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We all go through periods of emotional distress. For some people, the problems are short term, and no treatment is needed.

But for others, participating in talk therapy can make a significant difference in how they feel and possibly change their outlook on life.

Whether you’re dealing with the loss of a loved one, coping with a medical illness, or feeling anxious, stressed, or depressed, it might be time to consider talk therapy.

Talk therapy, which is also known as psychotherapy, is what mental health professionals use to communicate with their patients. The purpose of talk therapy is to help people identify issues that cause emotional distress.

For some people, these issues are complex and may result in a diagnosis such as depression or anxiety.

But for others, talk therapy may simply serve as a safe place to discuss feelings and emotions triggered by daily stressors, a medical illness, relationship issues, grief and loss, or the impact of a specific trauma.

Once the issues are identified, a therapist will help you understand how these stressors are affecting your life and work to develop strategies and solutions to help decrease the severity of the symptoms.

In general, a talk therapy session lasts about an hour, often 50 minutes. How often you go to therapy and how long you continue it depends on the severity of symptoms and the treatment plan your therapist develops.

Initially, you may expect to attend therapy once a week. While this may seem like a major commitment, attending weekly sessions gives you the chance to develop a relationship with your therapist and adjust to the process.

The frequency of sessions may change to bi-monthly as you develop coping strategies and begin showing signs of improvement.

Choosing the right therapist is just part of the equation. You’ll also want to read up on the different approaches to talk therapy. The good news? There are a lot of options, which means you’ll likely find one that works for you.

There are five broad categories of psychotherapy, according to the American Psychological Association. These approaches include:

  • Behavioral therapy. The goal of behavioral therapy is to reduce or eliminate self-destructive or unhealthy behaviors by addressing them and also reinforcing desirable behaviors.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. Therapists who use cognitive therapy focus more on what you think rather than what you do.
  • Humanistic therapy. Within humanistic therapy are three subtypes: client-centered therapy, Gestalt therapy, and existential therapy.
  • Psychodynamic therapy. This approach takes a dive into the unconscious meanings and motivations of your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. In psychodynamic therapy, a trusting relationship between the therapist and the client is ideally developed. Some people will refer to this as “talk therapy.”
  • Holistic or integrative therapy. Rather than focusing on one style, therapists who use an integrative style of therapy blend elements from different theories to create a style that meets their client’s needs.

Mental health professionals use certain styles of talk therapy when treating specific conditions like anxiety or depression, which are the most common mental health conditions.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, a combination of cognitive and behavioral therapy techniques, is the most frequently used approach for treating anxiety disorders.

CBT emphasizes the important role of thinking in how we feel and what we do. CBT is often used to treat depression as well.

Psychodynamic therapy and interpersonal therapy are also commonly used to treat anxiety and depression.

Tips for finding a therapist

If you’re ready to make an appointment with a therapist, but you’re not sure where to start, here are some tips and resources to help you locate a mental health expert in your community or online.

  • Ask your doctor for a recommendation.
  • Consult a local mental health facility.
  • Ask family and friends for recommendations.

Online locators allow you to search for a therapist based on your location.

Online talk therapy sites (teletherapy) allow you to receive therapy in the comfort of your home.

The short answer is yes… talk therapy works.

However, the success or effectiveness of psychotherapy relies on your willingness to be open to the process and honest about what you’re feeling. It also depends on the dynamic of the patient-therapist relationship.

Mental health experts support the use of psychotherapy in treating various conditions, but research also supports its use.

A 2015 review found that CBT is by far the most consistently supported psychotherapeutic option in the treatment of anxiety disorders, which explains why it is also the most recommended.

A 2018 population-based cohort study found that early treatments with talk therapy can reduce long-term risks for serious mental health conditions in people dealing with bereavement issues.

With the increasing popularity of online therapy, or teletherapy, many people wonder if this type of talk therapy is effective.

Results from a 2014 study found that online treatment was just as effective as face-to-face treatment for depression. Another 2014 study reports that online CBT was both cost effective and led to a reduction in anxiety symptoms.

Questions to ask a potential therapist

Most therapists have comprehensive websites that detail their qualifications and experience, but you’ll get a better feel for their personality and style if you talk to them in person.

Some mental health professionals offer a free “get to know you” session that allows potential clients to ask questions, but if this is not an option, request a phone consultation.

Here are five questions to consider:

  • What is your professional training and education? This should include degrees, certifications, and professional affiliations.
  • What is your experience? Ask about years working in the profession, settings, age of clients, and conditions treated.
  • What is your approach to psychotherapy? How does this influence treatment?
  • What do you expect from me?
  • How often do you schedule appointments?
  • How much does treatment cost?

We all experience emotional distress at some point. The good news is talk therapy is a proven method of treatment to help reduce symptoms and learn new ways of coping. Plus, it’s open to anyone, regardless of the problem.

Take some time to research different providers in your area or consider teletherapy. And remember to ask questions before you settle on a therapist. This is a relationship that requires patience, communication, and trust.