Psychotherapy is a general term for a range of different types of therapy, such as:
—focuses on how thoughts affect feelings and behavior
Interpersonal therapy—focuses on interaction with others and current relationship problemsPsychodynamic 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
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.
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Psychotherapy can be used for a range of mental health conditions, such as:
post-traumatic stress disorder
Mood disorders (eg,
Eating disorders (eg,
Personality disorders (eg,
borderline personality disorder
antisocial personality disorder
Mental health conditions can negatively affect your relationships and life. The goal of working with a therapist is to reduce your risk of:
Emotional painRelationship conflictsDoing poorly at workDrug useSuicidal 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 oneCoping 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.
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.
When you find a therapist, make sure you research her 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.
Before the appointment:
Make a list of questions you would like to ask the therapist, such as
What therapeutic approach she usesHow long the sessions will be and how many you will needWhat your goals should beThink about what you would like to talk about in 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 elseHave abused a child or an adult (eg, a person with a disability or an elderly person)
Beyond individual therapy, psychotherapy may also be in the form of:
Marriage counselingFamily therapyGroup therapy
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. Short-term therapy may take a month. In some cases, you may need to continue therapy for a year or longer.
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.
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 medical help right away.
Last reviewed March 2013 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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