Overview and Definition

Psychotherapy is a technique used to treat mental, emotional and certain psychiatric disorders. Also known as "talk therapy," this method of treatment helps patients identify their problem, understand their feelings, accept their strong and weak points, and make them feel more positive about themselves and their difficult situations. Psychotherapy primarily consists of using verbal and non-verbal communication to alleviate psychological distress.

Benefits of Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is proven to help treat many different psychological problems. Statistics have shown that over 75% of patients who took advantage of psychotherapy experienced enormous benefits. This method has also provided excellent support for those going through crisis or unwanted life changes. Among known benefits of psychotherapy include the following:

  • It makes patients better understand themselves including their goals and values
  • It teaches patients crucial life skills for improving personal relationships
  • It helps patients come up with a range of solutions to overcome problems at hand
  • It helps patients to better understand their problems and look at them in a different perspective

In addition, common conditions that are known to improve immensely through psychotherapy sessions are as follows:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Anxiety disorder, including phobias
  • Alcoholism
  • Addiction
  • Low self-esteem
  • Emotional crises
  • Family disputes
  • Marital problems
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Personality disorders
  • Problems related to child abuse
  • Behavioral problems
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia

The last two conditions usually require anti-depressants and other medications aside from regular psychotherapy sessions.

When to see a Psychologist

It is normal to feel sad and depressed at certain points in one's life. However, there are serious difficulties that persist for a long time that may lead to a chain of emotions and problems that you may not be able to handle alone. When your problems start to involve abrupt changes of behavior, put strain in your relationships, and disrupt your everyday normal life, you may need to see a psychologist.

Here are certain warning signs that can indicate that you may need to see a psychologist:

  • Your frequent feelings of anger and anxiety are always heightened
  • You feel an overwhelming sense of helplessness at random times
  • You have suffered a traumatic incident (such as the breakup, death of a loved one) that you can't seem to forget despite conscious efforts
  • You resort to drinking alcohol or eating excessively to forget your problem
  • Sudden loss of interest in previously loved activities
  • You have trouble communicating how you feel, leading to strained relationships
  • You have difficulty concentrating on work assignments
  • You worry excessively even over simple things

It is important to remember that issues with mental health, especially when they become chronic, can lead to debilitating results. In fact, long-term depression or anxiety is linked to many physical conditions when left untreated. Thus, if you are suffering from any of the aforementioned symptoms, it is best to see a psychologist for proper psychotherapy treatment.

Types of Psychotherapy

There are several kinds of psychotherapy treatment available. The type your psychologist will use will depend on your needs, the current psychological research in the field and your psychologist's theoretical orientation. Among commonly used psychotherapy treatments include the following:

  • Psychodynamic or psychoanalytic psychotherapy - Largely based on Freudian theories, this type of psychotherapy is revolved around understanding present issues by reliving their possible interrelationships with repressed thoughts and experiences from childhood.
  • Behavioral therapy - With behavioral therapy, you will be encouraged to do socially-reinforcing activities and be led to understand that changing your behavior can eventually change how you feel.
  • Cognitive therapy - Based on the premise that how we think centrally affects what we feel, the thrust of this therapy is on current thinking and behavior and challenging erroneous thoughts.
  • Humanistic therapy - Geared towards self-awareness and achieving a more positive self-image, humanistic therapies involve exploration of thoughts, feelings and actions to encourage self-acceptance.

It is also not uncommon for psychologists to combine different elements from the different types to tailor the treatment (known as Integrative or Holistic Therapy) according to your needs. In addition, psychotherapy can be performed in groups, such as for marital and family counseling.

Undergoing Psychotherapy

Once you have fully decided to seek professional help for your serious problems, here are some of the things you can expect during your psychotherapy sessions. The first few sessions will mostly be centered on building rapport, trust and a therapeutic relationship with your psychologist. This can include assessment tests to determine:

  • The extent of your depression or anxiety
  • Important personality traits and characteristics
  • Unhealthy ways of coping, such as drinking or overeating
  • Possible learning disabilities
  • The main cause/s of your problem

The rest of the psychotherapy will involve exploring your issues through talking. Your psychologist will guide you in determining what really troubles you and the reasons behind it. Afterwards, you will move on to the problem-solving phase. Here, you work hand-in-hand to find alternate thoughts, behaviors and feelings that can give you a more positive outlook. There may also be some behavior role-plays and skills-building activities, with homework in between.

It is important that patients manage their expectation with talk therapy. Some people usually begin to feel and notice significant improvements after six to seven sessions.

Determining success of Psychotherapy

In terms of treatment success, the result of psychotherapy is dependent on three important factors: your psychologist's clinical expertise, the appropriateness of the chosen treatment method, and the patient's personality, values and preferences. Note that for psychotherapy to produce optimum results, there should always be a collaborative relationship between the patient and the psychologist. Through a therapeutic partnership and active participation, psychological treatments become more effective and cost-efficient. At the end of the treatment, there should be a significant improvement in one of the following:

  • Better performance in work or school
  • More positive outlook in daily activities and life in general
  • Improvement in expressing emotions
  • Improved relationship in a marriage, the family or among friends
  • Enforcement of healthy behavior (such as avoidance of unhealthy habits such as alcoholism or binging)

After your psychotherapy sessions, it can be easy to fall back into old habits and patterns of thought. It is imperative that you continue to apply what you learned in your sessions to real-life situations to avoid experiencing the same problems.


  • American Psychological Association: “Understanding Psychotherapy and How It Works” Available: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/understanding-psychotherapy.aspx
  • Nordqvist, C. (2009). "What is psychotherapy? What are the benefits of psychotherapy?" Medical News Today. Available: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/156433.php
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