(Counseling; Emotion-Based Psychotherapy; Individual Therapy; Psychosocial Therapy; Talk Therapy)
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is the use of therapy methods to help people with mental illness or emotional problems. Some methods are:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy to change how a person thinks and feels about problems they are having
- Interpersonal therapy to improve how a person relates to the people in their life
- Psychodynamic therapy to look at past problems, conflicts, and thought patterns
Psychotherapy can help patients cope by decreasing the effects of emotional triggers.
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Reasons for Therapy
Psychotherapy is used for many mental health problems such as:
- Anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, or panic disorder
- Depression or bipolar disorder
- Alcohol use disorder or substance use disorder
- Impulse control disorders such as gambling
- Anorexia or bulimia
- Borderline personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder
- Coping with life changes, such as the loss of a loved one or a traumatic event
Therapy sessions may cause a person to feel upset or uncomfortable. It is hard to talk about difficult feelings and events. People with phobias may slowly be exposed to their fear. This can cause worry.
What to Expect
Prior to Therapy
The therapist may meet with you to talk about:
- The problems that are causing you to seek therapy
- The therapy methods that may work best for you
- How long and how often you may need therapy sessions
Description of Therapy
You will be asked questions about your background, family, mental health, and the problems you are having. It may take many sessions to find the best method to treat you.
You will be asked about your thoughts and feelings. You will talk about how you react when things happen to you. At first, you may not want to talk so much about yourself. Over time, you will see the benefits.
During your session, you may feel emotional. This is normal. After the session, you may feel tired.
What you talk about is private. There are only a few cases where the therapist must share information with the police such as:
- You are going to harm yourself or someone else
- You harmed another person such as a child, an elder adult, or someone with a disability
Psychotherapy can also be for you and:
- A spouse or partner
- Your family
- A group
How Long Will It Take?
You may have 1 session a week for about an hour. The number of sessions depends on the reason you are there. Short-term therapy may take a month. Some people may need to go for a year or longer.
It takes time and hard work before you start to feel better. Results differ for each person. Most people will see good changes after a few sessions.
You will have homework. This is a way for you to work on the skills that you learned during the sessions.
Call Your Therapist
Call your therapist if the thoughts, feelings, or other problems that led you to seek therapy are coming back or getting worse.
If you have thoughts of hurting yourself or others, call your therapist or emergency medical services right away.
American Psychiatric Association
Mental Health America
Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Psychiatric Association
Coffey SF, Banducci AN, Vinci C. Common questions about cognitive behavior therapy for psychiatric disorders. Am Fam Physician. 2015;92(9)807-812.
Individual therapy (psychotherapy). Good Therapy website. Available at: https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/modes/individual-therapy. Accessed November 23, 2020.
Major depressive disorder (MDD). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/major-depressive-disorder-mdd. Accessed November 23, 2020.
Psychotherapy for children and adolescents: Definition. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry website. Available at: https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/What-Is-Psychotherapy-For-Children-And-Adolescents-053.aspx. Accessed November 23, 2020.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD Last Updated: 4/16/2021