Talk therapy refers to a number of different kinds of psychotherapy where focus is principally on clients discussing problems and evolving solutions with a licensed therapist. The earliest forms of such therapy were psychoanalysis, practiced by medical doctors like Freud and Carl Jung. Gradually, other types of talk therapy became popular, including cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodynamic, and humanist therapy. Today, psychiatrists and therapists may employ other methods of therapy that aren’t focused on talking. These include things like art therapy and dance therapy.
Most people, though, think of talk therapy as the traditional “counseling” approach. Patients see a therapist and discuss current or past issues. Just how much the therapist talks back may be indicated by their orientation with different schools of therapeutic thought. They may question, repeat back information, or confront (especially true of Gestalt therapists) if a client seems evasive. The varied forms of talk therapy consist of a therapist employing active listening and other techniques, and helping to move the client toward resolution of emotional issues.
There’s a lot of discussion about why talk therapy would be more effective than just talking to friends or loved ones. After all, we often talk to friends and family all the time, and shouldn’t that be just as helpful? The standard answer to this is that chatting with friends and family can be helpful, but may ultimately not help a person in need of therapy all that much. First, friends and family aren’t typically trained in active listening techniques, and second, their deep and long-term relationships with you mean they have a definite slant when approaching your problems. A parent, for instance, may want justification for doing a good job raising you and won’t want to hear it if you criticize.
In general, people can talk, but most aren’t all that good at listening objectively and without prejudice. Moreover, talk therapy works best when a person can be completely honest about their feelings, which may be very private and/or painful and embarrassing. We tend to want to protect people we love, and so we may never be fully honest with them about all of our feelings. Therapy usually exists without this kind of judgment, and because it exists in a confidential manner, we don’t have to worry about sparing the therapist’s feelings or that talking to the therapist will mean our private secrets get repeated to the world. For most clients, it’s easier to be open with an impartial person, who is trained to listen and help a person move toward their goals.
For treatment of mental illnesses, a combination of medication and talk therapy are usually the most effective course. Unfortunately, a growing trend is to use medication only, which may be adequate for some but totally inadequate to others. Common concerns regarding seeing a therapist include cost, minimal insurance coverage, and issues regarding employment and privacy.
The way a client views therapy also may influence effectiveness. A person “dragged in” or forced to go will usually derive less benefit than a person who wants to be there. Degree of comfort with a therapist may also be directly tied to positive results. Some studies show that the patient/therapist relationship is much more important than therapeutic approach. If this relationship is not good, then talk therapy may not be particularly beneficial. Other holistic alternatives might include getting an emotional support animal. This might be a good first step in the search for the type of emotional support you need is you're not ready for talk therapy quite yet.