy may also be effective in helping with personal and emotional growth, and improving coping, self-esteem, and relationships.

Benefits of Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is often praised as an effective treatment method for a number of reasons. Some of these include:

  • Psychotherapy has been found to be just as effective as medication in treating conditions such certain types of depression and anxiety.
  • Beyond mental health conditions, this treatment also helps clients to view the world in less harmful, and more positive ways.
  • Therapy is an effective way of improving interpersonal relations with family, peers, colleagues, and others.
  • This treatment method teaches clients to be more accepting of themselves. It ingrains techniques necessary to show self-compassion.
  • By going to therapy, healthy methods of expressing difficult emotions may be learned.

Effectiveness of Psychotherapy

Whether used for managing mental health conditions, or as a method of improving the quality of life, psychotherapy has been found effective in the following ways:

  • This treatment reduces the symptoms of mental health disorders like anxiety and depression.
  • When therapy is adopted to manage these conditions, it usually produces long-term benefits that linger even after sessions have been discontinued.
  • Therapy as a management option for mental health conditions usually offers better protection against a relapse when compared to medication in certain conditions.
  • Therapy has also been found to be an effective way of managing some symptoms and maladaptive behaviors in vulnerable groups like pregnant women and children. This is an especially important alternative in circumstances that there may be safety concerns around consuming medications.

Things to Consider

Your mental health is an important part of your well-being at any stage of your life. This is why therapy is an advisable option to improve your psychological wellbeing from childhood, all the way to old age. However, there are particular instances where going to therapy becomes especially important for the sake of your welfare. These include:

  • Where you constantly feel helpless or sad
  • Drinking in excess, or engaging in other dangerous behaviors
  • You find it difficult to concentrate on work or everyday activities
  • Dealing with a significant life transition such as a death in the family, a break-up, divorce
  • Experiencing persistent insomnia, or the unusual need to sleep throughout the day
  • Your challenges seem to fester regardless of support from friends and family

For children, it may be wise for them to attend therapy where they exhibit traits that interfere with their school life or interaction with family and their peers.

How to Get Started

If the benefits of therapy might be worthwhile to your present circumstances or any challenges you are facing, there are a few things you need to know about the journey you are about to begin:

Where to Find a Therapist

Selecting a therapist to properly care for your mental health is one of the most important steps you'll take in your process of self-improvement. It can take some research, patience, and persistence to find the right therapist. You can start by talking with your primary care provider. University or medical center departments of psychiatry or psychology may be another response. There are currently many options online, but verifying a clinician's credentials and trusting your intuition on the match is important.

What to Expect on the First Appointment

After identifying likely candidates for your choice of therapist, a preliminary conversation can give an idea of their qualifications, the style of treatment they will likely adopt, and how easily trust and comfort are established with the therapist. Where you find that you struggle with being at ease with a candidate, you can always skip them for someone better suited.

Questions to Ask the Therapist

While speaking with a prospective choice, there are a number of questions you can ask to make sure their methods align with your expectations. They include:

  • What are their credentials?
  • Are there any specific therapeutic techniques they employ?
  • Do they have experience treating the condition or concern you will be presenting to them?
  • What are the goals of your therapy?
  • How long can you expect to be in treatment?
  • What metrics will be adopted to define progress during meetings?
  • How will your dissatisfaction with treatment be handled if you have any?
  • Will medication be recommended?

Other questions may be asked, but these can provide a useful framework for your treatment.

You should also know that beyond physical meetings, there are measures such as telephone, internet, and mobile services to help with treatments for mental health. These are especially useful in areas where mental health professionals are scarce.

Similar lines of questioning may be adopted in these cases. However, you should know that this form of treatment may not be as effective for some people as in-person consultations.

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