|   Answering your mental health questions

How Does Psychotherapy Work?

What is psychotherapy? In order to understand how psychotherapy works, it is important to first understand what to expect from this kind of mental health counseling.

Psychotherapy has proven helpful in treating many different kinds of mental illnesses and disorders. It consists, primarily, in talking to and with a trained and certified professional, with the goals of lessening, and of developing coping strategies for, triggers and symptoms.

Many psychotherapy patients meet with their therapist, counselor or mental health psychiatrist on a weekly basis to maintain a consistent progression of treatment and to provide ample opportunity to address issues, concerns or potential setbacks. The length of sessions can vary; half-hour to hour-long sessions are common. Also, the duration of the psychotherapy depends on many factors, including the therapist’s assessment of your individual case and progress, and the therapeutic approach used — treatment could be as minimal as 10 sessions or could extend over a period of many months.

Finding a Therapist Who Is a Good Fit for You

Finding a therapist should be no different from finding a dentist, child caregiver or hairdresser: you need someone who you mesh well with and who inspires your confidence. If you see a mental health counselor a few times and their approach or personality doesn’t put you at ease, try another therapist instead — you aren’t going to be able to effectively open up to someone you’re not comfortable with.

Common Types of Psychotherapy

There are different kinds of psychotherapy, but it is likely that your therapist will seek to treat you using cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. Cognitive behavioral therapy uses a predetermined number of structured sessions to help the patient become aware of their negative, inaccurate or otherwise detrimental thinking in order to break it down and to actively, consciously build more positive and effective thought processes. These new ways of thinking then serve as a coping mechanism when the patient is faced with stressors. CBT can lead to the improvement of a variety of different conditions, including depression, anxiety, phobias and schizophrenia.

The following are examples of other types of psychotherapy, although some of them can more precisely be identified as specific sub-types of CBT:

  • Mindfulness therapy. Mindfulness strategies encourage the patient to focus on the present moment and accept it, without seeking to change it and without becoming overwhelmed with either worries about the future or regrets about the past. This kind of therapy can be especially useful in treating depression and anxiety disorders.
  • Problem-solving therapy. A short-term, intensive form of psychotherapy, problem-solving therapy requires the patient to be highly focused on the problems that are troubling them at that moment, and on finding solutions to those particular problems.
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). Contrary to what its acronym suggests, acceptance and commitment therapy asks the patient to acknowledge and accept negative or irrational thoughts and feelings, but then not act onthem. Rather, decisions and actions are based on the patient’s personal value system.
  • Exposure therapy. This therapeutic approach can be highly effective in treating anxiety disorders such as phobias. The patient builds coping skills by confronting the actual or perceived source of their distress.
  • Interpersonal therapy. Interpersonal therapy examines how the patient’s social interactions and personal relationships, or how their perceptions of these things, might be contributing to their symptoms and then seeks to find ways to improve their relational issues.

Family and Other Group Psychotherapy

As a general rule, psychotherapy sessions are private, one-on-one conversations between therapist and patient, but in some cases of mental-illness treatment, it can be beneficial for the patient’s family members to participate in sessions as well; for example, family-focused therapy has had positive results in the treatment of teenagers battling eating disorders.

Similarly, some patients respond well to group psychotherapy in which they can share their feelings with, and learn about the experiences of, others with the same condition.

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