By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
Psychotherapy — also called talk therapy, therapy, or counseling — is a process focused on helping you heal and learn more constructive ways to deal with the problems or issues within your life. It can also be a supportive process when going through a difficult period or under increased stress, such as starting a new career or going through a divorce.
Generally psychotherapy is recommended whenever a person is grappling with a life, relationship or work issue or a specific mental health concern, and these issues are causing the individual a great deal of pain or upset for longer than a few days. There are exceptions to this general rule, but for the most part, there is no harm in going into therapy even if you’re not entirely certain you would benefit from it.
Millions of people visit a psychotherapist every year, and most research shows that people who do so benefit from the interaction. Most therapists will also be honest with you if they believe you won’t benefit or, in their opinion, don’t need psychotherapy.
Modern psychotherapy differs significantly from the Hollywood version. Typically, most people see their therapist once a week for 50 minutes. For medication-only appointments, sessions will be with a psychiatric nurse or psychiatrist and tend to last only 15 to 20 minutes. These medication appointments tend to be scheduled once per month or once every six weeks.
Psychotherapy is usually time-limited and focuses on specific goals you want to accomplish.
Most psychotherapy tends to focus on problem solving and is goal-oriented. That means at the onset of treatment, you and your therapist decide upon which specific changes you would like to make in your life. These goals will often be broken down into smaller attainable objectives and put into a formal treatment plan. Most psychotherapists today work on and focus on helping you to achieve those goals. This is done simply through talking and discussing techniques that the therapist can suggest that may help you better navigate those difficult areas within your life. Often psychotherapy will help teach people about their disorder, too, and suggest additional coping mechanisms that the person may find more effective.
Most psychotherapy today is short-term and lasts less than a year. Most common mental disorders can often be successfully treated in this time frame, often with a combination of psychotherapy and medications.
Psychotherapy is most successful when the individual enters therapy on their own and has a strong desire to change. If you don’t want to change, change will be slow in coming. Change means altering those aspects of your life that aren’t working for you any longer, or are contributing to your problems or ongoing issues. It is also best to keep an open mind while in psychotherapy, and be willing to try out new things that ordinarily you may not do. Psychotherapy is often about challenging one’s existing set of beliefs and often, one’s very self. It is most successful when a person is able and willing to try to do this in a safe and supportive environment.
Common Types of Psychotherapy
- Behavior Therapy
- Cognitive Therapy
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy
- Interpersonal Therapy
- Psychodynamic Therapy
- Family Therapy
- Group Therapy