Learning about the various therapies for treating mental illness can be much like traversing a minefield-the obstacles are many and there’s no map to warn of potential pitfalls. Still, knowledge is power and the more you know about psychotherapy, the better position you’ll be in for making informed choices about the appropriate treatments available to you and your loved ones.

Psychotherapy – What is It?

Psychotherapy is a catch-all term for the various types of therapy that involve talking about emotional issues with a trained therapist. Sometimes it’s called psychosocial therapy, talk therapy, or counseling, but most often people call it simply: therapy. During the course of therapy, you may talk about the underlying causes of your behavior, learn to identify and change behavior or thoughts that may have a negative impact on your life, delve into your experiences and relationships, improve your ability to solve problems as well as to cope with the vagaries of daily living, and to learn how to set realistic goals for your life.

Psychotherapy can help to ameliorate painful feelings like anger and hopelessness so you can once again begin to feel a measure of control over your life and find happiness in the act of living your life. Therapy may consist of a few short sessions, last a few months, or sometimes several years. Therapy can take place in a one on one session, with your family, or as a select group. Therapy may be given in conjunction with medication.

Talk Therapy

The history of psychotherapy dates all the way back to the time of the ancient Greek empire. However, in modern times we recognize its formal start with Sigmund Freud, who began using what became known as talk therapy to work with his patients. Techniques such as transference, dream analysis and free association were all birthed in his treatment rooms.


During the early part of the last century, behaviorism rose to the surface as a prominent method of psychotherapy. Conditioning and association techniques became important in treatment and are still very popular today, although they are not as widely used. Behavioral therapy often uses classical conditioning, operant conditioning and social learning to help patients through troublesome behaviors. It uses rewards to reinforce positive behaviors and employs desensitization to change unhealthy behaviors.

Client-Centered Therapy

Humanist psychology arose in the 1950s and humanist psychologist Carl Rogers developed an approach known as client-centered therapy. This therapy centered on the therapist showing unconditional positive regard to the patient, an approach that continues to be one of the most popular methods used in psychotherapy today.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

A decade after Rogers developed client-centered therapy, during the cognitive revolution of the 1960s, psychologists began to look inward, at the internal conditions that influence behavior and functioning. This is when cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) emerged. The focus of this style of therapy is to help clients or patients understand their thoughts and feelings and how they influence their behaviors. A wide range of mental disorders are treated with this popular therapy, including additions, depression and anxiety as well as many phobias.

Dialectic Behavior Therapy

Dialectic Behavior Therapy is a system of therapy developed by Marsha Linehan, a psychology researcher at the University of Washington. It created to treat people with borderline personality disorder (BPD). It combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with concepts of distress tolerance, acceptance, and a form of the Buddhist meditative practice of mindful awareness. This therapy has been effective in treating BPD and is also used to treat symptoms and behaviors associated with mood disorders, sexual abuse and chemical dependency.

Play Therapy

When it comes to treating very young children play therapy is an effective choice. In this method of psychotherapy the therapist uses a child’s fantasies and the symbolic meanings of play in order to understand and communicate with the child. The focus of play therapy is to decrease behaviors and emotional issues that interfere significantly with the normal functions of the child. As the issues are relieved, connection with the parents is increased and verbal expression – which is often the trigger that sends the parents to the therapist – is developed.

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