A therapy or medical treatment (often abbreviated tx, Tx, or Tx) is the attempted remediation of a health problem, usually following a medical diagnosis.
Therapy can be an effective treatment for a host of mental and emotional problems. Simply talking about your thoughts and feelings with a supportive person can often make you feel better. It can be very healing, in and of itself, to voice your worries or talk about something that’s weighing on your mind. And it feels good to be listened to—to know that someone else cares about you and wants to help.
While it can be very helpful to talk about your problems to close friends and family members, sometimes you need help that the people around you aren’t able to provide. When you need extra support, an outside perspective, or some expert guidance, talking to a therapist or counselor can help. While the support of friends and family is important, therapy is different. Therapists are professionally-trained listeners who can help you get to the root of your problems, overcome emotional challenges, and make positive changes in your life.
Therapy is a form of treatment that aims to help resolve mental or emotional issues. There are many types of therapy available.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, involves a person speaking with a trained therapist who can help them understand certain feelings and behaviors.
Therapy can help people deal with these issues by teaching coping skills or by working to eliminate them.
1. Cognitive-behavioral therapy
A therapist uses cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to explore the relationship between a person’s behavior and thoughts, feelings, or both.
A CBT therapist will work with an individual to uncover unhealthful thought patterns. The therapist will discuss with the person how these patterns might or do cause self-destructive behaviors and beliefs.
Together, the therapist and their client can work on developing constructive ways of thinking. These changes can offer a healthier, more positive outlook and help a person change their behaviors and beliefs.
The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) indicate that CBT is an effective treatment for a variety of disorders, including:
- Anxiety disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Eating disorders
- Trauma-related disorders
2. Dialectical behavior therapy
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is similar to CBT. However, DBT focuses more on regulating emotions, being mindful, and accepting uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.
A therapist uses DBT to help a person find a balance between change and acceptance. Using DBT, a therapist can teach a person new skills, such as new ways to cope with a situation and mindfulness practices.
Psychotherapists first developed DBT to treat people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) who were experiencing thoughts of suicide.
3. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) is a technique that therapists primarily use to treat people with PTSD.
EMDR involves a person recalling a traumatic event while performing specific eye movements.
EMDR aims to replace adverse reactions to painful memories with less charged or positive responses.
The benefits of EMDR remain controversial, and a 2016 review of studies was unable to identify what part of the treatment is beneficial. One conclusion was that the benefits derive from a person’s exposure to the trauma rather than the eye movement.
4. Exposure therapy
Exposure therapy is a form of CBT. An article in Behavior Research and Therapy notes that therapists have successfully used exposure therapy to treat people with fear and anxiety disorders.
Therapists may use exposure therapy to help treat:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
A person undergoing exposure therapy will work with their therapist to figure out what triggers their anxiety. The person will learn methods to avoid ritualistic behaviors or anxiety after exposure to these triggers.
The therapist will then expose the person to their triggers in a controlled environment to put these methods into practice.
5. Interpersonal therapy
Interpersonal therapy aims to help a person work on their relationships with others. According to NAMITrusted Source, therapists often use interpersonal therapy to treat depression.
During interpersonal therapy, the therapist evaluates a person’s social interactions and helps them to notice negative patterns. The therapist can then help the person learn ways to understand and interact positively with others.
6. Mentalization-based therapy
According to Psychology and Psychotherapy, mentalization-based therapy (MBT) is an effective treatment to treat BPD.
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MBT involves a technique called mentalizing. This therapy helps people with BPD to notice and understand their thoughts and feelings and those of others.
Its primary aim is to give a person with BPD a sense of self and help them connect to other people.
7. Psychodynamic therapy
Psychodynamic therapy aims to help a person combat negative patterns of behavior that derive from past experiences.
This form of therapy involves a person speaking freely in response to a therapist’s questions, which allows a therapist to identify patterns of behavior and thought.
Once a person understands how experiences have created unhelpful behaviors and feelings, they can learn to overcome them.
One 2018 article indicates that psychodynamic therapy is successful in treating depressive disorders, BPD, and anxiety. However, therapists employ this technique to treat a wide range of mental health issues and personality disorders
Psychoanalysis is a more intense type of psychodynamic therapy. According to the American Psychiatric Association, therapy sessions generally take place three or more times a week.
8. Animal-assisted therapy
Animal-assisted therapy involves a person spending time with a trained therapy pet. A therapy pet can help reduce a person’s anxiety, as well as help those with PTSD.
Some hospitals, nursing homes, and other medical facilities use therapy pets to provide support or comfort.
NAMI indicate that therapy dogs are particularly helpful to patients with cancer, heart disease, or mental health disorders.
An article in Frontiers in Psychology researchers recommend using animal-assisted therapy, alongside music therapy, an enriched environment, and other supportive therapies, to minimize stress and trauma for hospitalized people who may require compulsory admission or seclusion.
9. Emotion-focused therapy
Emotion-focused therapy (EFT) focuses on building awareness of emotions and regulating and resolving them. EFT encourages people to work on their emotions rather than suppressing them.
According to a 2018 article, EFT can treat:
- Social anxiety
- Interpersonal problems
- Eating disorders
- Relationship issues
10. Family therapy
Family therapy involves working with a family unit to help an individual within the family resolve specific issues. Family therapists help a family understand and work through patterns of negative behavior that may cause underlying problems.
An article in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health states that family therapy can help families with adolescents experiencing mental health issues.
This type of therapy can also help people with:
- Substance misuse disorders
- Eating disorders
- Behavioral problems
- Medical issues
11. Group therapy
Group therapy allows people experiencing similar issues to join together as a group to resolve them. In group therapy, a therapist leads the discussion, and individuals can comment or contribute personal thoughts and experiences.
Group therapy helps a person see that they are not alone, and it offers people an opportunity to support each other.
However, a disadvantage of group therapy is that a person does not get the same amount of one-on-one attention as they would in a one-to-one therapy situation.
Group therapy is also less confidential, meaning some people may be reluctant to share their experiences.
According to the American Group Psychotherapy Association, group therapy can benefit people with:
- Interpersonal relationship issues
- Behavioral, learning, or family issues in children and adolescents
- Medical issues
- Aging issues
- Difficulty recovering from a loss
- Lifestyle issues
- Personality disorders
12. Mindfulness-based therapy
Mindfulness is the practice of becoming present in the moment. Mindfulness aims to encourage a person to observe and accept things as they are and without judgment.
A 2015 study found that mindfulness-based therapy helped relieve anxiety and depressions in people who had cancer. However, the researchers indicate that the benefits of the therapy may not be long-lasting. Another study found that mindfulness-based interventions were beneficial to people with:
- Meditation can be a big part of practicing mindfulness.
13. Creative arts therapy
Creative art therapy aims to engage the mind through various methods of creativity. Creative art therapy allows people to express how they are feeling through different mediums, such as art, dance, music, or poetry.
According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapists use these sessions to:
- Improve cognitive and motor function
- Improve self-esteem and self-awareness
- Encourage emotional strength
- Build social skills
- Resolve conflicts and distress
14. Play therapy
Specialists use play therapy to help children talk about their thoughts and feelings. Play therapists provide a child with a space where they feel safe and cared for.
Children in play therapy may show their feelings or experiences through how they play. This type of therapy allows a child to deal with behavioral problems, stress, or trauma in a safe environment.
A 2019 case study showed how play therapy could have a therapeutic effect on children.
Benefits of Psychotherapy
Psychotherapy helps people with a mental disorder to:
- Understand the behaviors, emotions, and ideas that contribute to their illness and learn how to modify them
- Understand and identify the life problems or events — like a major illness, a death in the family, a loss of a job, or a divorce — that contribute to their illness and help them understand which aspects of those problems they may be able to solve or improve
- Regain a sense of control and pleasure in life
- Learn healthy coping techniques and problem-solving skills
Types of Therapy
Therapy can be given in a variety of formats, including:
Individual: This therapy involves only the patient and the therapist.
Group: Two or more patients may participate in therapy at the same time. Patients are able to share experiences and learn that others feel the same way and have had the same experiences.
Marital/couples: This type of therapy helps spouses and partners understand why their loved one has a mental disorder, what changes in communication and behaviors can help, and what they can do to cope. This type of therapy can also be used to help a couple that is struggling with aspects of their relationship.
Family: Because family is a key part of the team that helps people with mental illness get better, it is sometimes helpful for family members to understand what their loved one is going through, how they themselves can cope, and what they can do to help
Approaches to Therapy
Psychotherapy can treat a wide range of of mental disorders, including:
- Bipolar disorder
- Anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Personality disorders
Psychotherapy can help you:
- Understand the behaviors, emotions, and ideas that may be behind your illness and how to change them
- Identify the life events, such as an illness, divorce, or childhood trauma, that may be at the root of your problems
- Regain a sense of control and pleasure in life
- Learn healthy ways to address problems
- Learn how to work with others to resolve conflicts
Sometimes psychotherapy can be an effective first treatment for mental disorders. But for many people, a combination of talk therapy and medication may work best.
Types of Psychotherapy
There are several approaches that mental health professionals can take to provide therapy. After talking with you about your disorder, your therapist will decide which approach to use.
Different approaches to therapy include:
Psychodynamic therapy is based on the assumption that you are having emotional problems because of unresolved, generally unconscious conflicts, often stemming from childhood. The goal of this type of therapy is for you to understand and better manage these feelings by talking about the experiences. Psychodynamic therapy is done over a period of at least several months, although it can last longer, even years.
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Interpersonal therapy focuses on the behaviors and interactions you have with family and friends. The goal of this therapy is to improve your communication skills and increase self-esteem during a short period of time. It usually lasts 3 to 4 months and works well for depression caused by mourning, relationship conflicts, major life events, and social isolation.
Psychodynamic and interpersonal therapies help you resolve mental illness caused by:
- Loss or grief
- Relationship conflicts
- Role transitions such as becoming a parent or a caregiver
Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps people with mental illness identify and change inaccurate perceptions that they may have of themselves and the world around them. The therapist helps you establish new ways of thinking by directing attention to both the “wrong” and “right” assumptions you make about yourself and others.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is recommended for people:
- Who think and behave in ways that trigger and perpetuate mental illness
- Who suffer from depression or anxiety disorders as the only treatment or, depending on the severity, in addition to treatment with antidepressant medication
- Who refuse or are unable to take antidepressant medication
- Of all ages who have mental illness that causes suffering, disability, or interpersonal problems
In conclusion, there are lots of different types of talking therapy, but they all involve working with a trained therapist. This may be one-to-one, in a group, online, over the phone, with your family, or with your partner. The therapist helps you understand and cope with the problems you’re having. For some problems and conditions, one type of talking therapy may be better than another.