The Basics of Psychotherapy

Why do people have so many misconceptions about therapy?

Posted Mar 16, 2020

Myth #1: I don’t need therapy. I can work my problems out on my own and with family and friends. 

Myth #2: Therapy is expensive and only a luxury for rich people.

Myth #3: Therapy is for “crazy” people. 

Why are there so many myths about therapy? We believe one major reason is stigma. Stigma not only keeps people from talking about mental and emotional health but also from seeking effective treatments including therapy. Fortunately, more and more people are openly talking about the importance of mental and emotional health, therapy, and treatment for mental health conditions. 

So, what exactly is psychotherapy and why is it helpful?

Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, counseling, or simply therapy, is a form of mental health treatment in which a person speaks with a trained, clinical therapist in a safe, non-judgmental, and confidential setting to explore and understand feelings and behaviors with a goal to gain valuable insights and coping skills.

The sessions are often guided by the therapist, and the session content can include current or past problems, experiences, thoughts, feelings, or relationships. The role of the therapist (and goal of therapy) is to help a person make connections and provide insights to motivate change, growth, and self-awareness. 

Different types of therapy exist; one size does not fit all when it comes to treatment effectiveness. Some people respond better to one type of therapy than another. And some issues and conditions are more effectively treated with specific types of therapy.  A child being treated for anxiety-related trauma might respond to cognitive behavioral therapy or play therapy better than other types of therapy. Likewise, an adult with marital or job-related issues may respond well to interpersonal or psychodynamic psychotherapy and less so to other types of therapies. Here are brief descriptions of some of the more common types of therapies.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) — CBT focuses on developing constructive ways of thinking that will produce healthier behaviors and beliefs. The goal of CBT is to help a person uncover unhealthy patterns of thought and how they may be causing self-destructive behaviors and beliefs.
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) — DBT has a heavy focus on CBT and an emphasis is placed on validation and accepting uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It is often facilitated in a group setting so that people can work on and build effective relationship skills. 
  • Interpersonal Therapy — Interpersonal therapy focuses on the relationships a person has with others, with the goal of learning strategies for improving interpersonal skills to interact more positively with others.  
  • Psychodynamic Psychotherapy — The goal of psychodynamic therapy is to recognize negative (and often unconscious) patterns of behaviors and feelings that are rooted in past experiences and resolve them. 
  • Play Therapy — A psychotherapeutic approach primarily used to help children ages three to twelve explore their lives and freely express repressed thoughts and emotions through play.  The goal is to help children learn to express themselves in healthier ways, become more respectful and empathic, and discover new positive ways to solve problems.

Traditionally, these therapies have been administered in an office setting. But as new technologies emerge, the way that therapy is being delivered is evolving. Many times therapy is now done via video monitoring called telehealth or even by confidential apps that allow for texting between a person and his or her therapist. These technologies increase convenience and accessibility, allowing more people to access therapy when they need it.

Studies show that psychotherapy can be effective at improving symptoms in many different mental conditions including clinical depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder.  But you don’t have to have a major mental illness to benefit from therapy. Therapy can also be helpful to cope with everyday stresses such as divorce, workplace stress, bereavement, or any other difficult situation that life may have thrown your way.

Therapy is a useful tool to help a person live a healthier life and be better equipped to handle life’s stressors. Let’s all be impactful influencers and keep engaged in the conversation about the importance of mental health and receiving effective treatment when necessary.