Psychotherapy (A complete guide)

What is psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is also known as talk therapy and it is a method used to help patients manage emotions and mental illnesses.

Psychotherapy can be provided by a number of different types of qualified professionals including psychologists, social workers, professional counselors, family therapists, psychiatric nurses, psychiatrists and others who are specialized in psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy can help support and/or eliminate difficult emotions so an individual can function in healthier ways with improved coping skills.

A trained therapist can support you while you work through many complicated emotions and experiences.

With the help of psychotherapy sessions, many patients have noted happier and improved mental health and lives. 

In psychotherapy, patients may find it helpful to speak openly with someone who can remain objective, unbiased, and withholds any judgement to the situation.

Together, the therapist and patient may work together to uncover the root of the problem and work on modifying behaviors and thought that may be contributing to the situation.

Psychotherapy, alongside Psychoeducation can therefore help support and/or eliminate difficult emotions so an individual can function in healthier ways with improved coping skills.

Psychotherapy sessions:

Both adults and children may benefit from therapy; therapy is not limited to a specific population.

Therapy sessions may be held in a variety of settings, ranging from individual sessions to family, couple, or group settings.

These sessions may range in length from anywhere to 30 minutes to an hour on average. 

An important factor to effective therapy is a trusting rapport between the patient and psychotherapist.

Both the patient and therapist must trust each other in order to delve into and further understand the internal conflicts the patient is confronted with.

In this way, therapy requires both to work together in order to be beneficial with sufficient progress.

The length of time psychotherapy is provided varies among individuals.

Therapy for individuals dealing with more acute subject matter may be more short term, requiring only a few sessions.

Conversely, therapy for individuals with more complicated, deep rooted situations may be more long term, necessitating treatment sessions for months or perhaps, years.

The frequency and duration of each treatment session, however, are agreed upon between the patient and therapist.

Psychotherapy sessions and motives are quite similar to the Adlerian therapy, based on Adlerian Theory, except for the fact that Adlerian therapy takes into account only individual sessions.

In psychotherapy, the patient and therapist routinely discuss the goals of therapy as well as long term aims, for example in resilience training (a part of psychotherapy).

Other items discussed may include the type of therapy that will be used, the frequency of meetings/sessions, the duration of each session, and the number of sessions that may be needed. 

Psychotherapy Confidentiality:

As patients may share private feelings or experiences with the therapist in order to resolve long standing conflicts, confidentiality is essential, and a basic tenant of therapy.

Confidentiality may only be broken in cases in which an individual’s safety is threatened or when otherwise required by law.

However, of note, though patients may divulge private matters, intimate physical relationships with therapists are neither acceptable nor condoned.

During a Psychotherapy Session:

Each session may vary among individuals.

Commonly, the therapist will guide you to open up about what may be bothering you and encourage you to be honest about how you are feeling.

As sessions may involve difficult emotions or thoughts, the therapist will provide support and help you navigate these emotions.

Psychotherapy and the Role of Medication:

Individuals receiving psychotherapy may use medication in conjunction to further their treatment.

Psychotherapy administration is often used in conjunction with medication to treat psychiatric problems.

While some patients may benefit from solely therapy or medication, others may experience the most efficacious benefits from a combination of the two together.

However, lifestyle changes are also important in improving and maintaining mental wellness.

Such changes may include, but are not limited to, nutrition, exercise, and sufficient, good quality sleep.  

Prescription of medications are provided by qualified healthcare professionals, and patients are monitored for any potential side effects and necessary dosing titration.  

Types of Psychotherapy:

There exists multiple types of psychotherapy that trained mental health professionals may utilize.

The type of therapy modality chosen typically depends on the patient’s needs, the circumstances of their current situation, and at times, their preference. 

Therapists may also choose not to use solely one modality, and instead, combine aspects of different types of therapy in order to best accommodate the patient’s current treatment needs and give them resilience training.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT):

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps people recognize detrimental, unproductive behaviors and thoughts and instead, teaches them to modify these thoughts and behaviors with more positive and productive ones.

CBT also helps individuals recognize problems they may encounter and how to proceed to better resolve these situations and progress from it.

CBT can be used for treatment of a variety of disorders, from anxiety, other stress disorders, to eating disorders as well.

For example, CBT can help a person with an eating disorder identify thoughts and patterns that contribute to the behavior.

Through identification, the person may then learn to modify the behavior and prevent it from persisting.

Interpersonal therapy (IPT):

Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is therapy that helps support patients through interpersonal conflicts.

Examples of such conflicts may include problems with coworkers, issues with a significant others, or any other conflicts involving other people.

This type of therapy helps patient develop improved communication skills with others and to better express their emotions to navigate these relationships. 

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT):

Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is a type of CBT commonly used in treatment for those with borderline personality disorder.

This type of therapy teaches individuals to identify unhealthy thoughts and behavior while taking responsibility and changing these thoughts and behaviors.

DBT can be administered in both an individual and group setting.

EMDR is another type of psychotherapy, used to cope with traumatic memories.

Hypnosis is another form of treatment used with patients. Though it isn’t a psychotherapy, it usually aids it.

Family therapy:

In family therapy, the therapist may look into the family background and also utilize aspects of other therapy modalities such as CBT, and IPT.

Identification of family behaviors that contribute to unhealthy behaviors may be important when trying to treat and support a family member.

Family therapy often addresses and teaches the importance of communication within the familial unit.

Members of the family may learn new way in which to better communicate with one another rather than to act defensively during conflict.

Family therapy sessions may occur with the therapist meeting the family as a group, or the therapist meeting with only one or a few members of the family at a time.  

Group therapy:

Group therapy sessions or group counselling typically involve a group of individuals who may experience similar conflicts or problems.

The therapist works with the group to help them identify the problems and work to resolve them.

In the group setting, individuals may experience a stronger sense of support knowing that other individuals are experiencing similar conflicts and working through them. 

Psychodynamic therapy:  

Psychodynamic therapy revolves around the theory that present day actions are influenced and developed from childhood experiences and other unconscious repetitive thoughts.

In psychodynamic therapy, patients work to improve their self awareness, increase insight, and to modify old behaviors and habits. 

Supportive therapy: 

Supportive therapy utilizes methods of guidance and reassurance to support patients.

This type of psychotherapy may help patients build self-confidence, decrease anxiety, and improve how they function in day to day activities. 

Other types of therapy:

Other types of psychotherapy seen in practice include:

  • Animal-assisted therapy – This therapy modality may involve working with different types of animals, from dogs to farm animals, in order to help ease patients and support them when learning to better communicate.  
  • Art therapy– This type of therapy involves the use of art, dance, drama, music, and poetry to help individuals manage and express their emotions.
  • Play therapy –This is often used with children in order to help them identify and communicate their emotions.  
  • Existential Therapy
  • Values Clarification– It is a type of Psychotherapy method, allowing an individual to improve personal relations
  • Transformational choices holistic therapy

Benefits of Psychotherapy:

Psychotherapy may be useful in treating a variety of mental health illness, including but not limited to the following:

·       Anxiety disorders: Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

·       Mood disorders: major depression, bipolar disorder

·       Addiction disorders: alcohol use disorder, substance use disorder, gambling disorder      

·      Eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, body dysmorphia

·       Personality disorders: borderline personality disorder, narcissistic disorder

·       Psychotic disorders: schizophrenia 

However, it is not necessary to have a mental health disorder in order to benefit from psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy may help individuals navigate the stressors they experience in their daily lives and struggles they may encounter.

Some examples of how one may benefit from therapy include:

·       Resolve fights with your partner and others in your life

·       Decrease worry or anxiety

·       Handle with major life changes, such as divorce, loss of a loved one, or change in career

·       Learn to manage immediate emotional responses, such as road rage or passive-aggressive behaviours

·       Come to terms with a long standing health problem

·       Improve your quality of sleep 

Some signs that you may benefit from psychotherapy: 

·       You feel a devastating, longstanding sense of weakness and unhappiness

·       Your feelings do not appear to improve despite support from family and friends

·       You find it difficult to focus on work or other daily tasks

·       You worry often, and often feel on edge.

·       Your actions, such as excessive use of alcohol, are hurting yourself and those  around you

Frequently Asked Questions about Psychotherapy (FAQ’s)

What is the difference between counseling and psychotherapy?

Counseling is more commonly utilized for specific issues and to help individuals with management of acute problems.

In contrast, psychotherapy is more typically utilized for a greater breadth of issues and conducted over a longer length of time than counseling.

What can I expect from psychotherapy?

While therapy sessions may vary among individuals, therapy may at times involve emotional conversations and discussions.

Patients may therefore experience exhaustion from overwhelming emotions such as of anger, sadness, and distress.

What do you say during the first therapy session?

As each individual is different, there is no necessarily, definitive answer.

However, it is important to remain honest and know that the therapist is there to guide you through the session.

Together with your therapist, you can figure out what you would like to aim for in the first session.

Want to learn more about psychotherapy? Check out these resources:

Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy, Enhanced

In this book, the author introduces the audience to current major therapeutic models and theories–from psychoanalytic, Alderian, to cognitive-behavioral, and integrative approaches.

The author then demonstrates the use of these theories through cases and further elaborates on their use in practice.

This book thus helps students develop their own therapy and counseling style. 

Doing Supportive Psychotherapy

In, “Doing Supportive Psychotherapy,” the author educates mental health professionals in a dynamic manner, providing ways of integrating methods into psychotherapy practice.

The author presents case examples based on true cases in order to demonstrate the interactions and relationship between the patient and therapist.

This book provides an easy to understand approach in improving and strengthening the therapeutic alliance.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed

This book is written by New York Times best-selling author, Lori Gottlieb. Gottlieb is a Los Angeles based therapist who seeks therapy from Wendell, an unconventional seeming therapist, after a life crisis.

Through pockets of humor and wisdom, Gottlieb, provides insight both from the perspective of a clinician, as well as that of a patient. 


  1. What is Psychotherapy
  2. Psychotherapy
  3. Psychoanalytic theory.