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What is Psychotherapy?

Nicole Madison
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Psychotherapy is the treatment of mental and emotional disturbances and disorders using psychological methods. This type of therapy may last for just a few sessions, or treatment may last for several years, depending on the individual needs of the patient. The therapy may involve just one individual at a time or a group of individuals.

Psychotherapy is used to help people solve problems, achieve goals, and manage their lives by treating a variety of mental health issues. This type of therapy is used to treat conditions like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, phobias, and substance abuse. Depending on the needs of the patient, it may be used alone or in conjunction with other therapies and treatment methods.

Unlike some other therapies, psychotherapy is limited to conversations. It does not include drug therapy or other physiological treatment methods. As such, practitioners do not have to be medically qualified in order to provide this type of treatment. However, a certain level of knowledge of psychological issues is expected.

Each country has different rules and requirements concerning the training, licensure, and certification of psychotherapists. In the United States, requirements vary by state. However, any individual may legally use the title of psychotherapist without being trained or licensed. As such, it is highly recommended that individuals seeking therapy ask questions concerning the training and education of a therapist before commencing treatment.

Under the heading of psychotherapy, there are numerous different types of treatment methods. Each method is formed with great consideration for theories concerning the causes of mental health conditions. Though over 250 methods exist, only a small portion of that number are considered acceptable by mainstream therapists.

An individual seeking psychotherapy will usually meet with his or her chosen therapist for a period of weeks, months, or years. The treatment methods used vary with each therapist. In general, most types of therapy can be classified as cognitive, behavioral, eclectic, or humanistic. In the United States, a great number of psychotherapists take an eclectic approach to treatment, combining different methods and techniques. Often, this approach allows therapists to tailor treatment methods to the needs and personalities of their clients.

Sometimes psychotherapy is used to treat more than one person at a time. In such cases, methods effective in group, family, and couple's therapy may be employed. At times, a therapist may choose to meet with group therapy patients individually, as well as in the group setting.

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Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By anon940938 — On Mar 20, 2014

@Bookworm: Psychiatrists are medical doctors, and prescribing medication is their territory. Their training in actual psychotherapy is considerably less than that of psychologists or lcsw's and so on. Aside from this fact, due to their being medical doctors, they are reimbursed much more for their time than a therapist is, therefore it is much more expensive to spend time with a psychiatrist than it is a doctorate or master's level therapist who actually specializes in therapy.

As for more concrete, not quite. Psychotherapy is a time tested and empirically proven treatment for mental, emotional or behavioral disorders. Their long term effectiveness without the nasty side effects makes it a much better option, but it takes time and effort and does not usually have an immediate reward, such as drugs, so people sometimes tend to favor drugs as a quick fix fast food treatment option.

By GreenWeaver — On Feb 22, 2011

Latte31 - I have heard of exposure therapy as a way to treat phobias. I recently saw a television program that dealt with a women that had arachnophobia which is the fear of spiders.

Every time she came in contact with a spider her heart would race and she would be filled with anxiety. What the psychologist did was slowly introduce the spider to the lady little by little.

At first she was in the same room with the spider and then the spider was placed in a cage in front of her and at the end she was holding the spider in her hands.

The point of the exposure therapy is to point out that our worst fears are worked up in our minds and there is no truth to them.

This is why when the lady was confronted with the spider in her hands and nothing happened to her it will start replacing her previous fear with this new found feeling and will no longer have the phobia.

Of course it does take a long time to get someone to this point, but at least it is a viable option for those that suffer from phobias and anxiety.

By latte31 — On Feb 20, 2011

Moldova- I agree that psychotherapy techniques treat the patient because it helps them understand that difference between what they are thinking in their mind and what they are feeling.

A person with anxiety or OCD needs more than just medication. They need to understand why they feel the way that they do so that they can begin to free themselves of the constant worrying.

think that the most challenging psychotherapy sessions involve adolescent psychotherapy. Teenagers have distorted views of themselves with respect to reality so they really need to seek professional help because the average person may dismiss a depressive episode as a phase and the teen might be contemplating suicide because they don’t have the appropriate coping skills to deal with disappoint that happens in life.

They also do not have the proper perspective because they have not lived long enough. These patients do benefit from medication, but they benefit even more from therapeutic treatments.

By Moldova — On Feb 19, 2011

SauteePan - I agree that drugs are a factor in treatment but it should not be the only factor because eventually you develop a tolerance to the drug and need to receive additional dosages in order to receive the same effect.

The use of cognitive behavioral therapy is very effective because it tries to recreate other behavioral patterns that might help the patient overcome depressive episodes.

Through journaling and role playing a therapist can allow the patient to understand why they are making the choices that they are making and what could be done the next time the same scenario presents itself.

This form of behavioral modification helps the patient see that they have choices and if they make the right choice a positive outcome will result.

This gives the patient an empowered feeling that they are in control and can change their life for the better.

By SauteePan — On Feb 17, 2011

Bookworm - I agree that drug therapy is more concrete than psychotherapy but drugs alone cannot treat many mental and cognitive disorders.

The use of psychotherapy or any other form of therapy allows the patient to seek alternative behavioral patterns that may be healthier.

This is conjunction with drug therapy are the most helpful ways of treating a patient because a comprehensive approach to care is best.

For example, if you have a patient that is bipolar you will want to prescribe drugs like lithium but the patient needs to understand what the triggers are that make the patient more depressed and this is done through various psychotherapy techniques.

By bookworm — On Nov 16, 2008

Apparently psychiatrists spend more time prescribing medication for their patients than they do in talk therapy. In a ratio close to 3 to 1 medication is prescribed over psychotherapy.

Is it possible that insurance companies reimburse psychiatrists for medication more readily, because it is something more concrete than talk therapy?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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