What is Psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy is a treatment modality designed to alleviate individuals’ difficulties that cause suffering in day-to-day living. Psychotherapy is multidisciplinary with connections not only to psychology but also to the arts, humanities, social sciences, spirituality, medicine and neuroscience. It has evolved over the past 100 years and continues to develop new and innovative ways of helping individuals. Present day psychotherapists have shifted their focus from treating symptoms to treating the whole human being: the individual’s emotional, social and behavioural patterns of functioning.
There is a wide range of psychotherapy modalities such as cognitive behavioural therapy, existential, transpersonal, experiential, psychodynamic, psychoanalytic, solution-focused, and body-focused therapy to name a few. These modalities are based on diverse theories and practices but there are psychotherapeutic approaches that are common to all, such as: a collaborative therapeutic working relationship, assessment of difficulties and symptoms, challenging thinking patterns and changing maladaptive behaviour.
The basis for psychotherapy treatment is communication between the client and the therapist through talking (talk therapy), although some psychotherapists may also use body work, psychodrama, meditation, guided imagery, play, art, hypnosis etc. In the sessions the therapy work focuses on the client’s emotional, relational, cognitive and behavioural difficulties and the work progresses as the client/therapist relationship becomes increasingly trusting.
The client/therapist relationship also called the therapeutic relationship is embedded in all psychotherapy modalities. In some modalities it becomes a central feature (e.g. focusing on transference/countertransference) in other modalities it is not particularly addressed.
Psychotherapy takes place in group settings as well as in individual sessions. As with psychotherapy for individuals, group therapy has a long tradition dating back to the first decades of the twentieth century.
Today, many diverse modalities of group therapy are widely practised such as: supportive, behavioural modification, psychodynamic, Gestalt, psychoeducational and psychodrama groups, to name a few.
Psychotherapists work with children, adults, couples, groups and families from diverse cultural, racial, religious, socio-political and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Individuals seek psychotherapy for a wide range of difficulties such as: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, eating disorders, relationship difficulties, family troubles, social and work related difficulties, phobias, substance abuse, obsessive compulsive disorders, gender issues, self destructive and other destructive behaviour. Individuals seek therapy as well for less specific reasons such as vague feelings of “sickness” of the soul. Psychotherapists also treat individuals with neurotic, borderline and psychotic conditions.
The goal of psychotherapy is the amelioration of disordered affective, thought and behavioural conditions. Put another way the goal of psychotherapy is to help individuals overcome their difficulties in day-to- day living so that they can live fuller, more creative, satisfying lives.
For more information on the psychodynamic approach, please see What is Psychodynamic Psychotherapy?