What Is Psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is the practice of spending time with a trained professional—usually a psychologist, a social worker, or a licensed counselor—to help diagnose and treat mental and emotional problems, as well as talk through everyday difficulties or seek advice as a couple. Psychotherapy (often just referred to as therapy) can be conducted via a variety of modalities, including cognitive behavioral therapymindfulness-based cognitive therapy, psychodynamic therapy, or a combination of several.

Each modality utilizes different techniques or focuses on different outcomes—cognitive behavioral therapy, for instance, centers around identifying and challenging cognitive distortions and irrational thought patterns, while psychodynamic therapy aims to identify unconscious conflicts or repressed memories that may be contributing to real-world challenges. Some modes of therapy (like dialectical behavioral therapy) were specifically designed to treat certain conditions—in the case of DBT, borderline personality disorder—but can be applied to other disorders or challenges as well.

Regardless of the type of therapy, at the center of each should be a caring relationship between a mental health professional and a patient. Though therapy can be difficult to seek out—especially for low-income patients or those with inadequate insurance—many who have found a supportive therapist report that the experience has been beneficial for their mental health and overall well-being.

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