Psychotherapy is a general term for treating mental health problems by talking with a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health provider.
During psychotherapy, you learn about your condition and your moods, feelings, thoughts and behaviors. Psychotherapy helps you learn how to take control of your life and respond to challenging situations with healthy coping skills.
There are many types of psychotherapy, each with its own approach. The type of psychotherapy that's right for you depends on your individual situation. Psychotherapy is also known as talk therapy, counseling, psychosocial therapy or, simply, therapy.
Psychotherapy can be helpful in treating most mental health problems, including:
Not everyone who benefits from psychotherapy is diagnosed with a mental illness. Psychotherapy can help with a number of life's stresses and conflicts that can affect anyone. For example, it may help you:
In some cases, psychotherapy can be as effective as medications, such as antidepressants. However, depending on your specific situation, psychotherapy alone may not be enough to ease the symptoms of a mental health condition. You may also need medications or other treatments.
Generally, there's little risk in having psychotherapy. But because it can explore painful feelings and experiences, you may feel emotionally uncomfortable at times. However, any risks are minimized by working with a skilled therapist who can match the type and intensity of therapy with your needs.
The coping skills that you learn can help you manage and conquer negative feelings and fears.
Here's how to get started:
Before seeing a psychotherapist, check his or her background, education, certification, and licensing. Psychotherapist is a general term rather than a job title or indication of education, training or licensure.
Trained psychotherapists can have a number of different job titles, depending on their education and role. Most have a master's or doctoral degree with specific training in psychological counseling. Medical doctors who specialize in mental health (psychiatrists) can prescribe medications as well as provide psychotherapy.
Examples of psychotherapists include psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed professional counselors, licensed social workers, licensed marriage and family therapists, psychiatric nurses, or other licensed professionals with mental health training.
Make sure that the therapist you choose meets state certification and licensing requirements for his or her particular discipline. The key is to find a skilled therapist who can match the type and intensity of therapy with your needs.
At the first psychotherapy session, the therapist typically gathers information about you and your needs. You may be asked to fill out forms about your current and past physical and emotional health. It might take a few sessions for your therapist to fully understand your situation and concerns and to determine the best approach or course of action.
The first session is also an opportunity for you to interview your therapist to see if his or her approach and personality are going to work for you. Make sure you understand:
Don't hesitate to ask questions anytime during your appointment. If you don't feel comfortable with the first psychotherapist you see, try someone else. Having a good fit with your therapist is critical for psychotherapy to be effective.
You'll likely meet in your therapist's office or a clinic once a week or every other week for a session that lasts about 45 to 60 minutes. Psychotherapy, usually in a group session with a focus on safety and stabilization, also can take place in a hospital if you've been admitted for treatment.
There are a number of effective types of psychotherapy. Some work better than others in treating certain disorders and conditions. In many cases, therapists use a combination of techniques. Your therapist will consider your particular situation and preferences to determine which approach may be best for you.
Although many types of therapies exist, some psychotherapy techniques proven to be effective include:
Psychotherapy is offered in different formats, including individual, couple, family or group therapy sessions, and it can be effective for all age groups.
For most types of psychotherapy, your therapist encourages you to talk about your thoughts and feelings and what's troubling you. Don't worry if you find it hard to open up about your feelings. Your therapist can help you gain more confidence and comfort as time goes on.
Because psychotherapy sometimes involves intense emotional discussions, you may find yourself crying, upset or even having an angry outburst during a session. Some people may feel physically exhausted after a session. Your therapist is there to help you cope with such feelings and emotions.
Your therapist may ask you to do "homework" — activities or practices that build on what you learn during your regular therapy sessions. Over time, discussing your concerns can help improve your mood, change the way you think and feel about yourself, and improve your ability to cope with problems.
Except in rare and specific circumstances, conversations with your therapist are confidential. However, a therapist may break confidentiality if there is an immediate threat to safety (yours or someone else's) or when required by state or federal law to report concerns to authorities. Your therapist can answer questions about confidentiality.
The number of psychotherapy sessions you need — as well as how frequently you need to see your therapist — depends on such factors as:
It may take only weeks to help you cope with a short-term situation. Or, treatment may last a year or longer if you have a long-term mental illness or other long-term concerns.
Psychotherapy may not cure your condition or make an unpleasant situation go away. But it can give you the power to cope in a healthy way and to feel better about yourself and your life.
Take steps to get the most out of your therapy and help make it a success.