Life can be challenging. Even if you’re lucky enough to escape major traumas, you’ll likely face lots of other hurdles.
Job loss, relationship trouble, illness, discrimination, the death of someone you love — these hardships happen to almost everyone. Add self-defeating behaviors and faulty beliefs to the list, and there may be moments when you feel like you could use a little help. That’s where therapy comes in.
Psychotherapy is a way of helping you heal, cope, or grow when you face difficulties. It’s sometimes called talk therapy because it’s based on conversations with a trained psychotherapist, psychiatrist, or counselor.
Here’s a look at the different types of psychotherapy, how it can help, and what to expect if you visit a therapist.
Psychotherapy is based on a working relationship between you and a therapist. In a confidential setting, you and your therapist discuss parts of your life that you’d like to improve.
Depending on your therapist, the type of therapy, and your own needs, you might talk about your:
Several different types of mental health professionals provide psychotherapy, including:
- licensed professional counselors
- social workers
- marriage and family therapists
- developmental or child psychologists
- psychiatrists or psychiatric nurses
The field of psychotherapy is constantly evolving. As research sheds light on effective treatments, new therapies emerge. Here are a few of the best-researched therapy approaches:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This is a type of therapy that helps you identify thought patterns that aren’t helpful. You then learn how to substitute those thoughts and behaviors with healthier ones.
- Interpersonal therapy. This type focuses on resolving conflict in your personal, social, or professional life. It helps you improve your communication skills and form strong personal bonds with others.
- Psychodynamic therapy. This is a form of therapy that helps you understand how past events may be having a negative impact on your mental and physical health today.
- Psychoanalysis. This therapy is based on the theories of Sigmund Freud. It involves an examination of the subconscious motivations and desires that may be influencing your relationships, thoughts, and actions.
Your therapist might use methods or techniques from different approaches to tailor therapy to your needs. In addition, some therapists specialize in certain modalities, such as art, play, or animal therapies.
Psychotherapy can take place in person or online. It can be done privately or in a group setting. Families and couples can also seek counseling together.
Psychotherapy is effective for treating a wide variety of mental health and behavioral issues, including:
- substance use disorders
- eating disorders
- trauma recovery, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- grief or loss
- relationship problems
- low self-esteem
- major life transitions
Psychotherapy works best when you’re open to sharing your thoughts and feelings with a therapist.
People of all ages, including children, can benefit from therapy, as can people of varying backgrounds and abilities. The best candidates for psychotherapy are those who are ready to show up, open up, and do the work required to achieve lasting change.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that psychotherapy takes time. Forming a bond with your therapist won’t happen overnight, and changing the thoughts and behaviors that aren’t working for you is a gradual process.
Some mental health issues may be best treated with medication. If you’re considering psychotherapy, talk to a healthcare professional to see if a blended approach, including medication and talk therapy, will benefit you most.
It’s also effective in changing unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors, including those that lead to substance use disorders.
During your first visit, your therapist will probably talk with you about your background and what brought you to therapy. In later sessions, you’ll typically discuss what you want to accomplish with therapy.
At some point, after you have built some trust, you’ll begin to discuss deeper issues — the ones that are holding you back, interfering with your ability to function, or causing you pain.
Your therapist may suggest some homework for you to complete between sessions. And you may learn strategies to use to improve your mood, communication skills, thought patterns, or behaviors.
Therapy sessions are confidential, so your therapist won’t be able to discuss what you share, except in strictly limited legal situations or to protect your life or someone else’s life.
How long your therapy continues is up to you. For some people, the relationship with a therapist is supportive, and they continue in therapy for months or years. For others, it’s important to target a problem and resolve it as soon as possible. It’s OK to remain flexible about how long therapy will last for you.
If you’re trying group therapy, expect to share speaking and listening space with several other people. Group therapy can be done in-person or online.
Many groups are organized around a common experience, such as surviving domestic violence or substance use. In most cases, you’ll have something in common with the other people in the group.
Group therapy also requires confidentiality, so you won’t be able to discuss what you hear in the session once you leave.
Finding the right therapist is a very important part of the process, and it’s not uncommon for people to try several therapists before deciding on the right one.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you consider your options:
- If your insurer has a network, you may want to start your search in the provider network listing to keep your costs down.
- You may want to ask family members or friends for recommendations.
- Consider using an online therapy service like Talkspace or BetterHelp.
- To locate a culturally responsive therapist, you may want to reach out to one of these organizations:
- If you want help with a specific condition, you might find specialists in a national organization devoted to that condition, such as the National Eating Disorders Association or the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
- In your first few sessions, notice how your therapist responds to you. Do you feel respected and understood? Does your therapist listen to you without interrupting or judging you?
Finding the right therapist is a very personal matter. To get the most out of therapy, you’ll need to feel confident in the therapeutic alliance you’re building.
To find out whether psychotherapy is covered by your health insurance, you’ll need to ask your insurance provider or consult your plan documents.
Some employers provide therapy through an Employee Assistance Program. Your human resources or benefits department may be able to provide you with more information about what’s included.
If you have Medicare Part B, Medicare covers psychotherapy as long as it’s provided by a psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, clinical social worker, nurse specialist, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant who accepts Medicare. You’ll be responsible for coinsurance and copays.
Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage) plans may also cover your psychotherapy. To find out about the specific limits and requirements, you’ll need to talk to your plan advisor.
Medicaid is a healthcare organization operated by the state where you live. All Medicaid programs offer mental health counseling benefits. To find out how to access this care, you can contact your state’s Medicaid office.
Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is a collaboration between you and a licensed, trained therapist in which you address your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that aren’t as healthy as you may want them to be.
Psychotherapy is effective for treating a wide variety of mental health and behavioral issues. Talk therapy can take place in a group, or you may work with a therapist individually.
Once you find the right therapist, be patient with the process. Psychotherapy isn’t a quick fix, but it can be a powerful resource for helping you cope with a mental health issue, improving relationships, or dealing with a difficult situation.