Supportive psychotherapy offers you real-time guidance via empathy and validation rather than delving into your inner psyche.
Are you less interested in deep psychoanalysis and more concerned with discussing an immediate and pressing concern, such as a family conflict? Are you looking for a therapist who will support and validate your concerns?
If so, supportive psychotherapy might be a good choice for you.
Supportive psychotherapy is a type of therapy that primarily focuses on providing emotional support, encouragement, and validation during difficult life circumstances or psychological challenges.
Your therapist will encourage you to talk about your feelings, concerns, and problems in a safe, nonjudgmental environment. They may also offer practical advice or guidance on how to address specific issues.
Supportive psychotherapy is mostly focused on helping you work through present and immediate concerns, including relationship issues, family conflicts, or work-related stress. If you have a history of trauma that feels overwhelming to try to approach head-on ― this therapeutic technique can help you improve your overall mental health before doing so.
Supportive psychotherapy vs. CBT
- Supportive psychotherapy: This therapy aims to build your self-esteem and confidence via active listening, emotional support, and validation.
- CBT: Cognitive behavioral therapy aims to identify and change maladaptive thoughts and behaviors that are contributing to your problems. This may involve techniques such as cognitive restructuring, behavioral activation, and exposure therapy.
In supportive psychotherapy, there is less of a focus on changing maladaptive thoughts and behaviors (as in CBT) or delving into your childhood or underlying psychological issues (as in psychoanalysis or psychodynamic therapy).
Evidence suggests that supportive psychotherapy may be the most widely used psychotherapy — it’s simply less researched.
It’s essentially considered to be at the heart of all doctor–client relationships and all forms of psychotherapies. For instance, you experience a form of supportive psychotherapy when you visit your primary care doctor and discuss your symptoms in a caring environment.
Supportive psychotherapy emerged sometime after the development of psychoanalysis, which was the dominant form of therapy in the late 19th to mid-20th centuries. During this time, clinicians encountered clients who needed therapy, but for various reasons, were unable to undergo psychoanalysis.
These clients were given support and suggestions rather than the more preferred “neutral” therapist stance. And so began a form of supportive psychotherapy.
And while supportive therapy is less researched and discussed, evidence has emerged showing that it’s as effective as psychoanalysis, and in some cases, even more effective than psychoanalysis.
Some evidence suggests that supportive psychotherapy can be helpful for mental health symptoms stemming from serious health issues. For instance,
In general, supportive psychotherapy can be used to treat a wide range of mental health conditions including:
The specific techniques used in supportive psychotherapy may vary depending on the needs of the client, but some common techniques include:
- Active listening: The therapist listens carefully to your concerns and validates your feelings.
- Empathy: The therapist shows empathy and understanding towards your situation, helping you feel supported.
- Encouragement: The therapist provides encouragement and positive feedback, helping you build self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment.
- Psychoeducation: The therapist provides information about mental health issues and coping strategies, helping you develop greater insight and understanding.
- Problem-solving: The therapist helps you identify and address specific problems or challenges.
- Reframing: The therapist helps you view your situation from a different perspective, reframing negative thoughts and emotions in a more positive light.
What to expect in a supportive psychotherapy session
A supportive psychotherapy session typically involves a one-to-one meeting between the client and therapist, although group sessions may also be used. The session may take place in person, over the phone, or via online video conferencing, depending on your needs and preferences.
During the session, the therapist will typically begin by asking you how you’re feeling and what you’d like to discuss. They’ll then listen attentively as you share your concerns, offering emotional support and validation.
The therapist may offer practical advice and coping strategies, such as relaxation techniques or problem-solving strategies, to help you manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Throughout the session, the therapist will strive to create a safe and supportive environment, free from judgment or criticism. They’ll encourage you to express yourself freely and openly, and will offer feedback and guidance as needed.
Finding a good supportive psychotherapist can take some time and effort, but there are several steps you can take to increase your chances of finding one who’s a good fit for you:
- Use online directories: You can use online directories to search for therapists in your area who specialize in supportive psychotherapy.
- Ask for referrals: Ask friends, family members, or healthcare professionals for recommendations.
- Check credentials: Make sure the therapist you’re considering is licensed and has the appropriate credentials.
- Read therapist profiles: Read therapist profiles on directories or on their own website, if they have one. Look for information about their approach to therapy, their area of expertise, and how long they’ve worked with clients.
- Schedule a consultation: Most therapists offer a free consultation or brief phone call to discuss your needs and answer any questions you may have. Use this time to get a sense of their communication style and whether you feel comfortable working with them.
Overall, a good supportive psychotherapist is someone who’s able to build a strong therapeutic relationship with you, providing emotional support, practical tools, and guidance to help you improve your well-being.
Supportive psychotherapy is a type of therapy where you can talk about your problems in a safe, nonjudgmental environment.
This type of therapy typically doesn’t involve psychoanalysis or changing negative thoughts and behaviors. Instead, it’s more focused on addressing your immediate concerns and helping you feel supported.
If you want to find a supportive psychotherapist, consider checking online directories for your area or asking others for a referral.