Dr. Yvette Stupart is a clinical counselor and educator. She gives insights on how to experience emotional health and relational well-being.
What is Psychotherapy?
According to the National Institute of Health, mental health disorders are common in the US, and a quarter of adults are diagnosed with one or more disorders each year.
Psychotherapy involves the treatment of emotional/mental or behavioral problems using psychological techniques. There are several orientations to psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral and psychodynamic approaches, that can help clients work through their problems.
Psychotherapy is a collaborative process between the therapist and client. It provides a supportive environment in which clients can talk openly to an objective and nonjudgmental therapist.
The focus is on the change process to help people cope better with their problems. A primary goal is involving clients in the process to change or improve specific maladaptive behaviors, distorted thinking, inner conflicts, and interpersonal relationships.
People with many types of mental and emotional problems can benefit from psychotherapy. For example, it can help to relieve stress, enhance interpersonal communication, gain insights on life events, improve self-image, and help the client adapt to challenging life situations.
Psychotherapy is a Process...
When is Psychotherapy Necessary?
People all over the world, experience mental illness at some time of their lives. According to the American Psychological Association, people who can benefit from psychotherapy include those with:
- An overwhelming prolonged sense of helplessness and sadness
- Emotional difficulties that affecting daily functioning, for example, difficulty concentrating on important work assignments
- Worry excessively, anxious, and constantly on edge
- Actions harmful to themselves or others, for example, substance abuse, anger, and so on.
- Trouble from emotional difficulties faced by their family or close friends.
Who Needs Psychotherapy?
Mental Disorders Treated by Psychotherapy
Psychotherapy can be used to treat a number of mental health problems. These problems include:
Mood disorders are disturbances in the emotions that cause discomfort, and hinder a person’s ability to function. Depression is a type of mood disorder which may be triggered by specific events such as loss of a loved, and include feelings of hopelessness, and helplessness, intense guilt, and inability to concentrate.
Anxiety is common in the general population, and everyone experiences anxiety. However, anxiety disorders are characterized by fear and apprehension that is seemingly illogical, and often restrictive. Frequently, this is debilitating for people, because of the uncertainty and fear that they cannot function. These disorders include general anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
These are disorders that are characterized by inflexible, longstanding, and maladaptive personality traits. This traits cause significant impairment in functions or distress for the individual. Personality disorders include paranoid personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder.
This group of disorders is characterized fragmented thoughts and deterioration of social and intellectual skills. People with schizophrenia have a disoriented view of reality, and are unable to function as things don’t make any sense to them.
These disorders results from psychoactive substances that affect the central nervous system. Abuse or dependence on these substances could cause significant social, occupational or physical problems.
Some Mental Health Professionals
Different trained professionals treat people with emotional. mental, and behavioral problems using a variety of psychological techniques. These professionals include:
- psychiatrists (also prescribes medication for treatment)
- social workers
- mental health counselors
- Marriage and Family Therapists
Facts on Mental Illness
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) lists the following fact on mental illness:
- Mental illness affects people of different age, race, religion and socioeconomic background.
- Mental illnesses do not result from personal weaknesses and cannot be overcome through "will power"
- Six percent of Americans live with serious mental health problems.
- One in 10 children in the United States suffer from emotional and mental disorders.
- It is estimated that by 2020 major depressive illnesses will be the leading cause of disability in the world.
- It is very important to identify and treat mental illness, and the best treatments are highly effective.
- The stigma attached to mental illness hinders the diagnosis, treatment and recovery of people struggling with mental illness.
Other Benefits of Psychotherapy
Psychotherapy is not only for people who are diagnosed with mental illness. It can also help to deal with issues that could be debilitating in people's lives such as:
- Resolving conflicts in your marriage
- Coping with difficult life changes, such a death of a loved one or job loss
- Managing unhealthy reactions, such as anger problems and aggression
- Recovering from physical and sexual abuse or traumatic events.
Psychotherapy: Getting the Help You Need
|Treatment for Mental Disorders (Examples)||Addressing Life's Stresses and Conflicts (Examples)|
Other relationship problems
Adapting to major life changes
Managing unhealthy behaviors/reactions
Trauma, physical abuse or sexual abuse recovery
“In my early professional years I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?”
— Carl R. Rogers
Some Approaches to Psychotherapy
There are more than 400 systems of psychotherapy. So psychotherapists can choose from a wide variety of approaches to address the problems of their clients. Below six popular approaches are outlined.
This is a system of psychology developed by Sigmund Freud which involves seeing human nature from the vantage point of conflict. Psychotherapists who practice psychodynamic therapy encourage their clients to talk about whatever comes to their minds especially childhood experiences.
Clients are free to express difficult thoughts in therapy and become aware of unconscious repressed thoughts and wishes. The goal is to help clients gain insights into unresolved past experiences.
Carl Rogers formulated the approach to helping individuals and groups in the 1940s. A fundamental concept in person-centered therapy is trust and the approach greatly values the therapeutic relationship.
According to Rogers, humans are self-directed and are moving towards self-actualization. So the therapist shows respect for the clients and allows them to proceed in whatever way that is comfortable for them. The goal of therapy is to help clients become increasingly willing to grow and change.
Gestalt therapy stresses wholeness and completeness and recognizes that people function in their totality. The approach was made popular by Fritz Perls who emphasized helping individuals becoming aware of the many aspects of their personhood.
Therapy focuses on the here and now. The gestalt therapist creates an atmosphere to help clients explore what they need to grow. The approach helps clients resolve the past and become integrated which includes the completion of mentally growing up.
This approach to psychotherapy focuses on the premise that how people think largely determines how the feel and behave. When they change their thinking, their feelings and behavior will also change.
Two of the most widely known cognitive-behavioral approaches are Aaron Beck's cognitive therapy and Albert Ellis's rational emotive behavior therapy. The approach emphasizes the modification of thoughts and behaviors, is goal-oriented and focuses on the here and now problems and difficulties instead of the past.
Reality therapy focuses on the choices people make to change their lives. William Glasser is associated with the approach. He posits that humans have four primary psychological needs - belonging, freedom, power and fun.
In order to achieve their needs, individuals must take charge of their actions and clarify what they want in life. Clients have the responsibility to choose behaviors that fulfil their personal needs.
Family therapy operates from the systems framework. An important principle of the family approach is that symptomatic behavior in one individual results from the context of the relationships in the family. So in order to help that person, for example, a child, there is need to fix the faulty interactions.
There are a number of approaches to family therapy which include:
- Experiential Family Therapy
- Bowen's Family System
- Structural Family Therapy
- Strategic Family Therapy
These family therapy approaches differ in such areas as their underlying premises, goals of treatment, techniques and the role of the therapist.
Choosing a Psychotherapist
Psychotherapists may use a number of approaches and different format such as individual, couple, or group therapy. They also have different types and levels of training. So before starting therapy, it is important to get information about the psychotherapist on areas such as, his or her education, licensing, experience, and specialty.
Depending on the country, persons qualified to practice psychotherapy could include:
- Clinical social worker
- Professional counselors
- Marriage and family therapists
Psychotherapists must adhere to certain ethical guidelines that govern their professions. For example, they must maintain confidentiality and avoid conflict of interest. The therapist builds rapport with the client to facilitate the change process. During this collaborative process, the client gains insight that is used to make life changes.
Psychotherapists can offer help to address emotional distress and enhance personal growth.
Psychotherapy is used to treat emotional problems and mental disorders. It is used to treat a wide range of mental disorders including depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. But psychotherapy can also help people cope with a range of life’s difficulties including marital conflicts, stress, and major changes.
Psychotherapists provide diagnosis, case formulations and therapeutic recommendations to help their clients resolve emotional, mental and behavioral issues.Usually, they are prepared to recognize and address problems such as anxiety, depression conduct disorder, and marital problems.
There are several types of psychotherapy including cognitive therapy, psychodynamic family/marriage therapy. Whatever the approach that is used, psychotherapy is successful when people have a strong desire to change, and it committed to the change process.
References and Further Reading
American Psychological Association (2013). Understanding psychotherapy and how it works. Accessed July 22, 2013.
Corsini, R. J & Wedding D. (1995). Current psychotherapies. Itasca, IL: Peacock Publishers.
Gladding,, S. T. (2000). Counselling: A Comprehensive profession. upper Saddle River. NJ: Prentice Hall.
Lefton, L. A., Brannon, L., Boyes, M. C. & Ogden, N. A. (2008). Psychology. Toronto, ONT: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.
Mayo Clinic (2013). Psychotherapy: How it is done. Accessed July 22, 2013.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (n.d.). Mental Illness; What is Mental Illness. Accessed February 14, 2014,
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2013 Yvette Stupart PhD
Join in the conversation ...
Yvette Stupart PhD (author) from Jamaica on January 22, 2014:
Thanks for your insightful comments stuff4kids. I agree, there might be the need to balance psychotherapy and medication especially when treating certain mental disorders.
Amanda Littlejohn on January 22, 2014:
That was a great introduction to psychotherapy and its applications. My late husband was a mental health nurse and later Cognitive Behavioral Therapist.
When he was a young man he used to think that all mental health issues could be at least managed with 'talk therapies' alone but later in life he became convinced that there was a place for the judicial use of appropriate pharmaceutical therapies in parallel with psychotherapies for many patients. Largely because if they were very depressed or going through a psychotic phase, they couldn't yet engage in the psychotherapeutic relationship.
The drugs could give them the 'lift' or clarity necessary to enable them to undergo the psychotherapy. In any case, he always saw the drugs as an emergency intervention or to tackle immediate symptoms and the psychotherapy as the route to a proper solution to the core issues.
Often it's a case of never really solving those issues but learning to manage them so that the person can live as contented and purposeful life as possible.
Thanks for a great hub. :)
Yvette Stupart PhD (author) from Jamaica on July 26, 2013:
Thanks for your comments MsDora. There are problems that people struggle with that psychotherapy could help them to deal with. It helps them feel understood, as they build therapeutic bonds with therapist, and move forward in the change process.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on July 26, 2013:
I understand the importance and the need for psychotherapy. Thanks for your explanations. Wish it were more affordable and also that more people who have access to it were willing to take advantage of it.