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Psychotherapy is a general kind of treatment approach for mental health conditions that involves a client (ie. patient) meeting with a therapist for a series of regularly scheduled sessions. In these sessions, they engage in a conversation designed to address the client's issues and bring about a change in the client's symptoms, behaviors, emotional state, or overall sense of well-being.

In group therapy, this conversation will include a group of clients, all of whom share similar issues, meeting with one or more therapists. In family therapy, the various members of a family will meet together with a therapist to address a perceived problem in the family.

Forms of Psychotherapy

There a numerous different approaches to psychotherapy that have been developed over the years that are based on different schools of thought and ways of understanding the roots of mental health problems and how people can be helped to change. In fact, there are now many hundreds of different types of psychotherapy that have been developed and promoted, and they vary in popularity and in the amount of researched evidence available to support their claims.

Some of the more established forms of psychotherapy in use today that are reviewed by PsychVisit include:

    Behavioral Therapy: is used to treat a large number of mental health conditions, though it is often included as a feature of CBT. It sees symptoms as reflecting bad habits that have been learned and reinforced over the years, and tries to help clients unlearn these habits and replace them with more beneficial ways of behaving.

    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): is used to treat a large number of mental health conditions. It focuses on clients' specific symptoms and tries to bring about change by challenging automatic thoughts, attitudes and beliefs that underlie the symptoms, encouraging clients to abandon behaviors that are promoting the symptoms, and teaching clients' specific techniques for managing the symptoms.

    Psychodynamic Psychotherapy: is used to treat a large number of different mental health conditions. It seeks change by helping clients explore and understand how their unconscious drives and motivations, and their early life experiences, are at the root of their symptoms.

    Interpersonal Therapy (IPT): was developed for treating Depression. It sees most cases of Depression as resulting from one of a few typical life crises, and tries to identify and address the life crisis that may have triggered a given person's Depressive Episode. It can also be used for Eating Disorders and Addictions. Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy is a form of IPT that was developed for Bipolar Disorder.

    Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): is used mainly for treating Borderline Personality Disorder, and incorporates principles of CBT.

    Mentalization-Based Therapy: is used for treating severe Personality Disorders. It tries to help clients learn to interpret in a reasonable and healthy way the intentions and emotional states of other people and themselves.

    Schema-Focused Therapy: is used mainly for treating Personality Disorders. It is an adaptation of the principles of CBT, and seeks to identify and alter clients' core maladaptive attitudes and beliefs about themselves and the world.

    Transference-Focused Therapy (TFT): is used mainly for treating Personality Disorders, and incorporates principles of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy.

    Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): is used for treating Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It has clients recall a past traumatic event, and makes use of rapid back-and-forth eye movements as a way for the brain to reprocess these memories.

    Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): is used for a variety of conditions including Anxiety Disorders, Depression, and Substance Use Disorders. It is based largely on the principles of CBT, but also borrows from Eastern philosophies like Zen Buddhism, and places a special emphasis on teaching clients to distance themselves from their firmly held beliefs and take a more dispassionate and objective view of all of their thoughts and attitudes.

Qualities of a Therapist

Psychotherapists can come from a variety of different professional backgrounds; they can be psychologists, psychiatrists, physicians, social workers, nurses, and educators. In addition to their professional backgrounds, therapists should have proper training in the psychotherapy that they practice, which usually involves taking specialized courses and performing psychotherapy under the supervision of expert trainers.

In most countries in the world, including Europe and North America, no special licenses are required to practice psychotherapy, and anyone - even people with little or no training - can advertise themselves as a therapist. For this reason, individuals seeking psychotherapy should feel free to ask a therapist about his or her qualifications before beginning.

Many psychotherapists are trained in a variety of different kinds of psychotherapy, and they may incorporate elements from the various therapies that they know when treating a given client. This is known as an eclectic approach to therapy, and can be quite effective.

Studies have shown that no matter what kind of therapy is practiced, one of the most important factors that determine the success of the therapy is the quality of the therapeutic alliance that exists between the client and therapist, which can be defined as the extent to which the client trusts his or her therapist and feels understood, accepted, and supported by the therapist [ref, ref]. This therapeutic alliance usually develops early-on and can be judged within the first 3-5 sessions [ref].