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(Counseling; Emotion-Based Psychotherapy; Individual Therapy; Psychosocial Therapy; Talk Therapy)


Psychotherapy is a general term for a range of different types of therapy, such as:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy—focuses on how thoughts affect feelings and behavior and altering those thoughts
  • Interpersonal therapy—focuses on improving interaction with others and current relationship problems
  • Psychodynamic therapy—focuses on childhood experiences, internal conflicts, and problematic thoughts or feelings about yourself

The emphasis is on the relationship between patient and therapist. The goal is to reduce symptoms and improve functioning.

Managing Mental Health Concerns

Brain Man Face
Mental health concerns may be caused by a combination of physiological and emotional triggers. Psychotherapy can help patients cope by decreasing the effects of emotional triggers.
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Reasons for Therapy    TOP

Psychotherapy can be used for a range of mental health conditions, such as:

Mental health conditions can negatively affect your relationships and life. The goal of working with a therapist is to reduce your risk of:

  • Emotional pain
  • Relationship conflicts
  • Doing poorly at work
  • Sleep problems
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts—It is important to remember that, if left untreated, mental health conditions like depression can lead to suicide.

Psychotherapy can also be helpful if you are facing difficult challenges, like:

  • Dealing with the loss of a loved one
  • Coping with a serious illness or traumatic event

Psychotherapy can improve your symptoms and help you to function better. By working with your therapist, you will gain insight and coping skills.

Possible Complications    TOP

During therapy sessions, you may feel upset or uncomfortable. This is because you will be facing difficult feelings and events. If you have a phobia, like fear of heights, your therapist may slowly expose you to this fear. This can cause anxiety.

Also, you may not feel comfortable with the first therapist you meet. It is important for your treatment that you have a good connection with your therapist. You can get referrals from many places. Examples include your doctor, friends and family, mental health organizations, and your health insurance company.

What to Expect    TOP

Prior to Therapy

When you find a therapist, make sure to research their background and credentials. Also, check with your insurance company to make sure that your insurance covers therapy. If you do not have insurance, check your state's website to find information about services. Some employers use separate services for mental health care.

Before the appointment:

  • Make a list of questions you would like to ask the therapist, such as
    • What therapeutic approach they use and how successful it might be
    • How long the sessions will be and how many you will need
    • What your goals should be
  • Think about what you would like to talk about in therapy.

Description of Therapy

During the first session, the therapist will ask you a lot of questions to find out about your background, family, relationships, mental health, and current problems. It may take several sessions for the therapist to decide on a treatment plan.

During the session, you will be asked about your thoughts and feelings, as well as how you respond to situations. In the beginning, you might not feel comfortable sharing personal information. Over time, you should begin to see the benefits.

As the therapy progresses, you may get upset and cry or become angry. This is normal, since you will be dealing with strong emotions and difficult events. After the session, you may feel tired from releasing these feelings.

What you discuss in therapy is confidential. There are only a few cases where the therapist must share information with the police, including if you tell the therapist that you:

  • Are going to harm yourself or someone else
  • Have abused a child or an adult (a person with a disability or an elderly person)

Beyond individual therapy, psychotherapy may also be in the form of:

  • Marriage counseling
  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy

How Long Will It Take?    TOP

You may meet with your therapist once a week for about an hour. The number of sessions you have depends on your reason for coming into therapy and how you respond. Short-term therapy may take a month. In some cases, you may need to continue therapy for a year or longer.

Improvement takes time and a lot of hard work. Results will be different for each person, but most will see some improvement after a few sessions.

Post-therapy Care    TOP

Your therapist may give you homework. This is a way for you to work on the skills that you learned during the sessions. Be sure to do the homework for your next appointment.

Call Your Therapist    TOP

If the thoughts, feelings, or other difficulties that led you to seek therapy are returning or worsening, call your therapist. If you have thoughts of hurting yourself or others, call your therapist or call for emergency medical services right away.


American Psychological Association


Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Psychiatric Association


Finding a therapist who can help you heal. Help Guide website. Available at:
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Updated May 2016. Accessed May 13, 2016.
Individual therapy. Good Therapy website. Available at:
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Updated December 17, 2013. Accessed May 13, 2016.
Psychotherapy. Mayo Clinic website. Available at:
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Updated March 17, 2016. Accessed May 13, 2016.
What is psychotherapy for children and adolescents? American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated November 2012. Accessed May 13, 2016.
Last reviewed May 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 5/13/2016

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This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

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