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What Is Psychotherapy?

Learn more about what psychotherapy is, how it works, and if it is the appropriate treatment option for you.

What Is Psychotherapy?

Millions of Americans either have a mental disorder or know someone who does. Understanding how common mental health concerns are helps destroy the stigmas around mental health and makes it easier for those in need to seek help.

Approximately half of U.S. adults are struggling with mental health disorders, and suicide has become the second leading cause of death in people aged 10 to 34, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI).[1]

Psychotherapy Definition

Psychotherapy is a general term for many types of mental health treatment. Sometimes, the term is used incorrectly. The American Psychiatric Association defines psychotherapy as communication between a patient and a therapist that helps people:[2]

  • Find relief from emotional stress
  • Find solutions to their life challenges
  • Modify negative ways of thinking and acting that prevent them from achieving personal goals

Dr. Sigmund Freud is credited as the “father” of modern psychotherapy. However, many other important figures, such as Carl Jung, Melanie Klein, and Aaron T. Beck, have expanded the original theories of psychological therapy, offering new therapeutic modalities to help a greater number of people.

How Long Does Psychotherapy Take?

Many people want to know how long mental health therapy takes before they begin seeing a therapist. Some psychotherapy techniques are intended to work faster than others, but how long a person remains in treatment depends on many factors. The individual’s mental health concerns and wellness goals are the main determinants.

What is the Goal of Psychotherapy?

Ultimately, the goal of psychotherapy is to help people meet their goals. That may include:

  • Managing stress
  • Developing better social skills
  • Coping with difficult circumstances, such as grief, divorce, and other types of loss
  • Adjusting to chronic illness or injury
  • Managing serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia or depressive disorders
  • Improving wellness and encouraging personal growth

Mental health treatment is a collaborative experience. The person works with the therapist to develop a treatment plan that best fits their needs. 

Psychotherapy vs. Counseling

A psychotherapist and a counselor are both trained mental health professionals, but psychological therapy and counseling are different approaches to mental health care. They vary in that:

  • Counseling is typically a short-term process. People might seek counseling for help with specific concerns, such as grief, or to work on relationship issues. Counseling can take several weeks or up to many months.
  • People can be in psychotherapy for many months to years, exploring the ways past issues are contributing to present-day challenges. Psychotherapy might also be used to help treat ongoing mental health concerns, such as chronic depression. 

What Is Psychotherapy Used for?

Psychotherapy is used to help treat and educate people about a number of mental health conditions. Your psychotherapist will teach you how to care for yourself and maintain your mental health as you cope with your condition. Some of the concerns people seek mental health treatment for include:

  • Addiction or substance use disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Phobias
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Life stresses and conflicts
  • Schizophrenia
  • Conflict resolution
  • Coping with major life changes or chronic illness

Psychotherapy may be used along with medications, such as antidepressants, and may be part of a larger treatment plan for mental illness. 

Different Formats of Psychotherapy

There are different formats of psychological therapy to fit specific situations. Formats include:

  • Individual, one-on-one therapy
  • Group therapy may involve up to 15 people who are dealing with similar challenges
  • Marital/couples’ therapy helps committed partners resolve conflicts
  • Family therapy helps the family unit address challenges

The benefits of psychotherapy, whether in a group, as a family or couple, or as an individual, are the same. Therapy can improve interpersonal relationships, help people become more accepting of themselves and others, and learn new coping skills. Studies show that psychotherapy for depression and anxiety is as effective as medication.[3]

Common Types of Psychotherapy

Not every person responds to a specific treatment the same way, so it may take some collaboration between you and your therapist to find the modalities that are most effective. Some of the most common types of psychotherapy approaches are detailed below.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive psychotherapy helps people recognize and change negative thinking and behavioral patterns.

Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT)

IPT is considered to be a short-term therapy technique that helps people overcome grief, conflict, and unwanted/unexpected changes.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy that helps people learn how to regulate their emotions.

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

This approach to therapy assumes that mental wellness is influenced heavily by childhood experiences, and improving self-awareness about these influences leads to empowerment.


Psychoanalytic psychotherapy is a form of psychodynamic therapy and is the most protracted kind of psychotherapy. It may include several sessions per week.

Supportive Psychotherapy

This approach encourages patients to develop their own skills with the goal of reducing anxiety, improving coping mechanisms, and building self-esteem.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

ACT is an action-driven approach to mental health therapy that focuses on improving the present with actionable steps and accepting past circumstances without dwelling on them.

Anxiety Disorder Psychotherapy

Therapy for anxiety may include several techniques, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, DBT, ACT, or exposure therapy.

Your therapist may choose to combine different mental health therapy techniques if therapy does not seem to be getting the results you both hoped for. Other types of interactive therapy, such as animal-assisted therapy, might also be incorporated.  

Psychotherapy for Mental Health and Addiction Treatment

Psychological therapy is a cornerstone of addiction treatment. A wide range of therapies may be used to help an individual recover from addiction. Factors that might influence the types of psychotherapy a therapist recommends include:

  • Co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Past trauma
  • Family dynamics
  • Motivation and goals of the patient
  • Addiction and treatment history 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the majority of people who complete addiction treatment stop using drugs.[4]

What to Expect from Psychotherapy

During your first mental therapy session, you can expect your therapist to gather information about your goals and challenges. They will discuss their approach to therapy and their process. Patients are encouraged to ask questions and make sure they are comfortable before proceeding.

To make the most out of your mental health treatments, strive to be open and honest about your issues and accountability. Keep your expectations realistic, and remember that psychotherapy is a collaborative experience. No therapist can “fix” another person. Each individual must be willing to do the work and apply what they are learning in daily life.

Begin Therapy at Genesis Recovery

If you have questions about psychotherapy or would like a consultation, contact a psychotherapist at Genesis Recovery. We will equip you with the necessary resources to establish and maintain wellness.


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